TEDxNewYork speaker dinner: Celebrating ideas

TEDxNewYork Speaker Dinner
Wednesday, September 7th

As the countdown to TEDxNewYork closed in, the 2016 speakers came together for a dinner to toast the coming event.

Smart Design hosted the evening as the sun set over the Hudson River, while Poppy's Catering + Events created a scrumptious feast of seasonal fare to feed the excitement and creativity of those sitting at the tables.

The transformation of the room from bustling design agency by day, to an intimate evening dining room, was put in place by the Table New York, with beautiful flower arrangements from The Wild Bunch.

Photos by Jessica Nash Photography

Survey results: What motivates the TEDxNewYork community at work?

What motivates you? Do you feel like you belong in your company? Do you feel like you can speak up at work, and that your opinion is valued? Does your work inspire you?

Photo by Dian Lofton

Photo by Dian Lofton

This year at TEDxNewYork we asked our community to tell us honestly how they feel about their work and companies, and what motivates them there. One hundred sixty-five people online and live at the event answered a survey of 22 questions, provided by employee survey experts Culture Amp. The results paint a telling portrait of the curious and active TEDxNewYork community.

So who are you?

75% work full time
7% consultants
7% entrepreneurs/founders
5% freelancers
2% part time workers
1% students

59% female
36% male

You’re generally engaged at work

80% of you are proud to work for your company, and 74% of you are motivated to go beyond what you would in a similar role somewhere else.
....but only 39% of you rarely think about going to work elsewhere.

You feel you can speak up for others at work, with a catch

During TEDxNewYork this year Adam Galinsky shared research that suggests many gender differences are really power differences in disguise. So how do your responses fit in?

80% of you feel comfortable advocating for others at work.

But: When it comes to advocating for your own needs, there’s a considerable division between how males and females respond. While male and female respondents are very close in their answers on most survey questions—about being engaged, having a sense of belonging, and having a sense of purpose—only 67% of females say they are comfortable advocating for their own needs, compared to 85% of males.

Perhaps surprisingly, your responses about feeling like you can advocate for others and for yourself don't have a significant relationship with how engaged you are in your role.

The survey also shows that 69% of females in the community feel their opinions are valued when they speak up, while 82% of males say their opinions are valued. This is important since results indicate that feeling your opinion is valued is one of the top drivers of employee engagement (as are feelings of belonging and purpose).

Age could have something to do with it

Across the board, one age group seems a little more down on their jobs than the rest of the community. People aged 25 to 34—which is also the biggest group represented in the survey, representing nearly 60% of all the people who responded—answered below the average on every single question in the survey, except for one, where they answered the same as the overall average (“I feel safe sharing my ideas at work.”)

In general fewer people in that age group say they feel like they belong in their company, or that their work inspires them, than people younger than 25 or older than 34.

What are the words that you associate with your company's culture?


Exploring the Rabbit Hole: Social spaces and activities at TEDxNewYork 2016

Beyond the amazing ideas on stage at TEDxNewYork 2016 (see what happened all day), attendees met during breaks and meals in bustling social spaces. Thanks to TEDxNewYork’s wonderful partners, they participated in activations that sparked imagination, and enjoyed great conversations and some of the best eats New York has to offer. See some highlights:

The day began with coffee and breakfast as more than 500 attendees made their way to the check-in desk.

Wafels & Dinges was a hit with their “Throw Down” Waffle, and Nounos Creamery set up a delicious yogurt station. Whole Foods Market gave TEDxNewYork-ers a chance to munch on fresh fruit and healthy snacks, while KIND provided a quick breakfast alternative with their healthy breakfast bars. And of course, there was abundant caffeine: Joe Coffee cold brew, Everyman Espresso, Matcha Bar ice tea, and RUNA clean energy drinks. Attendees snacked throughout the day on an array of treats from Peanut Butter & Co., The Chia Co., Sweet Loren’s cookies, Jcoco chocolate, and Perrier.

All that fuel was put to great use between talks as attendees engaged in activations about work and the future during breaks.

Microsoft Stores asked attendees to build their own utopias at their xBox Minecraft activation, and hosted a Q&A with speakers Muneeb Ali and Allison Bishop. Microsoft Stores also brought attendees together for the “Achieve More” Wall, asking attendees: “What do you hope will be achieved for the next generation’s lifetime?” Participants shared their answers on a shared screen via surface tablets.

Culture Amp's experts in employee feedback custom built a workplace culture survey for TEDxNewYork 2016, inspired by speaker Adam Galinsky’s book Friend and Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both. Throughout the day, anonymized responses were aggregated on a giant screen in the Culture Amp lounge, and attendees lined up to respond and see how their experiences compared. (Stay tuned to see the results!)

The menu grew as the day went on to expand bellies along with minds. Lunch was a true New York City feast of Dos Toros tacos and bowls, Taim falafel from their signature food truck, and Inday grain bowls. During lunch attendees mingled, played with activations, and joined Mixmag’s panel conversation on “shifting the dial on diversity” in the music industry. Introverts discovered thought-provoking questions (“Do you have mommy or daddy issues?”) in cards slipped into theater seat pockets, to inspire intimate one-on-one conversations.

After a full day of ideas, Mixmag and Smirnoff Sound Collective threw an epic after-party, complete with DJ sets and dancing. Mixmag provided electronic music that kept attendees moving, and invited the TEDxNewYork community to join the movement to change the face of electronic music, festival programming, and attendance.

As attendees tapped their feet, they munched on cheese, bread, and charcuterie courtesy of Bien Cuit, Murray’s Cheese, and Mile End to fuel the fun. They sipped Rekorderlig Cider and TEDxNewYork’s very own custom-brewed beer from Brooklyn Brew Shop.

Stay tuned for more from the big day -- from the talks themselves to survey results. One more thing coming up on the TEDxNewYork blog: a guide to speakers’ local secrets that location-focused partner xAd produced for each attendee.

Photo credits: Dian Lofton and Jess Nash

Photos: A peek beneath Manhattan's storied Chelsea neighborhood

On Thursday, September 8, 60 keen history buffs and photographers gathered in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood for a camera-ready adventure. They wandered the former theater district and center of contemporary art, learning about its history and how to capture it with their phones, led by Big Onion Walking Tours' Ted and Caroline and hosted by xAd.

Photo by @izapaez

Photo by @izapaez

Renzo Grande (@aliveinnyc) joined the tour, sharing tips and tricks for the most Instagram-friendly shots. To offer structure and keep photos interesting, participants were encouraged to experiment and capture images fitting the themes "Listening," "Freedom," and "My New York."

Photo by @aizeda_c

Photo by @aizeda_c

Photo by @cyberslate

Photo by @cyberslate

Photo by @e_inkwell

Photo by @e_inkwell

Tour-goers also learned all about the storied neighborhood. Did you know...

  • In the basement of the former YMCA located at 7th Avenue and W 23rd Street, Charles E. Merrill met Edmund C. Lynch, and later formed Merrill Lynch?

  • There are fewer than 10 wood-framed houses in Manhattan, and three of them are on the block between 9th Avenue and W 21st Street?

  • The General Theological Seminary at 440 W 21st Street contains the oldest college quad in the city?

Photo by @paulinealcera

Photo by @paulinealcera

To cap off the tour, the photographers gathered at a local bar for drinks, photo-sharing, and more conversations about photography and NYC history with new friends.

Renzo and the TEDxNewYork team chose winning photos from the impressive selection of shots the night yielded.

To hear about upcoming TEDxNewYork events and adventures, join our (very occasional) newsletter.

Photo by @andreskishimoto

Photo by @andreskishimoto

Behind the scenes: how TEDxNewYork finds (and creates) magic in the city

It's a bustling, excited vibe among the TEDxNewYork staff at the moment with audience applications open for the 2016 event! And while it's not quite as chaotic as a Mad Hatter's Tea Party just yet, things are definitely ramping up for our adventure into this year's theme: Down The Rabbit Hole. And this year has such an exciting line-up of speakers; we hope you'll join us!

Among all this work we took ten minutes with Thu-Huong Ha, one of the TEDxNewYork co-founders, to ask her where exactly this adventurous theme came from.

Why are we going 'down the rabbit hole' this year?

If you’ve got a curious mind, you probably know what it's like to lose yourself down rabbit holes, be that spiraling down an internet research hole or giving yourself over to questions that don't have answers. To that end we want our speakers to take us to their nerdiest extremes. We've selected a fantastic list of speakers that won't be afraid to take us somewhere unexpected, to really show us the underbelly of their work.

What can the 2016 audience expect?

We hope you'll get lost on this overpowering journey with us, and by the end, come out almost disoriented with all the exciting things that you've just learned about.

How did you choose this year's speakers?

We think as editors. Even though this is a volunteer project, all year round we’re listening for things that we think people don't know. We're not trying to put people on stage that you've heard from a thousand times, a CEO who does the rounds at all the tech conferences in New York.

We look for people who have very strong ideas, not just celebrities.

You guys sound like you're in the know. How do you do this?

We always have our ears to the ground, and as a team we avidly devour information. And quite frankly we love New York, so we’re out and about going to events. We also talk to our friends. There are lots of areas of knowledge I don't know about, so I consult experts. That includes smart friends, people who work in sectors of the city I know nothing about, and asking past speakers who are deeply rooted in their fields and know about people who are up-and-coming.

What makes TEDxNewYork unique?

People put on TEDx events for any number of reasons: to meet like-minded people; to get their ten best friends in a room watching talks and discussing them; to celebrate the local community.

Some of those goals are very important to us as well, but we really focus on the strength of the program. It sounds obvious but it's not every organizer’s goal, which is perfectly OK. We've had 10 million views from our first event alone, and that's because we focused so hard on the outcomes of talks. We wanted them to live online for a global audience and to resonate with lots of people beyond those in the room.

We want to shake people out of their routine. The fact that we’re not an industry conference is a huge strength of our event. You're not going in order to learn the secrets of your own profession; you're going to realize that there's a lot more than what you're working on, and that's an amazing thing.

If the event can ever so slightly change the way that you approach two or three things in your life, that can be quite powerful.

Final words Thu?

If you come on this journey with us, we promise you'll learn something new and feel different by the end.

TEDxNewYork returns Saturday, September 10 2016

"The time has come," the walrus said, to talk of TEDxNewYork 2016. On Saturday, September 10, TEDxNewYork returns to talk of many things, so save the date!

Think you’re read up on what’s new? There’s so much more than you could ever imagine—which is why this year’s theme is “Down the Rabbit Hole.” Together we’ll be diving deep into the unknown, led by a line-up of fascinating intellectual leaders who will guide us on a journey to the limits of their curiosity.

Bringing together renowned and underground stars, TEDxNewYork will be a thought-provoking adventure with genuinely home-grown New York ideas in an immersive, full-day extravaganza of intellectual theater that will blend talks, performances, films, and delicious food.

The TEDxNewYork team has been working hard, knowing that the 2014 talks have received over 9 million views, to make sure this year is even bigger and better. To mark a new chapter of cerebral stimulation, we’ll be heading to a new location at the SVA Theatre in Chelsea.

Want to join in? Applications will be open soon, so sign up for the mailing list. Or sign up to be in the know about speaker updates, announcements and exciting invitations.

Stay tuned to this blog for regular updates, titillating tidbits, and New York news.

And while you’re surfing the internets, check out the talks from 2014 to get a taste of what’s to come. Because “If you don't know where you are going any road can take you there.” (Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)

Join the TEDxNewYork partnerships team!

TEDxNewYork is looking for an experienced team member to develop a lasting, locally-driven sponsorship strategy.

We are a non-profit, all-volunteer organization dedicated to spreading the ideas of New Yorkers through live talks and interactive events.

Our 2014 conference hosted over 400 attendees and our talks have been viewed over 7.1 million times–an unprecedented number for a first-time TEDx event. In the coming years, we plan to host more gatherings–both grander and more intimate–and we need talented team members who can engage with the brands that will help us get there.


  • Develop partnerships strategy for our local brand with a global reach
  • Onboard new long-term partners as well as build relationships with an existing portfolio of clients and agencies
  • Recruit and manage partnerships team
  • Ensure campaigns meet objectives and align with TEDxNewYork philosophy

Education and experience requirements

  • 2-5 years of experience in sales/partnerships
  • Account management experience in conferences and/or digital media
  • Past experience managing teams
  • Community organizing experience a huge plus
  • Established network of brands, foundations, advertising, and agency contacts.

TEDxNewYork is an all-volunteer initiative. This is a part-time position with the opportunity for commission. Email partners@tedxnewyork.com with your résumé and a short paragraph about why you're interested.

The stories we tell about science: A conversation

Red wine is good for you. No, red wine is bad for you. 

Ben Lillie and Virginia Hughes began a TEDxNewYork conversation about science and culture at Untitled Space in Tribeca by taking a look at why this kind of headline whiplash happens in the press: because science journalism has been structured around reporting on single studies as they are published in scientific journals.

Ben Lillie and Virginia Hughes in conversation at Untitled Space on June 9, 2015, New York, NY. Photo: Jim Webber

Ben Lillie and Virginia Hughes in conversation at Untitled Space on June 9, 2015, New York, NY. Photo: Jim Webber

“Any single study is something like 50% likely to turn out to be wrong,” says Hughes, science editor at BuzzFeed. “Not because of fraud or misconduct, but because of basic statistics.” 

“It’s just how science works,” says Lillie, the founder of Story Collider. “This runs right up against the way we think about science in culture—that scientists go into lab and make a discovery and then tell us about it. In fact, it is a messier process.”

The audience, listening intently. Photo: Jim Webber

The audience, listening intently. Photo: Jim Webber

In the conversation, Hughes shared why BuzzFeed has set up a five-person “investigative science” desk and Lillie revealed the spark that led him to create a storytelling platform for personal stories about science. They talked about science in movies, science in art, science generally in the fish bowl of our culture. The point: that all of our lives are shaped and continually influenced by science. 

The discussion veered toward the movement in science journalism to focus on racism and sexism in the field, and how science journalists have become more political in “holding people’s feet to the fire.” Both have recent examples: Lillie wrote an essay for Slate on the controversy over a $1.5 billion telescope on a sacred site in Hawaii and Hughes edited a story on BuzzFeed about a Nobel Prize winner making sexist comments at a conference.

Hughes said, “Whenever there’s bad behavior in science, the argument is always that: ‘But science is for the greater good, so we have to overlook all this terrible behavior.’”

“We have this idea that scientists are these objective people,” said Lillie.  “We minimize stories of the harm science has done.”

Finally, the two turn to the rise of the celebrity scientist, a la Neil deGrasse Tyson. “What do you make of this?” asks Lillie.

“I’m not sure what to make of it,” said Hughes, with a pause. “I think it taps into people’s genuine love of awe.”

Drinks and chitchat after the show. Photo: Jim Webber

Drinks and chitchat after the show. Photo: Jim Webber

Good times. Photo: Jim Webber

Good times. Photo: Jim Webber

The philosophy of numbers, the limits of sight, and a way to halt gentrification: A recap of TEDxNewYork 2014

By Kate Torgovnick May

Ben Wellington speaks at TEDxNewYork - Grand, Central. November 1, 2014, Weylin B. Seymour Building, Brooklyn, NY. Photo: Dian Lofton

Ben Wellington speaks at TEDxNewYork - Grand, Central. November 1, 2014, Weylin B. Seymour Building, Brooklyn, NY. Photo: Dian Lofton

New York City is bursting with ideas. And at TEDxNewYork, we got to hear some of the most fascinating. Below a recap of the talks from this event, held on November 1st in the grand halls of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank.

GIFs, infographics, data visualizations. Lam Thuy Vo, the interactive editor at Al Jazeera America, kicks off the event with a talk about these new forms. She confesses that, at times, she’s been asked to “do something funny with the numbers,” which can lead to mediocre results. The key to multimedia news: the form has to, first and foremost, convey the story. “The best visual storytellers think about the story they want to tell before they write a line of code or pick up a camera,” she says. After giving examples of multimedia stories where the medium truly serviced the story—including Out of Sight, Out of Mind, an animated data visualization of drone strike deaths that shows how they’ve accelerated in tandem with notable news events—she concludes, “Technology has never defined the storyteller—it was always the tool, never the starting point.”

Gentrification is a buzzword in New York City. But urban planner Stacey Sutton points out that many people don’t quite understand it. “Most people think of gentrification as the refurbishing of infrastructure like the High Line, the appearance of high-rise buildings, the proliferation of retail or the restoration of homes,” she says. “But defining gentrification as neighborhood improvement is overly simplistic.” Gentrification, says Sutton, is when those with high incomes and status relocate to low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally been disinvested in. The people who live there are displaced, both directly (because the rent goes up) and indirectly (because they feel a sense of their network eroding). It isn’t a financial boon for the city, she says, it’s a social justice issue. And it’s one we need to change by thinking about our policies. It’s not a natural process, Sutton says. “It’s about who we value, what we value, and how we’re going to act upon that.”

Next, poet Safia Elhillo, who has been described as the “love child of Frida Kahlo and DMX,” steps to the stage. She launches into a beautiful tangle of words about the complications of identity and daughterhood, asking, “Did our mothers invent loneliness or did it make them our mothers?” Powerful and haunting, her poem of nostalgia and alienation permeate the room. Read her work for yourself.

Philosopher Kit Fine wants to talk about numbers. Numbers are strange, says Fine, because they are neither physical objects nor purely mental objects. Using the number 2, he walks us through some thinking about the nature of numbers. He starts with the theories of Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell, who thought of the number 2 as the set containing all pairs, which leads to a contradiction: The number 2 itself is part of the set known as 2. Next, he shared the theory of John von Neumann, who saw the number 2 as the set containing 0 and 1. This, however, takes away the uniqueness of the number and its ability to be used in counting. Finally, he shares the theory of Georg Cantor, who asks us to think of the number 2 as a set of units, both stripped of all their individual features. This, says, Fine is a far more satisfying understanding of the number.

I Quant NY is a website that tells the story of New York City in data. The man behind it: Ben Wellington. “Numbers make up the infrastructure of New York City,” he says, noting that in 2012, Mayor Bloomberg signed the most ambitious open data legislation in the country, which allowed data enthusiasts like himself to go to town. One of the many questions Wellington sought to answer on his site: When is rush hour in New York City? He analyzed the mile per hour movement of taxis and determined that the pace—11.5 mph—was exactly the same from 8:34am all the way to 6:33pm. “There is no rush hour, there is rush day,” he says. And then he points out a problem—that just because data sets are open doesn’t mean that they are usable. Some come in long PDFs, which need to be scraped, and others come in piles of spreadsheets that don’t match up by category. He calls not just for the release of data, but the standardization of it. “If we set an open data standard, others will follow,” he says.

Sree Sreenivasan points out that there are two camps of people in the modern US: digital natives, who were born into a hyperconnected world, and digital immigrants, who learned to exist in it. “Everybody covets digital natives,” he says. “But let’s not forget the digital immigrants. They bring perspective, history and understanding. They know both the potential and pitfalls of technology.” Sreenivasan backs up for a minute: He and his wife became American citizens last year, and found that the process of having to learn all about the United States and its government was hugely valuable. “Immigrants ask questions,” he says. “They don’t take anything for granted.” His point: that both digital natives and digital immigrants can have incredible digital mindsets, both worthy of respect and professional consideration.

This American Life contributor Starlee Kine steps to the stage to end the session with a question: “How many of you have had a good idea?’ She confesses that every time she has one, she lives in mortal anxiety that she’ll never have another one. But she’s trying to get over it. She shares the intricate story of how her friend who created Geico’s caveman advertising campaign was inspired by George Saunders, who was inspired by a long line of writers and artists all the way back to Edgar Allan Poe, whose “The Raven” was inspired by a bird in a story by Charles Dickens. “The bad news: There’s no getting around waiting for inspiration to come,” she says. “But it does make me feel less lonely.”

Session 2 opens with Choclattjared dragging overturned paint buckets onstage. He takes out two drumsticks and begins to pound them in an incredible explosion of percussive energy. Take a listen to his stylings for yourself

Foreign policy scholar Sue Mi Terry is sick of all the discussion of where North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has disappeared to. “Who cares?” she says. “It’s the third Kim and North Korea is still the same repressive, dysfunctional state it has been.” She wants the United States to start thinking more long-term about its policy toward North Korea—because it’s not just about ending the country’s nuclear program but also about ending the nation’s long list of human rights abuses. Terry’s bold idea: to reunify the Koreas. She notes that while many may disagree in the short term, that in the long term, peaceful reunification would have some true upsides for all. A united Korea could be both an economic powerhouse and force for stability in the region, says Terry.

“Surgeons can’t always see the full extent of disease,” says Michelle Bradbury, a radiologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. She introduces us to an extremely exciting technology—nanoparticles that can help surgeons see exactly where cancer has spread. These silicone particles target the disease, binding to tumors and, under special lighting, producing a glow that allows surgeons to target nodes. These particles are coated, so the body doesn’t recognize them, and they exit the body through the bladder within days. Bradbury shows an incredible on-screen demo of a surgeon cutting out a glowing blob and placing it on a tray. The audience erupts in applause.

Albert Wenger is a partner at Union Square Ventures, whose portfolio includes Etsy and Tumblr. He points out that most of our current business practices were developed in eras of scarcity. Now that scarcity has largely been supplanted by abundance, how can public policy accelerate the information explosion that’s been happening in the tech and business worlds in recent decades? He suggests two ideas. First: a basic income guarantee for all citizens, which would allow us to embrace automation by robots, and would free up our time to experiment and create new things that could be funded after the fact. Second, Wenger proposes that we develop the right to be represented by a bot, or an API. He explains that individuals should not just be members of a network, but should have tools to protect them from being taken advantage of within those networks. From a bot that would allow drivers to work for both Uber and Lyft simultaneously, to ways to actually access your own Facebook data, he sees great potential for programs to empower individuals in the age of digital abundance.

Oncologist Azra Raza gives a chilling statistic: 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will get cancer in their lifetimes. Says Raza, “We’re not exactly winning the war on this disease.” One of the biggest reasons we’re not developing effective treatments, she says, is that we’re relying too much on animals, like mice, for drug testing. “We first cured acute myeloid leukemia in mice in 1977,” she says. “Today, we’re using the same drugs in humans with dreadful results.” Raza walks us through the complexity of myelodysplastic syndrome, a malignant preleukemic disease of the bone marrow. She demonstrates the importance of not just treating individual cells but of addressing the entire microenvironment of a tissue. Her idea: researching potential treatments in human cells, via her lab’s tissue repository that contains 50,000 samples collected over three decades. “Everyone thinks so much money is being spent on cancer research, but that’s not exactly true,” she says, leaving us with a shocking bar graph that shows the $4 billion spent on cancer research in a year dwarfed by what is spent on clothing and entertainment in the same timeframe. She asks for a fundamental shift.

When Joshua Kissi and Travis Gumbs of the website Street Etiquette found a photo book of students at Howard University in the 1950s, something clicked. They’d never seen this kind of style before—buttoned up, collegiate—on black men. They decided that they wanted to update the look, so set out to photograph a series called The Black Ivy using students and professors at City College. More recently, the two wondered: Could they change the perceptions of people who live in public housing simply by changing what they wear? They created a series called Slumflower, for which they dressed men who live in public housing in dapper suits. “There are positive stereotypes associated with a suit,” they say, showing images from the series.

Social psychologist Emily Balcetis is fascinated by the fact that two people can look at the same thing and see different realities. Sight isn’t just about our eyes, she says: “What we see is filtered through our mind’s eye.” Balcetis and her team at NYU were interested in how this played out in the arena of health and fitness, so they conducted a study where they asked participants to march quickly toward a finish line while carrying extra weight. They asked the participants to estimate the distance to the finish line, and found that physically unfit participants literally saw the finish line as farther away than fit participants. Balcetis wondered: Could they give people a strategy to help them overcome this? So in another study, they asked half of the participants to “keep their eyes on the prize” — to laser-focus their attention on the finish line and actively try to blur out what was in their periphery. The people who did this saw the finish line as 30 percent closer. And when they did the activity, they said it required 17 percent less exertion than those in the control group—and they moved 23 percent faster. This, of course, is just one example of how focusing what we see could ripple out into many parts of our lives. “We may see the world in a way that doesn’t line up with reality,” she says. “But we can teach ourselves to see it differently.”

The final session begins with a haunting performance from TED Fellow Somi, whose songs merge African musical traditions with jazz and contemporary vocals. She treats the TEDxNewYork audience to a rendition of “Brown Round Things” and “Last Song.” Give the latter a listen.

As a teenager, Ismael Nazario spent 400 days at Rikers Island -- 300 of them in solitary confinement. In solitary, hey says, you start pacing back and forth and talking to yourself until “you become your own worst enemy.” “We need to change the culture in our prisons for young inmates,” says Nazario. “Jails are supposed to rehabilitate people, not cause more anger, hate, and hopelessness.” He has several ideas for this. The first, teaching correctional officers to be positive role models for adolescent populations. “[Correction officers] play a big part in these young people’s lives,” he says. “Why not give them some type of insight to make a change?” Nazario also hopes to see the development of more programs—art therapy, music classes—to help young inmates develop skills that they can use to get out of the quicksand that exists around them in their everyday lives.

New Yorkers have been importing bottled water for 200 years, shares urban archaeologist Alyssa Loorya. While many of us rarely stop to consider the lives of the generations who occupied the city before us, this is Loorya’s specialty. “Archaeology is about everyday people using everyday objects -- the child who played with this toy, the person who drank out of this bottle,” she says, showing a slide of the ceramic import. Loorya tells us a story about City Hall, which was once a remote part of New York, the location of the city’s first almshouse. Here, the poor earned their keep by doing menial labor like button-making. The young poor were often forced into quarters with the residents of the next-door prison. The reigning idea of the time was that, for both populations, hard work would reform them into productive members of society. “This gives us insight into what it was like to be poor in the 18th century,” she says. 

“There are lots of new democracies around the world, but a lot of them are not looking very good,” says political scientist Sheri Berman. She wants to shed light on the democratic backsliding that’s taken place in the wake of the Arab Spring, as well as in Russia and Hungary. This isn’t happening because some nations simply aren’t suited to democracy, argues Berman. “It has more to do with the inherent difficulties of establishing democratic regimes,” she says. She points us to an example: France. The first democratic uprising here was declared in 1793 and collapsed the same year, and many more transitions to democracy followed it. In fact, democracy didn’t fully take root for another 165 years. And this is the norm, says Berman, showing similar timelines of how democracy unfolded in Italy, Spain and South Korea—even in the United Kingdom and United States. “There are many paths to democracy, but very few of them are quick, peaceful, or easy,” she says.

Comedy writer Will Stephen of College Humor steps to the stage next to give a satirical talk on the topic: how to come off as smart in your TEDx Talk. “Hear that?” he asks. “It’s the sound of nothing. That’s what I have for you all today.” But despite the fact that he doesn’t really have anything to say, he looks and sounds remarkably insightful. “I’m going to do this with my right hand,” he says, gesticulating widely. “And I’m going to do this with my left hand.” He shows slides of a random assortment of numbers. “Four, four, 24,” he says. “Staggering!” And then comes his final coup. “I’m going to take off my glasses, which, by the way, are just frames,” he says, leaving the stage to huge applause.

The final speaker of the day is Ben Lillie, director of The Story Collider, who is here to talk to us about the third element on the periodic table, lithium. It’s in medications and batteries, yes, and is the subject of songs by both Nirvana and Evanescence. “Lithium is one of the strangest elements in the world,” he says, narrating the story of how all the elements came to be and why lithium is an unusual outlier. “Lithium carbonate can be ingested, and as it goes into the bloodstream, it becomes an effective medication for psychiatric disorders,” he says. “Element number 3 has an effect on personality.” So: Why is the story of lithium so interesting? “Because it makes visceral something I had only known in the abstract—that the same forces that shape our personality are the same forces that shape the universe,” says Lillie, closing the day.

TEDxNewYork begins

By Kate Torgovnick May

It's a drizzly morning in New York City, with raindrops falling on the dome of Weylin B. Seymour's, aka the Williamsburgh Savings Bank. But underneath, in the beautifully ornate grand hall, the first session of TEDxNewYork is underway. The first talk gave valuable advice to storytellers in the age of infographics and data visualizations; the second looked at how gentrification is far from inevitable.

The audience has settled in to enjoy this event, sandwiched between Halloween and the day of the New York Marathon. Stay tuned to read more about the talks from today's event.

10 weird things I accidentally learned about New York

By Thu-Huong Ha

New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town! Here’s one of my favorite images of it, created by George Schlegel lithographers in 1873, while the Brooklyn Bridge was under construction. Image: Wikipedia

New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town! Here’s one of my favorite images of it, created by George Schlegel lithographers in 1873, while the Brooklyn Bridge was under construction. Image: Wikipedia

New York is a playground of absurdity. I’ve lived here on and off for the past decade. Since I ate my first workday lunch in a “park” in downtown Manhattan, I've been blindly accepting everyone's inexplicable behavior in this city, not least of all the block-long cronut line I pass on my way to work every morning. So when I started curating the speaker program for TEDxNewYork it seemed a productively impossible task: to expand my view beyond my own little pocket of the city.

New York is an extrovert, leading and looking forward, not looking underground, inside or backwards. So finding local speakers with ideas that haven’t yet surfaced has been surprisingly difficult. But during our curation research, my team and I fell down a lot of research rabbit holes, each leading to something we just didn’t know about New York's underbelly. Doing research like this means a lot of nights on the Internet -- Wikipedia lists, New Yorker archives, the tables of contents of academic publications, Reddit -- but also just talking to people -- to strangers in bars, to your friend about their dissertation, to others standing on the subway platform. Once people know you’re looking for local stories, they start volunteering weird information. When you hear about a person, place or thing from multiple sources before NPR or The New York Times has caught on, you start to connect the dots as to what’s about to break out.

Keeping your ear to the dirty Manhattan ground doesn’t always yield great TEDx Talks, but it does make for good watercooler conversation. Below, 10 facts we learned from our research that we thought you’d enjoy.

  1. City Hall used to be a place for "sturdy beggars." In 1735, New York built its first almshouse where City Hall is today. According to urban archaeologist Alyssa Loorya, one of our speakers, "It served five groups: 'Poor Needy Persons,' 'Idle Wandering Vagabonds,' 'Sturdy Beggars,' 'Parents of Bastard Children,' and the 'bastard' children.” .
  2. If you drop your Blackberry into the subway tracks, you can get it back from these guys. Dubbed “the fishermen of the subway” they use homemade tools to recover the things New Yorkers drop on the tracks. .
  3. One fire hydrant and a badly designed parking spot can net the city $33,000 in a year. But: Thanks to speaker Ben Wellington, who first posted this data on his blog, the city also shows that it can self-correct. .
  4. Some subway buskers have agents. We were surprised to discover this when we approached one. .
  5. New York State is buying out 750 homes in Staten Island and Long Island as a strategy to protect against future hurricanes. The City, which normally favors rebuilding over demolishing, turned down residents, so the people of Staten Island went over their heads to the State. A friend in an urban planning program at MIT told me about this over a beer one night recently, and I can’t say I’ve met one Manhattanite who knows about it. .
  6. The ubiquitous voice of subway announcements lives in Maine. Her name is Carolyn Hopkins, and she does non-New York gigs, too: She’s the voice of 200 different airports. .
  7. As of June this year, New York now has a Morbid Anatomy Museum. You can take workshops there on some pretty weird stuff. .
  8. There are only two states in the US that automatically charge 16- and 17-year-old as adults, and New York is one of them. Unhealthy jail systems have been in the news quite a bit since Preet Bharara, the US attorney in Manhattan, published a lengthy report in August on treatment of teens in Rikers Island. Now as solitary confinement for teens at Rikers comes to an end we turn to our speaker Ismael Nazario, who was in solitary in Rikers for over 300 days before ever being convicted of a crime, to hear his story. .
  9. The James A. Farley Post Office, the enormous historic building next to Penn Station bears the inscription: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” You can take a tour of the nearly empty building, or even have a fashion show. (You can also try to have a TEDx event there. Not that we would know.) .
  10. Oh, and one thing everyone knows: The Rent is (still) 2 Damn High.