What We Learned at the 2019 TED Conference

What We Learned at the 2019 TED Conference

It’s always big news when TED touches down in Vancouver. The annual meeting of the minds—truly, some of the world’s brightest—converges in a conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre, where intellectuals in the fields of technology, entertainment, and design come together to listen, learn, and share.

And for the last four years, vitruvi has been honoured to participate with a booth at the conference, for which 2019’s theme was Bigger Than Us. Amidst blending custom face oils for the likes of Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson and her father (a designer and TED regular) and spotting entertainers such as actor couple Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher, along with Weeds creator Jenji Kohan, I managed to steal a few moments to watch some of the talks on the screens just outside the theatre.

“I’m an actor, so I’m an expert on...nothing, really,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt said to a room full of laughs at the start of his talk. But perhaps unsurprisingly, it wasn’t the celebrities who had the most interesting things to say. Here are some gathered highlights.

Jack Dorsey has some regrets

The founder of social media platform Twitter sat down for a conversation with TED’s Chris Anderson and Whitney Pennington Rodgers, and the interviewers did not shy away from the difficult subjects. Posing queries about Twitter’s accountability when it comes to spreading and hosting harassment, specifically towards women of colour, the questioners got right to the heart of the issues. And a toque-clad Dorsey calmly answered, outlining that the company has been implementing algorithms designed to “take the burden off the victim.” He also mentioned hiring a more diverse team to “build empathy for what people are experiencing,” and admitted that “it’s a pretty terrible situation when you want to learn about the world and spend most of your time reporting abuse.” Only time will tell if his solutions lead to real change.

I also found it interesting that Dorsey spoke openly of his dislike (pun intended) for the like button. “I wouldn’t create it in the first place,” he says, thinking about what he’d change if he created Twitter from scratch today. “It doesn’t give a healthy contribution back to the network.” He now feels that likes and retweets, and even follower counts, shouldn’t be given so much emphasis, as they focus more on popularity than on quality of conversation. Amen to that.

David R. Liu is changing the very fabric of our genes

Harvard professor and chemistry/biology researcher David R. Liu gave a fascinating talk about the work he and his team have done in gene disruption. Essentially, they have begun finding a way to “edit” one letter of a malfunctioning gene sequence, thus repairing its mutation. If I went into any further detail my head would probably explode, but the short version is that his work is changing the future of gene mutations, creating a pathway to a cure and potentially even prevention.

Brittany Packnett believes in confidence, Cohen

Apologies to those who don’t get the above O.C. reference, but regardless: activist, social justice advocate, and Teen Vogue columnist Brittany Packnett gave a talk promoting the importance of confidence. It’s “the necessary spark before everything that follows,” she said, suggesting that a lack of self-confidence creates a roadblock to success—and that we currently undervalue the importance of nurturing it. Think of confidence, she argued, like a muscle: as in, it must be toned, worked, and strengthened.

Andrea Barrica is freeing the clitoris

Participating in this year’s TED Unplugged at the conference, Andrea Barrica spoke about a subject all too often taboo: the clitoris. Chatting with the vitruvi gang before her talk, she handed out 3D-printed models of the organ, pointing out that it’s the only part of the body for which the sole purpose is pleasure. The founder of O.school, an organization that destigmatizes discussions around sex, orgasms, and anatomy, is in particular passionate about education around the clit. “We put a man on the moon before we figured out the clit,” she told us, basically giving a private TED Talk to the vitruvi team. There are an estimated 8,000 nerve endings in the clitoris, making it a powerhouse for pleasure—the problem, said Barrica, is that most people don’t know enough about this organ to really understand how it works. “We’re trying to get this in schools. There is literally nothing shameful about it. It’s an organ in the human body,” she says. “I’d rather young girls know that sex is not just for men.”

Elizabeth Dunn reiterates the importance of true connection

Vancouver’s own Elizabeth Dunn, a happiness researcher and psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, gave a relatable talk about making philanthropy more effective. “You need to be able to envision how exactly your dollars are going to make a difference,” she said, explaining that it’s more effective for charities and causes to outline where specifically a donator’s money goes. Perhaps it’s to fund a certain underprivileged school project, or to support the planting of 15 trees. Looked at another way, Dunn thinks more countries should let private citizens sponsor refugees—instead of putting money towards a charity that works with people fleeing war-torn countries, one could choose to help a specific person or family, thus creating a deeper relationship with both the cause and the humans it affects. It would, she argued, make more people willing to get involved. “Make meaningful connections to make problems feel less huge,” she emphasized. It’s not a new concept, but hearing it repeated is valuable all the same.

There’s an energy in the spaces that these incredible thinkers fill; it’s addicting and invigorating. But if you can’t attend, there’s always YouTube.