The Most Ruthless Takedown of the TED Ecosystem

Evgeny Morozov has a scathing piece in The New Republic claiming that TED is no longer a responsible curator of ideas “worth spreading.” Instead it has become something ludicrous, and a little sinister. His takedown is ruthless, and begins with a recent book published by TED:

Khanna’s contempt for democracy and human rights aside, he is simply an intellectual impostor, emitting such lethal doses of banalities, inanities, and generalizations that his books ought to carry advisory notices. Take this precious piece of advice from his previous book—the modestly titledHow to Run the World—which is quite representative of his work: “The world needs very few if any new global organizations. What it needs is far more fresh combinations of existing actors whocoordinate better with one another.” How this A-list networking would stop climate change, cyber-crime, or trade in exotic animals is never specified. Khanna does not really care about the details of policy. He is a manufacturer of abstract, meaningless slogans. He is, indeed, the most talented bullshit artist of his generation.

Morozov is a brilliant tactician with words, and dishes out paragraph after paragraph like the following:

As is typical of today’s anxiety-peddling futurology, the Khannas’ favorite word is “increasingly,” which is their way of saying that our unstable world is always changing and that only advanced thinkers such as themselves can guide us through this turbulence. In Hybrid Reality, everything is increasingly something else: gadgets are increasingly miraculous, technology is increasingly making its way into the human body, quiet moments are increasingly rare. This is a world in which pundits are increasingly using the word “increasingly” whenever they feel too lazy to look up the actual statistics, which, in the Khannas’ case, increasingly means all the time.

The main argument against TED made by Morozov:

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.”

I don’t agree with a lot of Morozov writes, but he makes some great points about “techno babble” and how we can be easily swayed by some ideas that are fairly obvious.

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