TEDxToronto: From Symbols and Signals to Ideas Worth Spreading

Change is a primary ingredient in any recipe for advancement. Early adopters and innovators are prescient in recognizing the transformative potential of new technologies. At the end of October I had the privilege of attending the Symbols and Signals TEDxToronto event, Canada’s largest TEDx with an audience of over 1,000. These events, or “talks”, are known for hosting diverse content of creative short presentations. Bringing together experts with exceptional ideas, this network has become a catalyst for profound change, and this theme was very present at the most recent event.

Mircea Baldean @ TEDx

Dr. Mary Donohue
CEO of Donohue Learning

The first presenter, Mary Donohue, began by addressing a regularly discussed area of change in the workplace: the generational communication gap that exists between company leaders and staff. This failure to communicate has led to a less than positive workplace experience, but what at first blush appears to be a problem is actually an opportunity. Each generation responds differently to leadership. How can current managers and directors tap into the rich resource of new minds that work and think differently? How can we create workplace environments that produce ideas, not friction?

Donahue concluded by saying, “In technology, people do not hear you.” This remark reflects the challenges of social media and networking through Internet platforms. MeetVibe sees technology as an enabler of social interaction, simplifying the organizational elements of connecting to support real relationships which are cultivated with time and attention.

Paul Rowan
Co-founder & VP Inspiration, Umbra

This thread of how we address pain points through proactive changes was picked up by Paul Rowan, VP of Inspiration at Umbra, in his presentation. Whereas Donohue discussed a communication-based solution to the problem of disconnection, Rowan whimsically discussed solutions from the perspective of design.

“We put up with a lot of pain without even noticing it,” Rowan remarked. For Rowan, his passion is improving how people connect with the objects in their home. “A hacker is someone who doesn’t want to put up with bad design.”

Very true. We spend a significant amount of time in our homes. Even those of us who don’t spend a lot of time at home view it as our base and our space for decompression, so there is very little tolerance for a space made up of components that are not designed to meet our needs. With people, as with objects, a necessary connection and functional purpose is required as espoused by the growing social internet of things.

Nevertheless, there are some instances in which change does not come by way of improved connectivity. In certain cases, a dramatic divergence is necessary in order to make more productive connections.

Salim Ismail
CEO, ExO Works & Founding Executive Director, Singularity University

This was the key idea of Salim Ismail during his presentation on disruptive innovation. “If you try disruptive innovation in any large organization, its immune system will attack you.” And what better example to use than Uber? Uber succeeded by simply breaking the law, he argued. It’s a rather fitting presentation from Ismail, the Founding Executive Director of Singularity University, which aims to “educate, inspire and empower a new generation of leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges.”

Appreciating the transformative effects of change is easier when there’s a productive outcome, whether it’s optimizing an organization to make the best use of a new generation of workers or revolutionizing our method of transportation. But sometimes, change is less purposive. It happens simply because the only permanent thing is change. One area of life where we see this often is in language.

Marcel Danesi
Professor of Semiotics and Linguistic Anthropology

Language adapts to address societal and technological changes. There is no bigger testament to this than the overwhelming popularity of emojis, so much so that the “Face with tears of joy” emoji was named by Oxford as the word of the year.

“We’re living in a post-alphabet future.” A new ‘bilingualism’ has emerged through emoji. “This is the new alphabet. We need feelings, we need to sense, as well as think,” argues Marcel Danesi, a linguistic anthropologist at the University of Toronto as he discussed the future of semiotics.

Besides texts from your friends, bracketing names on social media and translating both pop songs and classic literature, you can now find emoji among art’s greatest masters. Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) recently announced that it had acquired the original set of 176 emoji for its permanent collection. These glyphs, designed for pagers made by the Japanese mobile provider NTT DoCoMo in 1999, were the first pictographs to make their way into mobile communication.

Change is inevitable. How we communicate, how we move around, how we interact with our living spaces – nothing is off limits and everything can be improved. But ensuring we are equipped to handle this change is vital. And so we must look at the bigger picture to consider how we can live more suitably in such shifting conditions.

Neil Pasricha
New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness Equation and The Book of Awesome

Neil Pasricha, the New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness Equation and The Book of Awesome, addressed the need to start thinking about how we live our lives more fully in a world full of change and options. In what he deemed “the world’s first TED Listen” he gave a remarkable performance asking challenging questions such as:

  • How do we stop living in the past & the future?
  • Why does year 2000 feel closer than 2032?
  • Why do we fight more with people we love most?
  • How do you measure your life?

And most importantly:

  • How will you maximize your tiny, short life?

The purpose of any advancement is to improve humanity, but doing so requires an understanding of how we can improve upon our existing ways of navigating and viewing. Answering the questions posed by Pasricha is a promising start towards doing so.

I can’t wait for the recorded view to become available. Here is a short preview.

Make your ideas worth spreading. Make the most of your time!



Follow us on:

Also published on Medium.