Brown Shoes and TEDx Sydney

There was a brief moment when Michelle Simmons, a physicist at the University of NSW, was explaining some of the minutiae of quantum computing when I thought my brain might explode. I like to think I’m reasonably intelligent, and I’m a bit of a geek, but there were words she was using and concepts she was explaining which I thought were quite challenging. In the end I understood the point she was making, and I too, thought it was very exciting, but still, my mind wandered briefly. My mind also wandered briefly when Mandyam Srinivasan from the Queensland Brain Institute was explaining how it’s possible to train bees. He spoke with passion about his subject, but still my mind wandered. “I’d really hate to be stuck chatting to him at a party”, I told some people later.

On both counts, I’m joking. Both were absolutely fascinating people. I was completely engaged with the subjects they spoke about, however obscure, because they both spoke about these subjects with such passion. This thought reminded me of the saying often used in radio, and which Valerie Geller, the American radio consultant has often used, “there are no boring stories, only boring story-tellers”. She’s absolutely right, and pretty much without exception, there were no boring story-tellers at TEDx Sydney 2012.

I was so pleased and excited to be able to attend as I’d heard much about the previous TED events. The speakers are, generally speaking, people doing really interesting research into areas of the life and mind which “matter”. Personal highlights for me included the following. Evan Kidd, the psychologist from ANU who spoke about the importance of play and “imaginary friends” in the development of a child’s language abilities and empathy for others. Tom Griffiths, the environmental historian from ANU, who spoke about the way in which we can better understand environmental history in the longer-term by looking at ice from Antarctica. Although I didn’t think I would be interested, I was also fascinated – mesmerized? – by Lynette Wallworth as she spoke about her forthcoming film which links the Transit of Venus with the potential dangers faced by the Great Barrier Reef from climate change. And Jeremy Heimans from Get-Up was also very interesting as he spoke about environmental activism, and in particular, how the word “green” has lost a lot of its meaning.

On a purely superficial level, Jeremy was also the first person to alert me to a new and interesting fashion trend: brown shoes with black pants. When I mentioned this to a friend she told me “it’s all the fashion these days”. You wouldn’t believe how many people at TEDx Sydney were wearing brown shoes with black pants. Sitting in the front row it became somewhat of an obsession for me and my friend. For every person who came on the stage the first thing we noticed were their shoes.

Yes, I know completely superficial. But I reckon you need a bit of a break and a bit of fun in a day of otherwise amazing and inspiring talks. I’d definitely like to go again next year.

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