Geek Chic: Art Meets Technology At TEDx

Flower: Video Games As Art?

I’ve been meaning all week to blog about TEDx at USC because my mind was really buzzing afterwards. But, instead, I let the grind of the week get in the way. And it was an ugly grind, the kind that makes you wonder, what am I doing with my life? And looking all the worse for following on the heels of all the hope and possibility celebrated by TED. So now I can’t quite recall what it was that I was so excited about in the first place. But I’ll try anyway and hopefully it’ll be cathartic.

It is easy to be a cynic. It is easy to say, the hell with it, and give up. But nothing really interesting ever gets done that way. And certainly part of what I love about TED — and Mindshare and other events like it — is that it celebrates perseverance. Some people don’t get that. Was it cheesy as hell when Melissa Etheridge joined Muslim rock star Salman Ahmad, singing ring the bells of change, and everone was literally ringing these little bells? Hell, yeah it was. But when you back it up with an organizational behavior case study on building the Large Hadron Collider or a talk by a guy restoring sight to the blind, well, you know what?

I’ll take the cheese all day long. Because, really, it’s a celebration.

Cynicism is so easy.

Technology is transformative. It changes what it means to be human. The emergence of agriculture changed our social structures. More recently, cell phones and social networks are changing the way we communicate. Kelly Santiago talked about an emerging art form: video games. Then she showed us Flowers and proved her point. We also got to see Natasha Tsakos (via TED vid, not yet posted on the TED site), passionately sharing — and demonstrating — how technology is transforming art and providing us with new ways to reach our kids and thus shape our future. And we’re only just getting started. This stuff changes the world and I think having a dialog about that, and, when appropriate, celebrating it, is good.

LA, as the mecca of the film industry, just a short hop from Silicon Valley, is uniquely positioned to emerge as the hub of this convergence between art and technology. I think that is at the heart of the success of Mindshare and the TEDx event at USC. Already, Electronic Arts and MySpace are headquartered here, and Google and Yahoo! both have significant LA offices. AT&T Interactive, of course, is here as well. The fact that USC is here and hosted the first (I could have sworn that’s what Z said, but it appears as though there are others) TEDx conference, along with numerous other universities, provides a rich pool of talent to go with the emerging tech industry and the existing vast entertainment ecosystem. Tech is no longer about operating systems or search algorithms: it is crossing over into the every day, becoming a part of our collective experience.

Hollywood: convergence epicenter?

My Bay Area friends looking down their noses at LA would laugh at this. LA, with it’s smog and traffic and plastic surgeons and velvet ropes, could never be taken seriously in the tech world. Which, perhaps, is exactly the point: tech is leaving the tech world behind. Like art has done for centuries, now technology is also doing. It is transforming us, becoming a part of who we are. LA has it’s good and bad, it’s ups and downs. Everything does. But greatness is what shines through, over time, always persevering in the end. And it is not so rare as we might think. In fact, we are surrounded by it. That is the gift of TED and gatherings like it, a celebration of that reality: we are changing the world.

That is why I remind myself when the grind wears me out. It is never easy. Not for Aimee Mullins or the people behind the LHC or Dr.Humayun. They all have had setbacks and days when hope was nearly extinguished, I’m sure. That’s life. But, as they say …

Don’t let the bastards get you down.