Let's talk TED

In a hip twist on the traditional book group, the Ashland library is hosting a monthly TED Talk discussion group, where patrons can watch TED Talks on a given topic and share their thoughts. Easily streamed via the Internet, TED's short video lectures are perfect for our fast-paced, media driven world. TED Talks distill loads of fascinating information, much of it previously inaccessible to those who don't read scientific journals, into an engaging clip of 20 minutes or less.

TED, which is an acronym for Technology, Education and Design, is a nonprofit organization whose slogan is "Ideas Worth Spreading." It started out as a conference bringing together people from the three worlds that formed its acronym, though that scope has broadened quite a lot. TED speakers have included renowned scientists, authors, business leaders and famous names such as Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall and J.J. Abrams.

For those who have never seen a TED talk, I highly recommend visiting www.TED.com and taking a look. There are over 1,500 talks on a wide range of topics including why we will eventually rely on robots, how behavioral science can lower your energy bill, scary things computer hackers can do to your car and how brain development and morality are related. Not only are the TED Talks always interesting and often inspiring, but they practically beg to be shared. After seeing one, I can't help but tell a friend about it.

Library assistant and discussion group leader Erin Yancey agrees. She said she discovered the TED Talks several months ago and was streaming them on Netflix. "I'd come into the library all excited and tell everyone about them," she said. Yancey's enthusiasm led library director Amy Blossom to suggest she lead a discussion group on the talks. The group would fill the gap left when the Elastic Mind book group ended in May. With the TED Talks, instead of reading a book in advance, participants would watch one or more videos together and then discuss them. "We've only had one discussion group so far, but this format worked well," said Yancey.

The group's first topic was "Happiness." Yancey said she chose this topic because that was what she was most interested in watching at the time. She picked out some of her favorite TED Talks on happiness, including a 7-minute talk by entrepreneur Ron Gutman on the hidden power of smiling and a 20-minute talk by author Dan Gilbert called "The Surprising Science of Happiness."

Yancey said there were nine participants, and for a little more than 90 minutes the group shared their opinions about specifics in the lectures as well as personal thoughts on the subject. "It was a good discussion. I was worried everyone would be quiet, but that didn't happen at all," said Yancey. "In fact, they wanted to watch more. About three people stayed afterward and we watched a couple more talks. It was great," she added.

The next discussion group topic will be "Nutrition," and Yancey will follow the same format as the first, where she selects three or four videos to watch and leads a discussion. Yancey says she's taking suggestions for topics, though she does have a few in mind, "There are some fun TED Talks on art. I'm not really into art, but I like the TED topics on them. Also, I like anything about psychology. The human brain is always good for conversation."

The TED Talk group will meet Tuesday, July 9, from 1:30 — 3:00 p.m., in the Guanajuato Room of the Ashland Branch Library, 410 Siskiyou Boulevard.

For information about the discussion group call the Ashland Branch Library at (541) 774-6996 or visit www.JCLS.org.

Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at decker4@gmail.com.

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