Stop asking me for TED Talk recommendations

IMG_3482I’ve been working for TED for about six weeks now, and one of the first questions people ask me is, What’s your favorite TED talk? And then after that, What talk should I watch?

These are both hard questions to answer. TED’s collection is massive and incredible; I often fall into spirals where one video leads to another and then three hours later I emerge with a melting brain and too many new ideas to process. I have a friend who will open Wikipedia on his phone to look up a simple piece of information and then click from page to page until he is miles away from where he started. TED is like that but with higher production value.

So here are some of the talks that I find myself returning to again and again. I’ve pestered my friends to watch them, brought them up in conversations over dinner, and connected to them quite deeply. I hope you’ll enjoy them too.

For the romantics: Rives, A museum of 4 in the morning

This is one of those talks I stumbled across while looking for undiscovered videos to share on Facebook. Rives is a performance artist and general cool dude, and he gave a talk in 2007 on the strange recurrence of mentions of 4am in pop culture, literature, and music throughout the ages. TEDsters from around the world began sending him more mentions, and he put together an online museum for everyone to appreciate. This follow-up talk is about that project… but I love it for its conclusion. Rives discovers why he has been so fascinated by 4am, and while I don’t want to spoil it, his story resonated hardcore with me. It is beautiful, simple, and I may have cried into my dinner just a little before sending the talk to my poetically-inclined, also recently single friends.


For the activists: Leslie Morgan Steiner, Why domestic violence victims don’t leave

I watched this talk for the first time as a college junior when it came up on my Tumblr dashboard. Although unable to relate to Steiner’s story of abuse and romance, and quite frankly horrified by the contradictions it presented, I knew it was important. I returned to Steiner’s talk a year later having left an abusive relationship myself, and I broke down in tears before forwarding it to my best friend with the subject line this is it. Steiner helped me understand why a strong, independent feminist like myself would allow herself to be treated poorly—because we think we alone are strong enough to be there for a troubled, seemingly wonderful partner. Steiner helped me understood why I stayed so long, and she helped me not go back.


For the fighters: Kevin Briggs, The bridge between suicide and life.

I became rapidly obsessed with the Golden Gate Bridge the first time I visited San Francisco. It was built to be suicide-proof, but Sergeant Briggs patrolled its Southern end for many years to support those who flocked to it to jump. His stories are sad but also full of hope, and he offers some of the best advice possible about helping loved ones struggling with suicide.


For the book lovers: Mac Barnett, Why a Good Book is a Secret Door

Mac Barnett is a children’s book author and used to run 826LA, the Los Angeles branch of a nonprofit that teaches kids to write. His talk explores the awesome magic of literary fiction, and why kids are the best readers of all because of their ability to believe anything. He shares some of the adorable voicemails left by the young readers of his picture books, including little Nico, who believes he is chatting with his pet whale (it’s a long story). This talk is great for anyone who loves to read, especially the fan fiction writers out there. You know who you are.


For the New Yorkers: Dan Barasch, A park underneath the hustle and bustle of New York City

One of my favorite memories of Manhattan is of my dad taking me to the High Line for the first time. We walked along the refurbished tracks, surrounded by tourists and locals and street performers and ice cream vendors, and I fell even more in love with the beautiful city 45 minutes away from my Connecticut suburb. Dan Barasch and his team want to create something even more inventive—the Lowline, an underground park in an abandoned trolley terminal in the Lower East Side. While some of the science goes over my head, the concept is super cool.


For everyone else: Frank Warren, Half a million secrets

When I was in high school, I was totally enchanted by PostSecret, the anonymous art project that encourages people to depict their secrets on a postcard and then mail it to project creator Frank Warren. PostSecret was a definitive phenomenon of the late 2000s, and Warren shares some of his favorite postcards from the project in his talk from 2012. This talk is a powerful reminder that sometimes the best stories are the ones we never tell.

Posted by

Ella Dawson is a sex and culture critic and a digital strategist. She drinks too much Diet Coke.

One thought on “Stop asking me for TED Talk recommendations

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s