Scalar verus Vector Inspiration

by Jinryu

I’ve been getting back into TED talks lately.  I like them and I dislike them– depends on my mood.

Fundamentally, TED talks are a really cool idea.  However in practice, sometimes I think it amounts to fashionable subscription without action.  It’s a lot like other events, talks, and lectures about things that would be good for society that people go to– it gives them a warm, fuzzy feeling to hear an inspirational story, because it makes them feel like a part of this abstract sense of love and togetherness that is the human race.  Yet, applied in every day life, where is the reflection of that practice?

This is probably one of my biggest problems with media in general– the way that it allows us to externalise involvement in human life.

There are two sides to this coin.

Something bad int he world happens, and the media reports it.  You feel bad about it.  You think its tragic.

Alternatively, something good happens.  This could be some inspirational story, or something like a TED talk. You think it’s great.

This is what the media can give us– the idea of media may be that it’s the intermediary between events in the human race and us.  Media is meant to connect a distant event or person to us– to bridge the gap so that we can be affected.

I do believe that we are affected by many things– but I think that the convenience of media has diminished the effect of the affectation.  By that, I mean that emotional responses are incredibly cheap.  There’s little difference, biochemically speaking, between your brain’s response to a news event and a completely fictitious movie– one might just have a more sustained effect because you attribute permanence to the real world, whereas movies end.

The problem as I see it is that, while sometimes a TED talk does inspire, talk is still cheap.  And to hear that someone else is doing great things for the world might actually absolve us of a deeper sense of need for us, ourselves, to take responsibility for our society and do it ourself.

This comes down to the question of what we mean by “feeling inspired.”  To some, it’s a vector quantity of warm fuzzy feelings (or alternatively, fiery, burning emotion), with the importance being a direction that comes with it. For others, it’s a scalar quantity of the same feelings, but without direction.

I don’t believe that social change occurs simply because of scalar quantities without direction.

And what TED talks do, in one way, is to give us ready access to scalar quantities of inspiration, which fulfills our need to feel connected– but does nothing for the need for actual action.  Somehow, by attending these sorts of lectures, we might feel that we’re better people and it might assuage our guilt at not participating actively for actual change.

Of course– is the world better off with less scalar inspiration?  Is vector quanity inspiration the only way to go?



I suppose what I’m getting at is that at the end of the day, if we are considering our place in pushing society forward, we should be guaging ourselves in terms of what we do, not just what we think or say.  Joining a bunch of mailing lists or reading a bunch of blogs is just fooling yourself if you purport to subscribe to a belief but don’t do anything to act on it.