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UPDATE: Videos of Cady Coleman, David Brooks, and Eric Whitacre have been added from TED.com.

Before I start: Do you know what TED is? TED is self-defined as:

… a small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design.

I’ve been able to attend TED this year, with my colleagues at Newell Rubbermaid, via the TED Associates webcast. This year’s conference addresses The Rediscovery of Wonder.

Day One featured a physicist, explorer, media players, artists, designers, musicians, composers, doodle expert and one astronaut. As I’m sure you can imagine, it was an incredible day with many take-a-ways. Here’s my personal recap of the Best Of TED Day One.

Cady Coleman, Astronaut   @Astro_CadyCady Coleman
TED started with a habitat of the International Space Station addressing attendees and described her experience in space. Since childhood, I’ve had a fascination with space and have always wondered what it would be like to be in space. It blew my mind when she said: “8 1/2 minutes after leaving Earth, all the rules as you’ve ever known them are different.”
TED Video

David Brooks, ColumnistDavid Brooks
New York Times columnist, David Brooks, had a lot to say in a short amount of time. He moved quickly from one point to another, almost scrambling to get everything all into one presentation. What I was able to take away from his talk was his perspective on emotions. “Emotions are at the center of our thinking. They are the foundation of reason,” he said, “because they tell us what we value.” This is no big surprise, but it was good to rethink our emotional connections and how they drive us. Brooks also claimed, “the strength of our conclusions should be based on the strength of our evidence, but it rarely is.” Why is that? Why do we make “strong” conclusions based on weak evidence?
TED Video

Eric Whitacre, Composer/conductor   @ericwhitacreEric Whitacre
Wow. This was incredible. Eric Whitacre was inspired by a single video from a fan to create a virtual choir. Last year he held auditions on YouTube for his composition, Lux Aurumque. It was such a success that he received requests for a second video. This new virtual choir brought together over 2,000 individuals from 58 countries to perform Eric Whitacre’s composition, Sleep. The video itself is amazing. It shows the thousands of people, all over the world, coming together to perform as a choir. The really impressive part, though, is that one fan started an entire project that would have been impossible six years ago.
TED Video

Sunni Brown, Visualizer and gamestorming   @sunnibrownSunni Brown
I was especially excited to hear what Sunni Brown had to say. For a while, she worked with Sharpie (Newell Rubbermaid brand) as a Doodleologist. She not only teaches adults how to doodle, but that doodling is acceptable. How many times have we been scolded by a teacher or looked down upon by colleagues for doodling when we were supposed to be paying attention? The first roadblock toward the acceptance of doodling is the definition of doodle. Let’s look at some synonyms associated with the verb “to doodle” from Merriam-Webster: fiddle (around, fool around, goof (around), hang about [British], kick around, mess around, monkey (around), play, potter (around), putter (around), and trifle. My goodness, even the sample sentences are insulting to the art: “She doodled in her notebook instead of taking notes.” “I plan to spend the entire vacation just doodling.” Sunni Brown offers an alternative definition to be considered. This is a definition that challenges a culture so focused on verbal communication to think of doodling as a preemptive measure to keep from loosing focus.

To Doodle: To make spontaneous marks to help you think.

She makes the argument, based on research of retention, that doodling can actually improve your ability to learn. Sunni Brown listed four ways of learning: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic. Any one of these methods improve your ability to learn. Doodling incorporates all four of these methods plus emotion.

Paul Nicklen, Polar photographerPaul Nicklen
Hired by National Geographic, Paul Nicklen set out to document the Spirit Bear, which had never before received the attention this photographic spread would give. He had to sit and wait for two months for this Spirit Bear to appear. At any point he could have second guessed himself and left, but he stayed and waited for this opportunity. He reminded himself that National Geographic “can’t publish excuses.” It was clear that his perseverance paid off as he shared some of his work with the TED audience.

Carlo Ratti, Architect and engineerCarlo Ratti
We have talked about our world for years, but Carlo Ratti proposes that we are at a point where our world can start speaking back to us. He covered several examples, but one was especially interesting. He worked on a project in Seattle where people volunteered to tag their trash. 3,000 common items like paper, banana peels, batteries, and light bulbs were tagged and tracked by Carlo and his team to see where this trash ended up and how long it took for it to travel there. The results were astounding. Trash from Seattle spread all over the United States, reaching as far as Florida and New York and was still traveling up to two months after the initial disposal. While this is interesting, the benefit of this project shows in the hope that if people see that their trash doesn’t magically disappear, we can start to change behavior.

Aaron Koblin, Data artist   @aaronkoblinAaron Koblin
Before Aaron started to speak, I knew that this would be an interesting presentation. I love the concept of classifying yourself as a data artist. I’ve always in intrigued by infographics, which is essentially what Aaron creates, adding an interactive factor. He makes data beautiful. What a concept! He walked the TED audience through flight patterns across the US and SMS messages on New Year’s Eve in New York City. He then used Amazon’s MechanicalTurk.com, which finds a way to complete tasks that are easy for people and difficult for computers, to tap into people’s minds on other projects. Some of these projects include The Sheep Market, Ten Thousand Cents, and Bicycle Built For Two Thousand. If these weren’t interesting enough, he also worked on The Johnny Cash Project: a music video for Johnny Cash’s last recording, “Ain’t No Grave,” with each frame of the video drawn by individual fans. All of these projects have one similar thread: bringing individual work to be represented as a whole.

Mike Matas, Co-founder of Push Pop Press   @mike_matasMike Matas
Push Pop Press demonstrated the first truly interactive book (Al Gore’s “Our Choice”) for the TED audience, showing the ability to scroll though pages, play video and audio, map data, zoom in and out, display interactive infographics, and even respond to “wind” by blowing on the device. Push Pop Press is a tool that has been built to be licensed out to publishers to make more books like this demonstration. This is so much more impressive than the digital readers we currently have on the market, which are little more than digital copies of books as we have always interacted with them. Alternatively, the Push Pop Press demonstration showed how new technology can be applied to books to rethink how we interact with our reading material.

Have you been one of the lucky few to watch TED 2011 live? Do you have anything to add to this Best Of TED Day One post? Were there other speakers that you specifically appreciated? Have you seen any TED videos from previous years? Do you have any questions about or additions to this post?

Note: Images taken from TED.com and Twitter.com

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