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“A Different Kind of Celebrity”: Why TED is The Single Greatest Thing on the Internet Today

Author: Susan Cain

 A Different Kind of Celebrity: Why TED is The Single Greatest Thing on the Internet Today

I think that TED is the single greatest thing available on the Internet today.

For those of you not familiar with TED, this post is about to change your life. TED is a small and wildly popular nonprofit dedicated to “Ideas Worth Spreading.” It gathers thinkers and visionaries from every field — anyone who’s passionate and learned and articulate about a cool idea, from hackers to explorers to poets to neuroscientists — and puts them on stage to deliver beautifully produced 18 minute talks. You have to pay thousands of dollars to attend a TED conference, which take place twice a year in California and Edinburgh, but all the talks are broadcast free on the Web. 750,000 people a day visit to watch a talk. To give you a taste, here is one of my favorite TED talks.

I love TED not only for its content but for what it stands for. It has somehow managed to make deep thinking cool. I don’t know quite how it pulled this off. Is it the snazzy logo in red capital letters? Is it the high-tech production values? Is it the bold-faced names of its speakers: Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, Malcolm Gladwell, a slew of Nobel Prize winners, sharing the stage with people who are much less well-known but whose ideas are no less luminous?

Or is it just that great ideas are inherently exciting, and somehow we as a culture lost sight of this fact — until TED reminded us? Here is Chris Anderson, the curator of TED, speaking about the conference recently on Charlie Rose:

“It is almost like a global laboratory for how to share ideas, how to spread ideas… frankly, it makes you actually optimistic about the world’s future a bit. Because — you know, we all have this fear that the world is dumbing down, right?…But at the same time, there’s this other story of thousands and thousands of people around the world, willing to go to huge lengths to meet with each other, to think, to learn, to dream…

It’s thrilling that there is a prospect in this age of creating a different kind of celebrity. You know, someone whose mantra is not rock music or fashion or tittle-tattle, but something solid….To communicate an idea of substance.”

Anderson says he fell in love with TED from the moment he first attended the conference back in 1998. “I thought I had come home,” he says of that moment.

I love that line, because that’s exactly how I felt when I stumbled across the website a year or two ago.

How about you? Are you a TED fan, and if so, what are your favorite talks? Where else do you go for your fix of big ideas?

*THANKS to Bobbi Cain (who happens to be the world’s greatest mother-in-law), for alerting me to the Charlie Rose interview with Chris Anderson.


  1. Catherine on 03.03.2011 at 11:33 (Reply)

    I’m with you 100%, Susan. I could get lost in TED for days, forget to eat and sleep, and still have to be pulled away against my will. It’s just that awesome.

    PS The Ken Robinson talk you linked to is one of my favorites too!

  2. Glenn on 03.03.2011 at 13:27 (Reply)

    I have to get my daily ‘fix’ of TED or I feel deprived. Why watch the depressing news or another mindless sitcom. I’d rather spend my time watching a guy whistle ( than the junk on TV. Yes, TED offers something for everyone.

  3. Helen Palmer on 03.03.2011 at 16:23 (Reply)

    I too adore TED! That TED is one of my favourites as well. My absolute favourite though is Benjamin Zander on Music and passion. Absolutely brilliant! I have a few tears ech time…

  4. Susan on 03.03.2011 at 16:51 (Reply)

    Thanks for the tips, Glenn and Helen! I’m going to listen to those talks (as soon as I have a spare 18 + 18 = 36 minutes. :)

  5. SA Huggins on 03.03.2011 at 21:04 (Reply)

    I have been following TED for a few years now. I even have Elizabeth Gilbert’s video on my blog and facebook page. I have quite a few favorites. Earlier this week, I posted videos that I like on my blog…and what did I include as the first one. Born of Fire. I love that video. It was one of ten that won this week on TED’s advertising video contest. Great Video. Check it out, if you have not.

  6. Katie on 03.03.2011 at 21:54 (Reply)

    I love TED, and really enjoyed the Ken Robinson video-thanks! My favorite is Dave Eggers’ acceptance speech for the 2008 TED Prize:

  7. Hillary on 03.03.2011 at 22:37 (Reply)

    just a few hours ago, in an undergrad class i teach, i used Tony Porter’s TED Talk about “The Man Box.” it was the students’ first intro to TED… and they were 100% engaged. a great teaching tool!

  8. Mark on 05.03.2011 at 09:15 (Reply)

    Could not agree more, Susan — Ted is terrific

    You have created a dynamite site here!

    Have a great day!

  9. Michelle on 06.03.2011 at 07:11 (Reply)

    I love TED! It’s not only inspirational, motivating, and every other uplifting word. But it’s real, and that makes it even better.

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Quiet: The Book
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- Guy Kawasaki on QUIET, forthcoming from Crown Publishers in 2012.

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16 Things I Believe

1. There’s a word for “people who are in their heads too much”: thinkers.

2. Our culture rightly admires risk-takers, but we need our “heed-takers” more than ever.

3. Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.

4. Texting is popular because in an overly extroverted society, everyone craves asynchronyous, non-F2F communication.

5. We teach kids in group classrooms not because this is the best way to learn but because it’s cost-efficient, and what else would we do with the children while all the grown-ups are at work? If your child prefers to work autonomously and socialize one-on-one, there’s nothing wrong with her; she just happens not to fit the model.

6. The next generation of quiet kids can and should be raised to know their own strength.

7. Sometimes it helps to be a pretend-extrovert. There’s always time to be quiet later.

8. But in the long run, staying true to your temperament is the key to finding work you love and work that matters.

9. Everyone shines, given the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight, for others, a lamplit desk.

10. Rule of thumb for networking events: one genuine new relationship is worth a fistful of business cards.

11. It’s OK to cross the street to avoid making small talk.

12. “Quiet leadership” is not an oxymoron.

13. The universal longing for heaven is not about immortality so much as the wish for a world in which everyone is always kind.

14. If the task of the first half of life is to put yourself out there, the task of the second half is to make sense of where you’ve been.

15. Love is essential, gregariousness is optional.

16.“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” – Gandhi