Six months ago, when I was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, I quickly discovered I would be spending a lot of time in front of the television. There just isn’t much else you can do while you are recovering. But I couldn’t just sit there and watch “Talk TV”. I’m a strong Type-A personality. I had to do something productive. So I set my sights on my NetFlix queue.
First, I plowed through all the movies which had accumulated over the years that my wife had no interest in watching. That took a month or two. I then began watching documentaries, like Ken Burns’ series The Civil War and Baseball, and some others as well. You know, the documentaries you have on your queue that sound like you should watch them, but you know you’ll never have the time. Well, I had the time, and I watched.
Soon, however, the queue of movies began to dwindle, and, as I got back to working part-time, my ability to watch two hour shows diminished as well. Somewhere along the way, I discovered that NetFlix had a huge collection of TEDTalks available on line. I began to watch those.
Now anyone who really knows me, knows that I can be a little obsessive-compulsive when it comes to completing things. Back before my kids were born, I played World Of Warcraft, and I became an epic leveler. I couldn’t leave quests incomplete, and I had to do them all. I leveled 9 characters up to level 60 (which was the top level at the time), and spent god-knows-how-many-hours doing it. That stopped when my wife was 7 months pregnant with the twins, and I really haven’t thought too much about it since. But I digress.
When I began watching the TED talks, it appeared as though it would take me a couple of weeks. No problem. I still had lots of time. But what I didn’t know was that NetFlix would continue to release more and more collections of TedTalks. I think I started with 15 collections on my Instant Watch queue at the beginning. As they added more to NetFlix, I added them to my queue. Today, there are 40 collections online, for a grand total of 540 talks. I have seen 539 of them. The only one that I knowingly missed, was one that was completely in Spanish (which I don’t speak), with no subtitles. I’ll go back and watch it if someone wants to be picky about it. Each talk is somewhere between 4 and 29 minutes long, though the majority are between 16 and 21 minutes in length. I have no idea how many total minutes of TED I have seen, but several days worth at least.
So those are the numbers. It’s a lot of watching. And I’m sure, at any moment, NetFlix will add more, and I will no longer be done. Them’s the breaks. But at this moment, I have finished. I don’t remember each one of them, and not every one of them was mind-blowing, but a huge proportion of them were amazing, and some of them were life-altering.
Life altering? Yes. Truly. Before I started watching these talks, I had a view of the world acquired through 40 years of living and working in Western Society, heavily influenced by modern media, a Roman-Catholic education, a B. Sc. in Physics, and 18 years in “Corporate America” (and Corporate Canada). I had fairly strong beliefs in what I thought was important in life, and what was worth discussing, working on and working towards.
And that showed by my selection of which TED talks I watched first. I wanted to see the ones on Space and Technology, cool inventions and adventurous stuff. And those were all pretty good. But as I watched those, I found myself pushing some of the other collections of talks towards the end of the list, as I apparently valued them less, or thought I would find them less interesting.
But it was those collections that have made the most profound impact on my way of thinking about the world, and my life. As I began to learn more about climate change, the importance of the oceans, the effect of truly bringing women into the leadership of society, and the differences between religion and compassion, I began to re-evaluate what I viewed as important. It altered my “Future View”—how I see what is possible, both good and bad, and what needs to happen to steer things more towards the former and away from the latter of those two outcomes.
I can’t cover everything I learned in this one blog entry. But I can tell you what I now believe to be the most important issues we face on this planet. In future blog posts, I’m going to go into more detail about these issues and my views on them. But for now, here is the list. It’s not an exclusive list, and over time, I expect it will change slightly.
1a. Climate Change / Preservation of the Oceans
1b. Women’s Rights and Equality
3. Providing empowering technology to the poor
5. De-politicizing Religion
6. Space Exploration
The topics are huge and diverse, but so were the talks. Of course, my original views still present strongly in these subjects. Space exploration will always be very important to me. Luckily, a number of the other things that I think are very important fall into the Climate Change discussion, so I will cover those there.
Not only did these TED talks influence what I think about and how I think about them, they’re already influencing what I do, and how I do things. I pack my kid’s lunch differently to have lower impact on the environment. I vote differently to try to enable more women to lead. I evangelize about the positive effects of early childhood education. Furthermore, I expect that at some point these thoughts will carry over into my career and what I am going to do with the rest of my life. But that’s a whole other story, and one that is not yet even outlined.
At this point, I am going to end my quest to watch every TED talk as it appears on NetFlix. Spending too much time on any one area is never good. Diversity of thought is critical in this day and age, and the TED talks do tend to lean towards the progressive side of the house. It also takes up a lot of time, and I hope to soon be able to spend more time doing, and less time watching.
Regardless of where you currently sit in the liberal-conservative discussion, you can learn a lot by watching these talks. And when you’re done, tell people about what you saw. Because, as they say at TED, these are definitely Ideas Worth Spreading.