Letters from TED (x)

TEDxsydney pic gallery on frockwriter's posterous

I was honoured to be invited to be among 650 audience members at TEDx Sydney on Saturday down at the Everleigh Carriageworks. Like many others, I live reported from the auditorium on Twitter (hence the bombardment of #TEDxSydney Tweets). For the uninitiated, TED is a non profit think tank dedicated to “ideas worth spreading” that has been staged annually in the US since 1984 (and more recently, also in the UK). The TED acronym stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and it has showcased some of the world’s most fascinating people. Some you know (Bono, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Bob Geldof). But many, you have never heard of. They are all invited to give “the talk of their lives” in 18 minutes flat. Sadly I have never attended a TED, but pioneering Sydney e-tailer Remo Giuffrè has since 1993. TEDx is a new program of independently-organised events that aim to provide a potted "TED-like" experience and Giuffrè obtained the license to stage TEDx Sydney this year – after a much smaller Sydney showcase last year organised by other parties. And what a day it was.

Eighteen speakers (including several not mentioned in the official program, who spoke for three minutes) covered subjects ranging from microinsurance for the world’s poor (Andrew Kuper) to the sexually-ambiguous Intersex community (Gina Wilson); homophobia (retired High Court judge Michael Kirby - whose comments about Seven Network’s treatment of former NSW Transport Minister David Campbell last week drew a round of applause); nanotechnology (Amanda Barnard) and psychoterratic diseases (Glenn Albrecht).

My personal favourites were digital activist Brett Solomon who helms accessnow.org, which assists political dissidents jump firewalls imposed by repressive regimes, in addition to Rachel Botsman, co-author of the upcoming book ‘What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption’, who spoke about the rise of swap/share/recycle culture. Here is the video with which Botsman wrapped her chat:

And not forgetting aquanaut/aquabat Dr Sarah Jane Pell, who had the audience spellbound with a presentation about the very serious plans that are afoot to colonise the ocean. For anyone who wants to read more about this, head to the Atlantica Expeditions website. Team leader is former NASA bioengineer Dennis Chamberland. James Cameron is planning to be a crew member. Clearly, science fiction is about to become science fact.

Also of note, the eight wonderful musical performances which acted as palette cleansers in between each presentation.

Missy Higgins delivered a mesmerising live act, ditto Darren Percival, aka Mr Percival, a former backup vocalist who these days accompanies himself on stage: a solo a cappella performance, via the use of live sound mixing/looping. This guy really does deserve to be better known. I recorded this short sample.

The talks were all livestreamed and, according to the terms and conditions of the TED site, they must be made available to the public for free on the TEDx YouTube channel within one week of each TEDx event. So check there and the main TEDxSydney website for updates.

Beyond the 650 who made it into the auditorium, there would have had to have been another hundred or so, perhaps more, milling around the Carriageworks foyer area. They watched a live broadcast of the presentations on a large screen, in addition to the TEDxSydney Forum: a series of short interviews with the speakers, conducted by The Chaser’s Craig Reucassel. Reucassel’s Chaser colleague, Julian Morrow, did an excellent job producing the Forum, which provided non-stop entertainment throughout the day, whenever the proceedings in the main auditorium took a break.

At the very end of the program, MC Giuffrè took to the stage for one last time and called up his organising committee, which included Morrow and Baz Luhrmann's musical director Anton Monsted – who presumably curated the excellent musical component.

It was actually quite touching to see Giuffrè flanked by this new team, which has already vowed to produce a TEDxSydney 2011. They received a standing ovation.

It would have reminded anyone who did know Giuffrè in the days of his cult bricks-and- mortar REMO store, of his annual team photos. Housed in the location where American Apparel sits today, on the corner of Oxford and Crown Streets, REMO's “the community is the brand” motto, quirky product offer and award-winning mail-order catalogue gave a shot in the arm to Australian retail for eight years – before Giuffrè went bellyup in 1996. After several years working in the US, he reopened in March 2000 as an online operation. The business today has 46,649 customers in 137 countries.

If Saturday is any gauge, then Giuffrè should take heart that there is still definitely room for a bricks-and-mortar environment where people come together to share ideas and a common experience.

Part of this shared experience was community graffiti.

When we broke for the first coffee break, Giuffrè drew our attention to the fact that in each of our delegate bags, was a felt-tipped marker pen. He told us, words to the effect, 'You’ll work out what it’s for when you head to the coffee room'. In a dimly-lit space partitioned off behind the main stage, we were confronted by dozens of polystyrene cubes covered in white calico. Each served the dual purpose of chair - and blank canvas.

People immediately whipped out their marker pens and started scribbling – also on the white floor - quotes, observations and drawings. No idea what the organisers plan to do with the results (perhaps a TEDXSydney quilt?) but I thought I would record as many as possible for posterity with my camera.

Click here to see my Posterous pic gallery of almost 70 of them.

Included is a shot of three generations of Giuffrès: Guiffrè with his mother Marie, teenage daughter Lola and wife Melanie.