Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: "TEDTalks"

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Odds are you've got a few friends who love them some TED. Incessantly, they tell you about the wonders of TED. Oh, the events. Oh, the luminescent minds at work. Oh, the music organized by Thomas Dolby. TED, the creator of the future. TED, the window into the greatest minds of our time. TED, the living end. Anybody who's anybody is at TED. TED, TED, TED. These friends bear the required black-rimmed glasses, tote bags, vague, self-applied titles of "designer" and "technologist," and, ultimately, at least a tinge of insufferability.

TED, for those terribly confused readers who scrolled past this post three sentences ago, is an annual conference to do with Technology, Entertainment and Design, where a bunch of people one often reads about on the internet talk about the future of 2000s stuff like smartphones, sustainable architecture and font kerning. The conferences are held in California, and you are not invited. Probably. They're by-invitation-only shindigs, which means you just have to sit around and wait for that golden ticket to arrive, much as your Podthinker is just marking time until his MacArthur "genius" grant materializes.

Fortunately, there's a quick, easy and free way to get a taste of the TED experience before you finish your long-labored-over micropayment system, thing about Helvetica or iPhone. TED happens to be an organization in strong support of short, informative lectures — they call 'em "TEDTalks" — and the TEDTalks podcast [iTunes] [RSS] can hook you up with them on the regular. Though often a bit too brief, TEDTalks' strength lies in their diversity; they're catholic, in the original sense of the word. But if it's Protestantism you're in for, they've got a lecture by Rick "Purpose-Driven Life" Warren [MP3] available for the download — as well as a rebuttal [MP3] by Daniel "Consciousness Explained" Dennett!

As far as other high-profile atheists are concerned, TEDTalks is well-stocked indeed: good old Richard Dawkins, for instance, has at least two appearances — count 'em, two — under his belt. [MP3] [MP3] And if atheism isn't your bag, well, something on TEDTalks simply has to be. Richard St. John on the secrets of life success taught to him by a lifetime of rock climbing, perhaps? [MP3] Or Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi on his perennial subject, the achievement of what they call "flow"? [MP3] Maybe MaxFun favorite John Hodgman with a semi-bizarre monologue about aliens and girlfriends will hit the spot. [MP3] And who could turn down an expostion from famed conductor Benjamin Zander (and his piano) of wherein, specifically, the appeal of the classical music enterprise lies? [MP3]

Admittedly, it's quite difficult to imagine a listener who wouldn't want to check out TED's offerings, at least in a cursory fashion. Even if you're one of those people who has only a single interest, some speaker is sure to have hit on it in the past — or they will in the future. The slick production, concise length and straight-to-the-point style keeps it easy going down, though one is always left wanting to hear more from the luminaries and far, far less from the (occasional) dolts. TEDTalks does serve those with widely varied interests best — but it serves them exquisitely well.

Vital stats:
Format: catholic (not Catholic) lectures
Running since: June 2006
Duration: 5m-30m
Frequency: ~6/month
Archive available on iTunes: all

[Questions, comments, ideas, suggestions or threats for Podthinker Colin Marshall? colinjmarshall at gmail.]