Wednesday, November 7, 2012

TEDxRochester 2012 and the Butterfly Effect

Posted By on Wed, Nov 7, 2012 at 3:10 PM

Common threads in this year's TEDxRochester talks, held Monday, November 5, at Geva Theatre, included risk taking, technology in education, and ways we might shift toward more effective approaches to education, transportation, and connecting with others in our communities. Each and every one of the nearly 20 presentations was captivating and inspiring, but here are just a few highlights. If you want to attend the next TEDx, watch tedxrochester.org for information on applications.

Andrew Phelps, founding director of the School of Interactive Games and Media at RIT, kicked things off with an exploration of how a generation that grew up with video games has learned the scientific method through gaming in his talk, "Rocket Jumping through the Game of Life." Phelps spoke of the implications of hacks and cheating in the little avatar worlds we've created, and wondered if the veneration our generation has for these shortcuts is connected to our veneration for entrepreneurs.

1975 Gallery owner Erich Lehman spoke about "those defining moments" in life, our reaction to them, and the long-lasting effect they have on us. His talk touched on two pivotal moments from his youth: the murder of his 38-year-old mother when he was just shy of 12 years old, and the birthday at which he received his first skateboard, which set him upon the path of appreciating the skate- and street-culture art that he adores and represents in his space. Lehman is about to turn 38, and spoke of reflecting on that crucial-to-him age, of embracing life, taking chances, and leading by example.

One Dance Co. and its frequent creative collaborators, The Pickpockets, performed a deeply moving, abridged version of its piece, "In You is Home," in which a young man moves through tumultuous relationships with three different women. For a little while, two musician-dancer pairs co-played instruments while they moved, creating an achingly sweet discord familiar to anyone who's ever loved.

The audience responded enthusiastically to the screening of a fantastically produced teaser trailer for the longer (upcoming) video created by Phil Night about this past summer's "Wall/Therapy" event. Directly afterward, "Wall/Therapy" founder Dr. Ian Wilson took the stage to talk a bit about the project, framing it as a thank-you to the community that has given him so much. Of the growing project, Wilson stated that "a tall tree is only as strong as its root system. The roots are here in Rochester," issuing a challenge for us to take initiative and tend the grove together.

Next up, Craig Cypher spoke about the new and unexpected ways that people are using ever-developing technologies to enhance their everyday lives. Cypher created the Cohesive Self app, which allows users to access information on relaxation techniques and exercises, and to track their mood over time, and this information can be shared with a psychologist who can detect patterns in the chart, thus enabling the expansion of care beyond the typical hour-per-week session and enhancing the connection between patients and providers. Cypher also touched on developing user-managed technologies that will include skin sensors to read biofeedback, which has the potential to help patients identify trouble and make changes before the problem is a 10/10.

Doug Ackley from the Center for Teen Empowerment walked on stage with Shanterra Randle, a young woman who benefitted from the program and is now its associate coordinator. They spoke about engaging Rochester's youth, who are disconnected from each other and "screaming for resources," who are seeking empowerment, and "will get it one way or another." The program connects youth between the ages of 14 and 20 with leadership positions and opportunities to creatively express what life is like in their communities, and to be involved in finding solutions. The program also enables leaders in Rochester to identify future leaders.

Davin Searls, who heads up Discovering Deaf Worlds, talked about Rochester's deaf community, and how it is "the ideal community to show what deaf people are capable of and what the hearing population is capable of." But of course there is always room for improvement. Searls told us of the 1850's community in Martha's Vineyard that was entirely integrated, in that hearing people would use sign language not just to communicate with the deaf population, but in other practical ways, such as parents conversing with each other silently after the children had gone to sleep. We too use infrastructure that we assume is just for the deaf population - ever been grateful for that closed-captioning on the TV in a noisy bar? It's not people who are disabled, says Searls, but environments. Our way of thinking about this matter is what needs fixing.

Mike Governale, graphic designer and creator of the Roc history-loving blog rochestersubway.com, gave an enthralling talk about Rochester's world-class transit system of the past, the bad decisions that have led us to this point in the road, and his struggles both to help preserve threatened landmarks and to increase awareness of viable shifts in our current and future trajectory. Governale cited Maggie Brooks's smug responses to his letters regarding our transit system and the roadways that strangle our neighborhoods, in which she said that Rochesterians are satisfied with the status quo. "Rochester: the city with the 20-minute drive to nowhere," he says. "This is reversible, but for now, we don't even know we have a problem," he says.

The conference was full of heightened focus on our interconnection, the audience was fired up with inspiration and challenged to carry the flames and encourage them in others. The organizers of the event alluded to an expanded version of the programming, called TEDx365. We'll poke you with an update when we have more info.

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