Technology, entertainment and design are unequivocally integrated in today’s digital world. But in 1984, a conference in Silicon Valley aimed to bring people in these three fields together as a convergence among them was becoming more and more apparent. The creators called this conference TED, an acronym for technology, entertainment and design.
They were onto something. The private event grew, attracting influencers and open-minded thinkers. Attendance increased, the event became annual and the ideas presented at TED expanded well beyond the three initial TED disciplines. Thought leaders in industries across the board were invited to present their passions and expertise across a breadth of topics.
As TED increased in scope, it became a nonprofit in the early 2000s, created a mission statement of “Ideas Worth Spreading” and began posting talks from the conferences for free online. Today, there are more than 1,500 TED Talks available through TED.com, Netflix, NPR’s TED Radio Hour, YouTube and more that are globally viewed and shared freely under the Creative Commons license. TED Talks last 18 minutes or less, an appropriate length for conveying an idea to a digital audience that is increasingly conditioned to digesting and sharing media in bite (or byte) sizes. In late 2012, TED Talks reached more than 1 billion views online. Talk about spreading ideas.
In addition to growing in popularity, TED continued to also increase in scope to include numerous offshoots from the main TED conference including TEDx, which are independently organized TED events conceived to foster TED’s mission on a more local scale. Thanks to several local visionary volunteers, the TED experience comes to North Florida by way of TEDxJacksonville. It started last year on a smaller community scale as TEDxRiversideAvondale, and with a glowing response by participants and a renewed license from TED, has grown citywide this year. As TEDxJacksonville, the organization hosts several simulcasts from national and global TED events, TED Talk screenings called “salons” and this year’s main event, a day-long conference with live speakers and performers happening this month.
Long-time Jacksonville resident, inspired community activist and TEDxJacksonville organizer Doug Coleman was driven to bring the experience to the First Coast after attending a TEDx event in Muskegon, Mich. A fan of TED for years, Coleman sought to attend a TED event at some point and TEDxMuskegon happened to align with his trip to ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2011. In Muskegon, Coleman experienced a small Michigan town with high unemployment, empty storefronts and vacant downtown lots. He had low expectations for the event, and completely underestimated the creativity, optimism and thoughtfulness the TEDxMuskegon attendees shared at their conference. He couldn’t help but draw parallels between Jacksonville’s own pitfalls and negative perceptions and our city’s blooming optimism and refreshed engagement.
“I saw many good ideas that seemed transportable to Jacksonville. But, basically, it was the idea that this event just seemed to energize the community. There were all kinds of people from all walks of life at the event and they were all deeply interested in their city,” said Coleman. “I thought, we should be doing this in Jacksonville.”
So he did. Coleman formed an equally passionate and engaged group of volunteers who believe in TED’s mission and believe in positive change for Jacksonville. The goal of October’s TEDxJacksonville conference is to bring together dynamic speakers, inspiring performers and engaged participants to explore topics that are shaping, or are shaped by, currents flowing through the city.
The event’s theme – “Connecting Currents” – was chosen because it gives nod to the St. Johns River, an integral part of Jacksonville’s identity, but also because it symbolizes the synapses of the brain sparked by the flow of information or imagery of an electric current to a light bulb denoting an idea, said event executive producer Sabeen Perwaiz.
“It is about connecting to a new thought or idea, making connections with other open-minded individuals and feeling more connected to the city,” said Perwaiz. “Attendees will see there are 299 other people in the room that are like-minded in wanting to bring positive change to Jacksonville. They can work with each other and make these things come alive.”
Perwaiz is confident that the 300 TEDxJacksonville conference attendees will share a passion for uplifting Jacksonville. Attendees were selected based on responses to questions such as, “What’s your vision for Jacksonville?” asked on a participant application. Audience engagement and dialogue is a major component of the overall TED experience, so an application and selection process helps to ensure participation from a group of dynamic, diverse and intrigued independent-thinkers who share belief in ideas worth spreading. Attendees can rest assured that the talks presented during Connecting Currents are going to be share-worthy.
“Our purpose is to change attitudes, change lives and change the community by informing, educating and inspiring,” said Coleman.
Forward-thinking minds from both inside and outside of Jacksonville make up the diverse roster of 11 speakers. Second Harvest Executive Director, Bruce Ganger, defense attorney Hank Coxe and Jacksonville Community Council Inc.’s Ben Warner are just a handful of the talented presenters with local roots set to give engaging presentations. Talk topics will run the gamut. Some will be specific to issues Jacksonville faces while others will stem from ideas or topics that could relate to anyone or any city.
“A better educated, more informed, enlightened and inspired citizenry just makes better decisions; whether that’s politically, economically or socially. It’s a good thing for Jacksonville,” believes Coleman.
Organizers are making sure Jacksonville’s unique culture is reflected in all aspects of the event. Al Letson, passionate Jacksonville torchbearer, local spoken word poet and national NPR performer, will host the event, and local talent such as The 5 & Dime theatre company will perform. Three local catering companies are working together to provide a locally sourced menu from area farms. TEDxJacksonville is even utilizing a Gainesville-based company’s app, called Feathr, which will allow attendees to connect with each other before, during and after the conference.
“We don’t want to just go to the next level in Jacksonville, but we want to shoot for something big. And you need big ideas to do big things,” said Coleman.
This point of view is rhythmically in step with the current pulse of the city which is apparent through progressive ideas like One Spark and JAX2025 among others. Similar to how TED originated with the recognition of the convergence between technology, entertainment and design, TEDxJacksonville surfaces as another platform ready to synthesize the momentum of so many innovative movements converging to uplift our city.