Thursday, 25 January 2018

TEDxBrum 2017

On 15th October 2017, a team of volunteers headed by Immy Kaur hosted TEDxBrum 2017 at the Birmingham Hippodrome. The theme for the day was Perspectives: "we learn more about reality by sharing perspectives". On stage speakers and performers powerfully addressed the theme by reference to their own experiences, art, work, or research.

Some talks discussed the importance of new technological advances and their potential challenges.

Catherine Allen talked about virtual reality (VR) and argued that this new technology has a lot of potential but we should develop some critical distance from it. VR is special because it is not a rectangular space that represents reality (which is what TV, mobile phones, or laptops do) but it is a simulation of reality that enables people to do things rather than just watch, and to empathise with other people.

Ade Adewunmi addressed the contradictions of a software-mediated world. Personal data are gathered by manufacturers, because of their economic value. If manufacturers both own customers' data and control the use of the devices they sell, we have a situation where there is a power imbalance. Customers should start negotiating with manufacturers so that product information can be shared.

Other talks focused on the idea of a city: what makes a city a good city?

Glenn Howells argued that good cities are interesting places where things spontaneously happen and not everything is regulated in all the tiny details. When regulation becomes too suffocating, telling citizens what they can and cannot do even with the space, the city does not develop its own distinctive style. Some spaces should be created without a specific purpose, so that they can develop into something dynamic.

Amahra Spence talked about the need for artists to create spaces where they can live and work together and contribute to the rest of the city. She designed what she calls an artist-led hotel where people can stay and share project spaces. She is also involved in community hubs built for inclusivity where training for young people can happen and ideas can be exchanged.  

Two talks were particularly close to the themes of PERFECT.

Rob Nash discussed the widespread occurrence of false and distorted memories. He argued that remembering is not like going to the library to get a book (information being retrieved), but it is like telling a story (information being constructed). When we tell a story, we add some details or focus on some aspects of what happened to make a point or provoke a reaction.

And I (Lisa Bortolotti) presented our project PERFECT's perspective on mental health: by stressing that experiences of mental distress can be understood in context and often have positive as well as negative outcomes, we can undermine the foundations of mental health stigma and recognise that we are all vulnerable to unreliable memories and poorly supported beliefs.

It was a great day and I learnt a lot by listening to the other speakers and talking to some very engaged members of the audience. TEDxBrum is a perfect example of how to bring expertise and research to bear on people's lives in a fun and informative way.

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