TEDxCambridgeUniversity: Engaging with ideas

Jessy Alhuwalia 6 February 2015

I love TED. If you know me, you’ll know that’s not an exaggeration: I watch a TED talk almost every day, somehow manage to drop them into almost every conversation, and a supervisor even once called me a ‘TED-talk library’. Currently Publicity Lead for the upcoming TEDxCambridgeUniversity conference, it’s well known that I love TED talks. What’s less well known is why. So, I thought I’d write this article to express why I think TED talks are excellent, and why I’m excited that we’re organising our own TEDx conference in Cambridge on March 14th.  

The TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) phenomenon started with the first TED conference in California in 1984. Drawing in notable speakers from all over the world to bring their ideas into one place, the conference grew in popularity. So much so that in 2006 they started uploading the TED talks online, so that everyone could watch them. As more seeds were spread, more and more ideas blossomed. Then TEDx conferences were born. The ‘x’ standing for ‘independently organised’, TEDx conferences are small, non-profit, spin-offs from TED conferences. Besides getting approval from TED and adhering to their rules, such as only having one in each city, anyone can hold one. That’s what makes TED so exciting for me: that it is a platform that encourages the flow of ideas, unrestricted. It provides an open education in everything that should matter in the world, and, more than that, encourages people to discuss and debate these topics.

I vividly remember when I discovered TED talks online: my sixth-form self stared wide-eyed with excitement at the diverse library of talks available to watch, for free, at just the tap of a button. From that moment on, I was hooked, and watching TED talks has become my no.1 way to productively procrastinate. To everyone who hasn’t yet discovered TED talks, you’re missing out on an expansive sea of engagingly presented ideas. Think lectures – but shorter, even more diverse, more interesting, and more applicable in daily life, with no reading, the opportunity to pause them and the being able to watch them from the comfort of your own bed. As I get ready in the morning for the day ahead, I can be learning about the science of happiness or hearing the story of an Iranian artist in exile, contemplating how best to approach world peace or finding out about recent developments in research into autism. What more could a Cambridge student actually want?

The only think I love more than TED talks, is being able to talk about them with people – and what a better place for that than a TED conference? Though the official TED conference isn’t an option, you’ll be pleased to know that TEDxCambridgeUniversity is holding a TEDx conference on March 14th. Open to students and the public alike, it aims to engage all residents of Cambridge in exciting ideas. Its theme ‘By Other Means’ aims to promote alternatives: alternative ideas, alternative methods and, ultimately, alternative solutions to problems.

At the conference, there will be 16 different speakers, each presenting a 20-minute talk on a different theme-related topic. As with official TED talks, these will be recorded and posted online to allow viewing post-conference and to encourage the ripple of ideas to spread further. Some of the speakers already confirmed for the event include Murray Edwards’ master and former Oxfam CEO Dame Barbara Stocking, story-teller Frank Cottrel Boyce, and Scrapheap Orchestra’s Roberta Cain. Lunch will be served mid-way through the day, and all ticket holders will have the opportunity to attend a post-conference reception, where they can mingle and chat to the speakers and other ticket-holders. Given that the conference will be very popular, it’s necessary to apply for a ticket. Tickets cost £15 (including lunch and admittance to the post-conference reception) and applications require answering why you should come to the conference. Ticket applications are now open and will remain open until 23:59pm on Sunday 8th February.

In order to promote the opening of our ticket applications, we held a publicity campaign to encourage people to share one change they’d like to see in the world – photos from which can be found here. Even just a small sample of the photos from the campaign show the diversity of thought and of aspirations in Cambridge, of different things each and every one of us can contribute to the world. To me, this is why it’s fitting and unsurprisingly that Cambridge is holding its own TEDx conference. Cambridge exemplifies all that TED stands for: the excitement involved in engaging with ideas, valuing diversity and promoting change. I hope, if you’re reading this, that you fill in a ticket application form. Engaging in ideas is an important aspect of Cambridge life, and the TEDxCambridgeUniversity conference is the best example of this.