October 19, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Andrew Shoben, greyworld

Felix editor Matt Colvin looks back on an afternoon of technology, entertainment, design – and Victorian hats. What made TEDxImperialCollege special?

It’s not often that one comes across the peculiar social dilemma of wondering whether or not to loudly applaud a video in a rather public environment. Luckily, in this case, any such dilemma swiftly became a matter of routine. “Yes,” was the answer, “we should be applauding”. And applause was definitely something that was on the cards. The occasion? Imperial College London was playing host to its first ever TEDx conference.

TED is a series of conferences, the name coming together from the three worlds it aims to exhibit: Technology, Entertainment, and Design. It began in 1984 as a conference and now runs annually in Long Beach and Palm Springs every spring. Its popularity has been extended as a result of an archive of TED lectures becoming available online for anyone to view. The TEDx program acts as an extension of TED, allowing individuals and communities alike the opportunity to stage their own TED-like experiences.

The idea of bringing TEDx to Imperial was brought to fruition by a group of students, many currently part of the MSc Science Communication course at Imperial. It was decided that the event should aim to “revive the spirit” of the Great Exhibition of 1851, an idea born from Imperial’s prime location in the centre of one of London’s primary cultural hotspots.

With speakers lined up for the event, ranging from those invested in the world of art to academics who can only be described as invested in a dynamic fusion of fashion and chemistry, all that remained to be found were attendees. It was such a prospective audience, made up of students, staff, and a great deal of outside interest that responded with vigour when it came to registering for tickets to the event. On the day itself, disparate corners of Twitter began to be overrun by attendees posting their excitement through uploaded images showing crowds waiting to be let into the Great Hall.

Indeed, the event had a profound effect on social media. It was an effect that I particularly noticed while live-blogging the event, which necessitated following coverage on Twitter and other social networks. Not many student-led events at Imperial can boast of a team of students lined up and ready to report on the latest goings on to the internet. In most circumstances I wouldn’t blame them. Yet this was what was exactly in place at the back of the Great Hall. Twitter, Facebook and Flickr were all covered by a crack team, ready to update any and all interested parties with up-to-the-minute developments, and, really, just as excited for the event as anyone else.

It turned out that the afternoon had a bigger societal effect than what many, including the organisers, were expecting. As the complete opposite of a Twitter heavyweight, I didn’t quite appreciate the fact that #TEDxIC began trending in the United Kingdom very early on, but I was very soon informed that it was a Pretty Big Deal.

Aleks Kolkoeksi recreates the sound of the 1851 Great Exhibition

Gareth Mitchell, (lecturer on the Science Communication course and presenter of the BBC World Service’s technology-focused radio show Click) acted as compere for the afternoon, making sure speakers ran to schedule, which, to everyone’s soaring appreciation (and, slight disappointment that it didn’t quite go on a little while longer), they did. His introductory words summed up the success that the event saw on social media. Emphasising the importance of communication, he encouraged open discussion between both other attendees and the speakers themselves, whether through switching seats between each session, or seeking out speakers while on the hunt for refreshments.

With any TEDx event, a minimum of two pre-recorded talks for the the TEDTalks video series are required to be shown. In this case, this requirement was not seen as a necessary evil, but judging by the reaction on social media throughout the day, the videos were just as enthusiastically received as the actual talks themselves. With varying, entertaining topics such as performing never-before-seen feats with iPods or promoting the importance of doodling in the workplace (finally!) they added to the afternoon’s proceedings as if there in person. Never did it feel as those this was an obstacle that needed to be overcome. They were well worth the time and by all means the applause.

Nevertheless, each of the physically present speakers had their own impact online, and I neither have the disk space nor copious time that I could spend listing the messages and inspirations from each one individually. There was Aleks Kolkoeksi’s profoundly unique recreation of the sounds of 1851. Then there was what many considered to be an overriding them of the day, that of not having your mind fixed on pursuing a job in the City, but instead having an idea and changing the world, as felt perhaps most of all by speakers such as Joanis Holzigel, who along with his colleagues at Imperial’s e.quinox project have been tackling electrification in rural Africa, all while studying for a degree. These speakers not only succeeded in evoking the spirit of the Great Exhibition for those in attendance, they succeeded in inspiring a new generation.

What was great was the sheer positivity that was generated as a result of the occasion. It wasn’t just the fact that the event attracted attention online – it was that the attentionit did attract fostered the community. All I can say is that tweets don’t lie. TEDxImperialCollege was thought-provoking and a beyond-professional afternoon of entertainment and knowledge. Here’s to the next one.

More > Check out the TEDxImperialCollege website for details on speakers, photos, and further background information.

Images: flickr | tedximperialcollege