I spent my weekend catching up with friends, but also watching some TED talks. Admittedly, I never watched a TED talk until this weekend. I just never really understood them. Why watch someone simply talk? I would rather listen to a NPR news podcast. Or watch a documentary. Anyways, now I see what all the hype is behind them–they are quite interesting and informative.

I watched three that in some way made me really reflect upon myself, my purpose and also the world at large.

1) “How to be a technology innovator“: Meredith Perry

This is the TED talk that paved the path for me to watch others. After reading about Meredith, the 23 year old startup founder, I quickly found her on Twitter, came across her blog and THEN watched her TED talk. Not only is this girl the founder and CEO of uBeam, she freaking invented the technology behind the device (which relies on solar energy to charge a laptop or cell phone) while still in college. Talk about some inspiration.

This girl, who is the same age as me, completely blew me away. More importantly, made me realize that I too have the power to act on my ideas. And that just because you may not be an expert in a given area does not mean that you cannot have innovative ideas that could change a given industry. Meredith is an inspiration to all young girls, regardless of career goals.

2) “Stats that reshape your worldview”: Hans Rosling

I came across this TED talk while looking through Bill Gate’s playlist of all time favorite talks, posted on the TED website. While this was delivered in 2006, it is still totally relevant today. It takes head-on the fact that people remain clueless about progress made in the developing world compared to the developed.

For many, it is still a matter of “us” versus “them.” Us being westernized countries and them being the developing. It brought me back to reactions I received when telling people I was going to study in Shanghai. Many people were shocked and asked outlandish questions like, “Is there electricity?” or something like “What on earth will you eat?” Sometimes people brought up the fact that they still are technically a communist government. “Will you be safe?”

On the other hand, people who had actually visited Shanghai knew otherwise and raved about the cosmopolitan city. Fortunately for me, I knew many people who had spent time there. Or else I may have changed my study abroad plans due to all the negative feedback.

I also received similar reactions when I decided to teach English in Thailand. I remember perfectly my Memom’s (grandma) response as, “Now, what will you do over there?” (I think you probably had to be there to hear her tone of voice to get the full effect.) Essentially, she was very confused on why anyone from the US would even want to go to such a country. Like Mr. Rosling discusses in his TED talk, folks continue to believe that Asian countries are still very impoverished. He points to his interactive data set showing that indeed gaps were the in the 1960s and 1970s, but how the narrative is very different today.

To try to debunk some of these development myths, Rosling and partners came up with Gapminder.org, a site which lets one look at the statistics themselves. As the mission goes, “Fighting devastating ignorance with fact-based worldviews everyone can understand.”

By the end of this TED talk, it was basically reaffirmed how hard adjustment will be once I return to the US in late June. This is because no one (unless they have spent time in Bangkok, or at least a developing Asian economy) will be able to fully understand what life was like.

3) “The surprising math of cities and corporations“: Geoffrey West

This final TED I watched somehow simultaneously had the smallest, but largest?, impact. Maybe because it made me question the future. While I tuned out for some of the lecture, some small points hit me hard.

The speaker used these charts to show how companies, like cities, grow in a similar way. They take off rapidly, then start to plateau  He asserted that all companies eventually die. And so will cities. Or will they? (Again, I tuned out some.)

West discussed how urbanized the world is becoming. In my head I was thinking, “Obviously, because cities are better than rural areas.”

What hit me, though, was when he brought up future statistics. At one point West casually brought up the year 2050 “for those of you who are still alive, will see…” or something along those lines. My God. Is 2050 not that far away!? Because I feel like 2015 is decades away and everything will be different. I mean, yes, Obama will still be President. But not for that much longer. (I love how I think of time in terms of US president’s time in office…)

I am generally so excited to talk about the future. I love daydreaming about what will happen. I guess it’s because I have a really, really positive disposition and all my daydreams are pleasant, consisting of things like where I will be living, what sort of career I’ll be pursuing and new friends I will have made.

But thinking about 2050 makes me nauseous. Maybe it is because it is so concrete and fairly far away. When I think of the future, I rarely go beyond the time I will be thirty. And I never think about anything in actual years. More like, “When I am in my late 20s…” or “By the time I am 35…” I am not ready to wrap my head around 2050.

And then I think about Asia in 2050 and how much will be different. It will be different in 2015, even. West kept bringing up these line graphs (whether of human babies or Walmart) to drill home the fact that everything follows a similar non-linear progression. Rapid at first, but then starts to slow down. The line graph looks like a hockey stick (it’s the comparison he keeps making). Then the line plateaus. Humans plateau and so does business and so do country’s economies. This was humbling and burst my daydream bubble. “I, too, will stagnate,” I sigh. If I haven’t already.

In the end, these TED talks brought me through a roller-coaster of emotions. First I was inspired by Meredith. Then I was brought back to reality with Rosling. At the end, West left me feeling somewhat insignificant. Not that this was his intention; he was actually trying to tell us how we need to take better care of our cities in addition to making a connection to corporations.


Image – Image found via EmpowerNetwork.com