The spread of ideas

The tagline of the TED talks organisation is “Ideas worth spreading”.

It curates ideas worth spreading, and helps elevate and amplify the message around the world.

It works, too. Careers and entire movements have started from the ripple effect of the TED stage.

There’s a blog about the impact of a TED talk as outlined in a 60 Minutes special:

[The producers] started thinking about the long-tail impact of talks, about how they spark viewers to action in the moment but can also subtly reshift the way they think in ways that might not be obvious for 10, 20, 30 years.

“We ended up doing it the TED way, which is the personal stories and the big idea,” says [Henry] Schuster … “The big idea out of all of this is: putting the TED Talks online. Because otherwise, TED would still be … this great, cool, quirky conference. But it’s not. It’s an internet phenomenon.”

And that’s the key part: “internet phenomenon”.

TED chooses ideas worth spreading, and tries to spread them. But the internet is a million times more powerful than one organisation.

Without the internet, TED would still be a “cool, quirky conference”. But it’s not. TED is a movement, which in turn helps start movements.

The internet is one of humanity’s greatest inventions. It up there with agriculture, the wheel, the printing press, the electric light bulb, the internal combustion engine and vaccination.

All those inventions made a positive impact in ways that are almost impossibly to quantify.

All drew a line in the sand.

Before, when things were as they were, and after, when things would never, ever be the same again.

We are only beginning to see the effects of the internet.

Many people still lament how Twitter is toxic (parts of it is), how Amazon don’t pay enough taxes (they don’t), or how Facebook is dangerous for humanity (the setup of the company suggests it is).

But if we focus on that, we miss the bigger point.

The Internet spreads ideas at light speed every millisecond of every day.

There’s an old phrase that goes:

A lie gets halfway around the world before truth puts on its boots.

That’s even more true now: sensationalism, fake news, conspiracy theories and sound bites without nuance or context can spread quickly.

But those dedicated to the truth cannot just give up, and the same mechanisms of light-speed communications are available to them too.

There’s a law in physics. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

If you consciously choose to bring good energy the next time you meet someone, you will see how good energy can spread.

The internet magnifies this in a way we can’t even begin to understand.

Humanity’s progress depends on using the power of the internet in positive and productive ways.