TED talks are just big soundbites and soundbites are not good ways to explain complicated, and potentially revolutionary, ideas.
Evgeny Morozov has published a review of several TED books in The New Republic. They are: Hybrid Reality: Thriving in the Emerging Human-Technology Civilization by Parag Khanna and Ayesha Khanna, The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It by Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan, and Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act by Ron Gutman. His review is probably a better read than the book [The Naked and the TED].
Carl Zimmer reviewed The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It a couple of months ago and his review turned into a criticism of TED talk [I Point To TED Talks and I Point to Kim Kardashian. That Is All]. Carl pointed to Felisa Wolfe-Simon as exhibit number 2.
Here's an excerpt from the Evgeny Morozov review,
I CAN SURMISE why the Khannas would have wanted to write this book, but it is not immediately obvious why TED Books would have wanted to publish it. I must disclose that I spoke at a TED Global Conference in Oxford in 2009, and I admit that my appearance there certainly helped to expose my argument to a much wider audience, for which I remain grateful. So I take no pleasure in declaring what has been obvious for some time: that TED is no longer a responsible curator of ideas “worth spreading.” Instead it has become something ludicrous, and a little sinister.Let me repeat the meme that I want to propagate, "But surely 'modern attention spans' must be resisted, not celebrated. Brevity may be the soul of wit, or of lingerie, but it is not the soul of analysis."
Today TED is an insatiable kingpin of international meme laundering—a place where ideas, regardless of their quality, go to seek celebrity, to live in the form of videos, tweets, and now e-books. In the world of TED—or, to use their argot, in the TED “ecosystem”—books become talks, talks become memes, memes become projects, projects become talks, talks become books—and so it goes ad infinitum in the sizzling Stakhanovite cycle of memetics, until any shade of depth or nuance disappears into the virtual void. Richard Dawkins, the father of memetics, should be very proud. Perhaps he can explain how “ideas worth spreading” become “ideas no footnotes can support.”
The Khannas’ book is not the only piece of literary rubbish carrying the TED brand. Another recently published TED book called The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It—co-authored by Philip Zimbardo, of the Stanford Prison Experiment fame, is an apt example of what transpires when TED ideas happen to good people. One would think that a scholar as distinguished as Zimbardo would not need to set foot in Khanna-land, but, alas, his book brims with almost as many clichés and pseudo-daring pronouncements. Did you know that “in porn, male actors have enormous penises,” and that “porn is not about romance”? The book’s main premise is that the Internet and video games are re-wiring the brains of “guys,” much to the detriment of civilization. Read and be terrified, especially if you are a “guy,” because “[guys’] brains are being catered to by porn on demand and by video games at a flick of the switch or a click of the mouse.” This is almost as good as Allan Bloom’s admonition in The Closing of the American Mind that Walkman headphones lead to parricide. The evidence presented is inconsistent and all over the map. As the science journalist Carl Zimmer has noted, The Demise of Guys gives a Daily Mail column as much credibility as a peer-reviewed paper. And a new TED book on the science of smiling—Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act, by Ron Gutman—contains even more banality than the Khannas’ little masterpiece of TED emptiness—a remarkable feat. There one may read, for example, that “under certain conditions, when men see women smile at them they interpret that as a sign that the women think they are attractive.” This is what passes for advanced thinking.
When they launched their publishing venture, the TED organizers dismissed any concern that their books’ slim size would be dumbing us down. “Actually, we suspect people reading TED Books will be trading up rather than down. They’ll be reading a short, compelling book instead of browsing a magazine or doing crossword puzzles. Our goal is to make ideas accessible in a way that matches modern attention spans.” But surely “modern attention spans” must be resisted, not celebrated. Brevity may be the soul of wit, or of lingerie, but it is not the soul of analysis. The TED ideal of thought is the ideal of the “takeaway”—the shrinkage of thought for people too busy to think. I don’t know if the crossword puzzles are rewiring our brains—I hope TED knows its neuroscience, with all the neuroscientists on its stage—but anyone who is seriously considering reading Hybrid Reality or Smile should also entertain the option of playing Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja.
[Hat Tip: Mike the Mad Biologist]