The Church of Technology

I watched a good Ted Talk the other day by Benjamin Bratton about the 'failure' of Ted Talks.

He basically says that TED is essentially a Church for technology. A place where such people hide from reality and not address problems. It is the 'progressive' equivalent of Fox News if you will. A place where they can pretend that technology can solve problems even though our biggest problems have little to do with technology.

Benjamin Bratton Is Right

I think he is right. I've had similar thoughts about the whole high-tech culture. Like him, I see no issue with technology, or people talking about their works. It is the culture or movement behind it. People think that this movement will solve the world's problems by talking about it. It is just high-minded discussion more for entertainment and feeling good.

TED is Useful, even as a Church

However, I think TED is very useful, even simply as a Church or movement. Bratton wishes to have real intellectual conversations about real problems and real solution taking into account history, economics, philosophy... I too long for such a discussion. Yet, when in history has such rational and calculated discussion been a driving force of change? The answer of course is NEVER. The idea of such behavior can be traced will back to Plato's Philosopher Kings.

History it seems is led by movements and leaders. They are irrational and bolstered by myths and untruths. They are followed by those who seek belonging to something they can be a part of. They do not exist for the purpose of truth and in depth rational discourse. That is for the few real intellectuals to discuss and debate and contribute to these movements and the formations of new ones. Yet, let us never lose sight of the reality that these intellectuals do not control or lead these movements. They are a dynamic force of their own accord filled with all members of society from the scheming politician to the devout follower.

This is what changes society at least historically. My bet is that human nature has not changed so drastically and even with all of our education, this aspect remains.

But All Churches Are Not Equal

What I think Bratton and many other people miss is that all churches or movements are not equal. Bratton ends his talk comparing TED to the right-wing media in the US. He sees TED as an escape from the 'truth' and cold realities of life. Similar to the way the right-wing media acts in the US. Some people end it there are dismiss all movements. They long for a society of rational discourse, which has never surfaced. They dismiss it, ignoring all the emperical evidence of history.

Indeed, the type of Church matters and matters a great deal. Some are closer to the truth. Some are more humane.

Is anyone really going to suggest that the following are in any way equal?

Aztek Human Sacrifice

TED Talk

No matter how useless or false or fantasy like a TED Talk is, it is not a church or movement that thinks that Human Sacrifice is required by the 'Gods'. I'd much rather have people inventing and discussing pointless matters of time travel or some obscure technology that matters little than thinking up new ways of sacrificing people to some imaginary Gods.

TED talks are progress for a movement. They are more grounded in reality and are far less harmful than other movements.

I'd rather have masses of people being followers of TED talks interpreting the words of scientists and futurists even if it comes to nothing. I'd rather them waste their time talking about alternate universes and Quantum Physics that they don't understand. This surely beats masses of people trying to interpret the words of ancient texts that form religions that tell them homosexuality is a great evil, to believe in an evil God that burns people in hell for eternity, to believe in reincarnation, to grow a beard, to cover their hair,... or heck... just plain old offers no new thoughts on life.

Yes, everything Bratton talks about is valid and something I too wish for, I just wish he had touched on the distinction.


In Islam, there is the concept know as Jahiliyyah. It refers to the time before Islam, when the Arabs used to do such 'evil' things as burying their baby girls and believed in strange Gods. That was the pre-Islamic movement. Then Islam became a movement and supposedly made things better. It came with new commands that made life better. Commands like not to kill your baby girls.
Islam is/was far from perfect and far from the real truths of eternity, but it was the movement that replaced the movements of old. It led to the rise of the Arab empires that lifted a nomadic people to empire.

This is the nature of movements. Some are good. Some are bad. We are all glad Nazism didn't prevail. But all have their churches and leaders and followers and clergy and intellectuals. This is the force of change in history. What church would Bratton have in for the forces of change today?

As far as movements go, give me TED over pretty much any movement today.
That is the real benefit of TED, and why I hope it continues and keeps going with all its flaws, dreams, blind spots, preachers, followers, clergy, and intellectuals.


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