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James Hong

Sunday, March 11, 2007

TED Delivers, as always.

Me, Darryl Hannah (doing the asian pose), Chafic, and Max

Me, Gwen, Jeff, and Max having a blast at TED 2007

Just got back yesterday from another year of the TED conference, and man was it awesome.

I'm not sure if this year was better for me because I was substantially more sober than in years past, or because the content level has risen.. I suspect based on feedback from others that it was a little bit of both!

A lot of people have asked me why I get so excited about TED, and why I think it is better than other conferences that are out there. I try not to go to too many conferences (the only other one i was a regular at until it ended last year was PC Forum), so I can't really compare it to others, but I can say why TED matters to me.

It's not a conference, it's an experience.

Besides sounding cliche, what does that mean?

TED is awesome because the content is from all sorts of fields. It's not an industry conference where everyone is talking about the same thing. You have amazing artists. You have amazing scientists. You have amazing businesspeople. All advancing art and knowledge, and all giving us snippets of their lives and their work, explaining their motivations and telling their stories. Not only do you get to learn about stuff that you know absolutely nothing about from people at the top of their fields, you get to learn about the people themselves.

One of the highlights for me of this year's TED was hearing JJ Abrams, creator of the tv shows Alias and Lost, talk about what motivates him to create good mysteries.. It involved an unopened box labeled "Tannen's mystery box" that his grandfather bought him for $15 when he was a kid, which he never opened and to this day still refuses to open. we learned why this box was important to him, and in describing the art of storytelling, "Mystery is more important than knowledge," he said. So true.

I also enjoyed hearing Jeff Skoll talk about his motivations and philosophies. I've known Jeff socially for a while, but i'd never actually talked to him or seen him talk about his work with Participant Productions. My respect for him, which was already high, just went up a notch or two.

Another reason I like TED is because it's a place where people are all at the tops of their fields, yet because everyone is awesome at something, people can let their guard down and are comfortable to talk with others. People are not as nervous about being pinned down into an unwanted conversation by some annoying weirdo. I had a conversation with meg ryan for at least 5 minutes before i saw her name badge and realized who i was talking to, and even after i realized, it didn't really matter. What mattered was our conversation. I imagine in LA, JJ Abrams gets swarmed by people wanting to talk to him about his work, so how awesome was it for my buddy Philip Kaplan to have JJ come up to him and tell him excitedly how awesome it was to meet him and how he was the biggest Fucked Company fan ever! Or for me to talk to Matt Groening, the creator of the Simpsons, and come to the realization that he had not only heard of HOTorNOT but that he actually used the site and knew it well.

I came up with this saying, which is extremely cheesy and sounds like marketing material, but even so I still think it is to some degree true: Ted is a gathering where heroes meet their heroes.

Most of all, what I get out of TED is inspiration. The speakers selected are always top notch innovators, many of whom take huge risks. For instance take Bill Stone, who wants to explore the moon and says the ideal party would only take enough fuel to get there and would have to find fuel there to ever return (and then volunteered to lead that mission!)... or Raul Midon, an AMAZING musician (seriously, check him out) who had a quote that stuck in my head throughout the conference and was still in my head all day today.. he said: "Feel the fear, but do it anyway."

This is an amazing quote to me. So often I've let fear paralyze me because I confused it as an indicator to quit my efforts rather than something to simply recognize and accept as you boldly move forward.

More than anything, what I get out of TED is the realization that what I work on is small, and that there are so many interesting people out there working on more important problems than I am.. and that should I ever fail with my efforts on rebuilding HOTorNOT (which quite honestly scares the hell out of me, but I will do it anyway), there are a myriad of other interesting projects for me to spend my time working on.

I'm not joking about this.. if i ever decide to change what i am working on, i may ask myself the question, "would this ever make a decent ted talk" and use that as a filter.. because it seems to me that anything that ever makes the stage is meaningful to people and meaningful to the world.

Anyhow, sorry for this post being so unorganized and incoherent. The TED conference is just that mindboggling, and it leaves me with 10 million things to say and little energy left to express it clearly. Next year, I think I will blog through each session so i can have a better diary of my thoughts about each one.

Until then, I am counting the days to TED 2008.

Be sure to check out the TEDtalks website, where they frequently put out videos of the sessions. They will inspire you.