May 1, 2012

UChicago TED talks find 'x' ways to have a revolution

One year after its inaugural conference, the U of C iteration of the prominent TED Talks geared up for “Revolutions” Sunday in Mandel Hall.

TEDxUChicago 2012, the independently organized installation of the world-wide series, centered on the broad theme of “revolutions” with a more eclectic lineup ranging from a nanotech innovator to the CEO of Clif Bar & Company. The conference retained the previous format of four segments of speakers, with each speaker allotted 18 minutes.

“[Last year], we received feedback that the diversity in our speakers was lacking,” co-director Tiffany Sommadossi said. “We wanted to make sure they fit the wants and needs of our campus.”

While the organizers were inspired by the recent Arab Spring revolts, the event’s overall message emphasized the role of revolution in all fields.

Mohamed El-Dahshan, a speaker who was personally involved in the Egyptian revolution, noted how the act of revolution transforms the societies which it affects. “There’s this climate of ‘I have something to share, and I can do it.’ People are expressing themselves really, really loudly,” he said.

Design for America founder Elizabeth Gerber, on the other hand, spoke about revolution in the technological world. “Do it-yourself is over. Design-it-together is the future,” she said.

Business strategist and author Andrea Kates, who emceed the event, echoed how revolution connects almost every aspect of today’s society and drives change. “The new word to have is revolution. The theme of TED is ideas worth spreading, and the theme today is that ideas lead to revolutions,” she said.

The most prominent new addition to the conference was the Tangible Ideas Showcase in McCormick Tribune Lounge, featuring an array of innovative technology, ranging from a 3-D printer to a solar powered book.

TEDxUChicago’s organizers even revolutionized their marketing strategy. Inspired by similar TED events, they constructed a large wooden “X” displayed in major campus locations. Marketing co-chair Maria Sol Bernardez Sarria said that they sought a form of publicity more visual than flyers or chalk.

“We wanted something eye-catching on the quad that people would be talking about,” she said.

Last year’s TEDxUChicago featured several alumni and University professors and focused on a theme closer to home: “Reinventing the Life of the Mind.”

Attendees observed the efficiency of the event, which its organizers attributed to knowing what to expect the second time around.

“It seemed well organized. We always knew where to go,” said fourth-year Kathy Wroblewska.

Aside from U of C students, TEDxUChicago also attracted Chicago area residents like Jennifer Lien, who learned of the U of C’s conference through attending other TED events. Lien appreciated the program of speakers.

“I liked the categories, the way [the talks] were broken down. They covered a diverse set of topics related to revolution, things that you wouldn’t necessarily think of, like design,” she said.