Highlights from our incredible afternoon speakers!
Muneeb Ali: An Internet without the middlemen
Computer scientist Muneeb Ali cofounded the open-source software startup Blockstack Labs with a vision for a different kind of Internet. “The first big problem with the Internet,” he says, “is that we blindly trust companies we don’t know. The second big problem—we don’t own our data.” Ali discusses how a new web, based on technology called the blockchain, takes away power from these companies and instead puts it where it belongs, with the people. “The new Internet has a concept of ownership. You can have your own username, your own storage space. And once that happens, communication can be between two individuals and there is no company in the middle,” he says. While the old Internet made us blindly trust these middlemen, the new Internet fixes that.
Kristin Lee and Matthew Lipman: Johan Halvorsen’s Passacaglia in G minor
“Chamber music is the art of dialogue. It is dynamic, communicative, and implores me to the edge of my seat every time I hear it,” said Matthew Lipman before taking the stage with Kristin Lee to put on a stellar performance. Hailing from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, these two musicians shared with us the infectious power of connection that chamber music creates, bringing the whole audience to their feet.
Ian Bremmer: Which country’s leading the world?
Donald Trump wants to bring us back to the 1930s, Hillary Clinton wants to bring us back to the 1990s—neither will be successful, according to political theorist Ian Bremmer. The time, he says, for fighting against or preparing for globalization is over; America’s global leadership is over and no one country is taking the helm. Our era will be defined by whether or not we can embrace the new world order. The question remains whether we can build systems that ensure both independence and cooperation among our variety of political systems, social norms, and economic interests—from the high-poverty big economies like China, India, and Nigeria to the traditionally middle-class powerhouses like the US, UK, and Germany.
Mark S. Luckie: Black lives matter. Now what?
“In a grotesque way, I’m fortunate to be named Mark,” says Mark S. Luckie. “I wonder how many opportunities would not be afforded to me if my name was as black as my skin color.” The head of media at Reddit gives a frank, rousing talk about what’s next for the US after Black Lives Matter. Conversations that have happened among black Americans for generations are now a part of the fabric of the country, says Luckie. “The phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ is about more than just policing,” says the journalist and digital strategist. “It extends to these everyday interactions. Being told implicitly or explicitly that we are less than.” This can leave us wondering what to do about it. “So we're woke…what happens next?” he asks. Representation in places like the Oscars and in the literary canon matters, says Luckie, and so does simply celebrating the success of minorities. “Create art. Express yourself. Even if it isn't part of your 9 to 5. Graduate. Get that AA or that PhD,” he says to close.
Cakes Da Killa: “Talkin Greezy” + “New Phone (Who Dis)”
Brooklyn-based rap artist Cakes Da Killa kicked off the final session of TEDxNewYork 2016 with a high-energy performance of two original songs that got the entire crowd on their feet, along with DJ Tygapaw.
Jo Firestone: Everyone is terrible, and so are you
Everyone is terrible. You, me, and definitely you over there. That’s how comedian Jo Firestone opens her talk. In a short, funny talk she outlines all the ways in which even the most well-intentioned people are pretty terrible, yourself included. There are some people who are definitely good, but that’s only about eight people ever, says Firestone. There are a few who are definitely the worst, like rapists and probably your boss. And then everyone in between—you included—is terrible. It doesn’t matter how good you think you are, says Firestone; someone whose heart you once broke surely wants you dead. Even puppies, which seem so great, sometimes poop on your leg. Terrible. But there’s good news. Says Firestone, “Everyone has moments when they’re madder than they should be, or sadder than they should be, or drunker, or louder or braggier or meaner or cheaper or ruder or dumber or more impatient or more ignorant than they should be.” But we still try to be good. We mess up, but we also bring banana bread for the book club.
Joanna Ebenstein: Death is inevitable, so let’s celebrate it
“I marvel at—and resent—our culture that makes death an intolerable thought,” says Joanna Ebenstein. The art curator and cofounder of Brooklyn’s Morbid Anatomy Museum believes that “morbid” has become stigmatized. But in her view, death, and by extension, morbidity, are beautiful. In her travels outside the US, she says, “I’ve become [certain] that the way we think of death today, in our particular culture, is the exception rather than the rule.” She shows vivid photos she’s captured from around the world of rituals and art practices that celebrate and prepare for death: memento mori, Korea’s Chuseok holiday, Mexico’s Día de los Muertos, and allegorical fetal skeleton tableaux. “It’s time we reclaim the word 'morbid,'” says Ebenstein. “Perhaps by becoming friends with death—or at the very least finding a meaningful way to deal with it so that we do not live in constant fear of it—we can find a richer, more authentic life with our time on Earth.”
Stephanie Spellers: How to truly listen
“I think I could pinpoint for you the day Americans stopped listening,” says Stephanie Spellers. She paints a picture of the country in the 1990s, when “battle lines were drawn on college campuses across America.” The Episcopal priest remembers the anger of white men as her class, with a substantial number of black students, entered Wake Forest University. She was proud that it was her turn at last to make those white people uncomfortable, that they had to tiptoe around her, and not the other way around. But now, she reflects years later, these privileged classmates felt pain and loss, too—she just didn't know because she wasn't listening to them. If you’ve ever talked to someone who truly listens, she says, it’s a gift. “I hope you’ve had at least one moment when you were heard so well, you felt loved,” says Spellers. It’s truly brave listening, she believes, that will make the people in our country free. “Genuinely imagine that something true and necessary is coming out of the mouth of that other person,” says Spellers. “Even that one.”