Ian Bogost is fed up with TED talks—the techno-utopian Chautauqua retread—and spent fifteen minutes writing a strangely convincing parody:
I’m here to talk to you about the biggest challenge facing upper-class Western society: ideas, and how to understand them. What is an idea? What do ideas do? Scientists have shown that hearing words makes you hear ideas. And ideas are what make us human—we’ve learned so much from neuroscience, and we’re learning more all the time. That’s why I’ve devoted the last twenty years to paid ideation, and why I couldn’t go any longer without sharing these important ideas with all of you.
Imagine an idea. Where does it live? Not in your head, but in my pocket. In my bank account. My bank account likes ideas. It’s a sponge for ideas, much like the human brain. A bank account is really just a human brain. In other words, banks are a kind of cognition, and banking is a kind of neuroscience.
When we begin to see the world like this, thought as a kind of banking, so much makes sense. Ideas can “have currency.” Ideas can “circulate.” See what I mean? Thought is just nature’s way of banking. It just took us humans to come along and establish the formal structures we call “banks” to help increase the flow of ideas, to help them circulate. What is money, after all, but latent ideas?
Conference attendees pay thousands ($7500 is the base) to hear these speeches. This constitutes a sort of luxury market for ideas, in which participants pay for status-conferring “insights.” One doesn’t pray or study to gain wisdom and find truth, one simply buys the most up-to-date insight. As though it were a Rolex or Rolls.
The fruits of technology and science will shows us the way forward, these folks believe, and so the imperative is to be as tuned-in as possible rather than to reflect on first things. TED, then, is a kind of tax on the particular stupidity of scientistic progressivism. In which I take some perhaps less than Christian pleasure.