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Open Loop

[Editor's note for full disclosure: TED has granted Worldchanging significant funding and acted as a primary sponsor for the site. In addition, they have granted free admittance to several Worldchanging team members for their annual conference, and Worldchanging founders Alex Steffen and Jamais Cascio have both been speakers there.]

I recently had the good fortune to screen an advance copy of The Future We Will Create, an interesting documentary that is worth catching. Filmed by actress and activist Daphne Zuniga, its notable because the 74-minute film records the 2006 TED Conference, an extraordinary four-day phenomenon. The long-standing conference maintained mainstream anonymity for almost two decades before the likes of Richard Branson and Bill Clinton illuminated the conference with their celebrity aura.

I found it interesting because, while TED is among the most elite conferences, it has evolved in a manner unlike most of its peers. While some have encouraged bloggers to bang out real-time coverage of their proceedings, TED deserves praise for doing far more, actually opening its vault of intellectual property through various measures. Its TED Talks program provides access to some of its most provocative content to anyone with a mouse and networked computer. It recently launched a version of TED in Second Life that could offer similar transparency. The Zuniga film is another example of this openness and a welcome change in the right direction that other elitist gatherings would be wise to model.

The documentary offers a few brief clips of TED speakers, but more importantly, the does an excellent job of translating the sensibility of the TED conference. It tries to capture the moments between the speakers, the post-panel chatter that coheres the whole event. Watching the film, you flirt with the sense of the possible that radiates out from TED and its remarkable participants. Hopefully, it will provoke people and stimulate its audience to action. It is truly intended for the countless people who might never make it to Monterey, to download the Talks and to engage in the type of curious and boundless dialogue that happens over four days in Monterey but rarely in First Life where the humdrum of everyday seems to bind our imagination and potential.

The act of intellectual engagement is something that should not be limited only to those who mingle with the self-ordained intelligentsia. Rather, the world needs the ability to access the extraordinary content that TED and its cohort offer. It would be meaningful to see these sessions, not as events unto themselves, but platforms for civic discourse that ignite the kind of empowering conversation that abound on the big-think circuit.

Zuniga has visions of TED Kids. This could be a great start, but what about Davos Documentaries? PopTech Magazine? NextFest Weekends? BrainStorm Scholars? Aspen Tours? Sun Valley vlogs? The possibilities are infinite and worth exploring.

The old world notion that power is achieved by hoarding information remains firmly in place for some, but it is a tired and worn idea. In the networked economy, we see numerous examples that more power can be derived from disseminating information and leveraging the value of network externalities. TED already had built a model that others should follow.

Imagine if these vaunted conferences employed this philosophy and opened their doors to an audience far beyond their elite attendees and on an ongoing basis. They could play a vital role in rejuvenating the commons by enabling the rest of us to partake in their annual swirl of intellectualism in an open loop. Instead of a one-time showing of The Future We Will Create, imagine The Hope That We Can Impart every day. That would be something to celebrate.

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Comments

I saw this film at a screening in L.A. and it was absolutely incredible. I had heard about TED but never attended. Now I want to go! If I can be that inspired and excited with the film, I can only imagine what it's like to be there in person. Daphne Zuniga provides the roadmap for the film and provides great insight into her personal journey and what TED means to her. Found out the film is available on Netflix on June 5. Also, found a clip of the film at www.TEDfilm.com -Rob


Posted by: Rob Olsen on 23 May 07



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