You have done nothing with your life

It's TED season. The interwebs are afire with links to and discussions of slickly-produced inspirational vidoes, each delivered by Someone Who Is More Accomplished Than You Will Ever Be (But That's Ok).

I have a love-hate relationship with TED (which stands for 'Technology, Entertainment and Design'). I confess to having sent Sheryl Sandberg's TED talk to many a high-achieving female friend, for instance. And I'd recommend the TED talk by Daniel Kahneman on experience vs memory; Benjamin Zander on music and passion; Rory Sutherland on advertising.

But here's the things about TED (ok, a few things) that make me uneasy.

One, while its marketing machine is slicker than most, it does not have a monopology on interestingness-and-inspiration-caputured-on-well-produced-video. Into design? There's Build. Future of education? Learning without frontiers. Pop and intellecutal zeitgiest (as defined by Google)? Google Talks.

Two, TED is the very definition of elites networking with and talking to other elites - access to the main conference (as distinct from the TEDx offshoots) costs $6,000 and is invite-only. If you haven't been invited (or don't have $6,000) but still want to see the talks in real time, a "TED Live" subscription will set you back at least $995. And TED does not post all of its videos online, only those that get high audience ratings. So: if you're not invited or don't pay for TED Live, only those vidoes that the self-selecting TED elite liked will be made available to the masses. Given that the TED slogan is "ideas worth spreading", this fact ought to give one pause. The groupthink goes on.

Three, partly because if its exclusivity, TED creates a pretty toxic mythology for a conference that wants to change the world: the idea that being invited to TED as a speaker to deliver a headline talk represents the very pinnacle of achievement. A pinnacle that is unattainable for most, and one that necessarily privileges gifted orators over less impressive speakers. I call this the "You have done nothing with your life" fallacy.

Four, most TED talks fit into a pretty well-defined template.

Five, TED pays lipservice to creativity and free thinking, but the organisation itself punishes dissent, as Sarah Silverman learnt to her cost.

TED receives much less mainstream criticism than say, Davos. But the events (and the people who attend them) are more similar than the organisers of either might necessarily acknowledge. But we all should.

The full version of this post - with links, references and additional paragraphs not included here - first appeared in the Galavant Times on March 5 2012.