TEDx Berlin Review

Stephan Balzer moderated TEDx Berlin

Stephan Balzer moderated TEDx Berlin

TED conferences became famous for the inspiring and inspired talks, originally on “Technology, Entertainment, and Design”. The recent TEDx conference brought this model to Berlin for the first time (the “x” indicates an “independently organized” event). The organizers around Stephan Balzer really deserve a huge amount of respect for bringing this high class conference to Berlin, and for providing perfect infrastructure and support throughout the show.

Among the outstanding speakers were Veterans like Peter Eigen (from transparency international) and Bernard Lietaer. One could add Hans Rosling, whose groundbreaking statistics presentation from a couple of years ago was shown as a video (a pitty that he wasn’t available for questions afterwards).
Peter Eigen had no problems in making his points compelling and clear without any slides: Corruption by large companies is one of the main causes for poverty in so-called developing countries. He called it a problem of bad governance, not only in the bribed states but at least as severly in the bribing states where governments fail to efficently ban and punish bribing (note that you could get tax reductions for bribing abroad as “extraordinary selling expenses” until a couple of years ago).

Reto Wettach talking about "Bodies and Secrets"

Reto Wettach talking about "Bodies and Secrets"

Bernard Lietaer, as a monetary expert, argued against an economic system purely built on efficency: one could learn from ecologically sustainable systems that resilience is tremendously important to cope with surprising events (such as a storm or a financial crisis, background eg. in Berkes et al (1998)). Monoculture is highly efficent but also extremely vulnerable and has very poor potential for adaption.In retrospect, a series of design research talks connected perfectly to Lietaer’s pledge for more diversity: Reto Wettach argued that the invention and development processes of electronic devices must open up for electrical non-experts. If more people would pursue and realize their ideas for new hardware, innovation and more human friendly machines would happen more quickly. He presented Fritzing, a software targeted at making exactly this easier. He was framed by two speakers who delivered impressive examples: Fabian Hemmert investigates haptic and form-changing mobile phones. And Christophe F. Maire already explores the upcoming market for eBooks with his company txtr.

Social and ethical projects were another huge topic, such as empowering a civil society with sports (Boxing Girls). Other talks presented “third world aid” projects and often showed an undercomplex approach while dealing with complex issues. These talks seemed to follow the idea that “we Europeans need to help those poor Africans down there”. What these underpriviledged countries really need, in my opinion, is an end of European (or Western) arrogance, implicit in talking about just Africa (“the dark continent”, source) and explicit in trade barriers (such as import taxes and subsidies in Europe).
Despite being years old and just dealing with statistics, the ingenious TED video with Hans Rosling managed far better to bring fundamental issues to light, like (lacking) equal terms of trade and resepect for the diverse developments of African countries.

In the end, however, each talk delivered valueable starting points for discussions during the luckily extra long breaks. It was sometimes hard to imagine that all those well-suited people in the luxurious environment of the Grand Hyatt were really interested in groundbreaking changes, but I was happy to get proved wrong by a couple of personal conversations. There are by far enough ideas, talks, and people to get back to and that’s of course the success of TEDx Berlin.

Watch out for the videos!

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