Christian Long

Clifford Stoll: Everything

In TED Talks on May 13, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Extra credit reflection by DARCY S.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Clifford Stoll:  Everything

Curious behavior, cornucopia of topics mentioned but NOT being discussed and an inspirational message; these are the factors of Clifford Stoll’s TED talk. Clifford Stoll delivers an intoxicating presentation which reminds us all that there is no one important factor in our life; we are not built of one component, but in fact are influenced by events and people in the most intricate ways and it turns out we are affected and then molded into a human being.

He spends most of his 20 minutes zooming in on several personal interests of his that sound simply perplexing and intriguing, and then zooming back out and moving on. This erratic behavior of his is that which draws us to listen to him. He brings up his interest in the field of astronomy, starts babbling about something on Jupiter and concludes that nobody would be interested in and promptly moves on. Then he briefly talks about how he won’t talk about the Russian KGB who hacked into their lab computers 20 years ago, how he won’t talk about the need to get computers OUT of schools as opposed to current speculation that objects this so, and finally he settles for a brief moment about the future.

He says if you are curious about the future, you shouldn’t ask him. The people who are currently melding the worlds future are the kindergarden teachers. They are the real artists who are writing the future now. They have almost absolute power over children and have the ability to enhance or deplete all hope for our world. The only way that the current adults of society contribute to the world is what they leave behind for the children to inherit. If there is a wave of destructive chaos that floods us, the children will be handed mops and will be expected to take care of it. On the contrary, if the world enters an era of prosperity, the children are expected to nurture it for as long as possible.

Of course, there is no way to predict the state of the world in 50 years because we can’t read the future from a first grader’s score on a spelling test. On the spectrum of utter anarchy and unanimous prosperity, the only way to judge the future is if we know the way which the children are imagining, ideally wild and limitless. This phenomenon was on small component of Stoll’s speech that spoke to me and intrigued me.

Stoll’s presentation also sparks an interesting idea about technique in speaking to people. The erratic way which he presents his topics, bouncing, running, and during the necessary moods standing still, accomplishes what I believe is his point. His technique allows each individual audience member to pinpoint a specific topic and wonder about it. When he brings up all these things, he captures the interest of many people as opposed to a speaker only covering one topic which executes the point poorly. Then we can fall down the rabbit hole that Clifford Stoll has directed us towards, and refer to his books and published writings to learn more.

His energetic character slows down at the end to address a critical point in his speech more seriously. The last words he says quote the inscription on the bells of the Hayes Hall tower bells, which reads: “All truth is one. In this light, may science and religion endeavour here for the steady evolution of mankind, from darkness to light, from narrowness to broad-mindedness, from prejudice to tolerance. It is the voice of life, which calls us to come and learn.” The truth one can find in this quote is unaccountable. In knowing that truth is not just what you know you saw, but actually a mass of untouchable, immaculate capital T Truth, we can wish that all of mankind becomes wise, tolerant and unprejudiced. The quote inspires hope for the future of mankind as a whole, and caps of an inspiring, quirky and meaningful TED talk.

That is why his talk is successful: because it speaks to everybody. His loony personality strikes as genuine and entertaining, which is why we can’t peel our eyes away. Within the first minute he befriends ever audience member and viewer, which makes his words ring truer in our ears.

On top of all that, we can all find a little bit of Clifford Stoll in ourselves.

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