I went to my local TEDx today… and left after the first set of talks.
I went last year, and struggled a little bit with some of the content, but over-all enjoyed it. This year, I was disappointed. I’m not sure if the event changed, or if I have.
I’ll get one thing out of the way first. I don’t place a ton of value in “the arts” — which, I know puts me at odds with TED to begin with. Don’t get me wrong, good art, done well, is wonderful. Whether it’s a well-executed play, a good book, a moving piece of music, or a poignant photograph, art is wonderful. (Never really been moved by paintings, but that’s just one category, and that’s just me.)
But that doesn’t mean anyone who sets out to call themselves an artist deserves the title — or any kind of compensation (subsidy) just for claiming it.
If you are good enough at your art form that you can support yourself doing it, then more power to you. If you’re not, I’m afraid you’ll have to work a day job while you improve. But it’s ok, cause that’s true of any profession.
I don’t think that’s my core complaint with TEDx — despite the fact that this year’s presentations seem to be heavily weighted toward artists who were there to convince everyone that their art was important! To the community!
And I don’t think its even my core complaint that the non-artsy-fartsy talks lacked substance (like the fascinating physicist who spent 5 minutes on the most rudementary explanation of quantum computing I’ve ever heard, and the rest of the time with magic tricks and (an admittedly impressive) dance routine.)
My complaint is the same disillusion I’ve found with secular religion: this notion that the human race, when we work together for the common good, is transcendent.
The harsh reality that we seem to be avoiding is that humanity is not essentially good. If we all get together and love one another, we aren’t going to solve poverty, disease, starvation and crime. No amount of connectedness will change the human race from its essence. While it’s good for technology to facilitate community and interaction, scaling up and out isn’t going to change patterns of human interaction — it simply allows those patterns to exist at larger levels.
A few years ago it was in vogue to refer to YouTube as a great social enabler. Right now Twitter is the hot topic. But if you take a look at these things, they are not better than what we had before. They’re the same thing, just scaled out to a larger audience. If you join, say, a small community group, out of that group you will get some percentage of interesting discourse, creative ideas, and helpful progress. You’ll also get a certain percentage of complete idiots, stupid ideas, and ridiculous bickering. Go take a look at virtually any comment thread on YouTube, or at Twitter virtually any time of day, and you’ll see the same things — possibly with more weight on the dumb parts of human interaction, since its largely anonymous.
This is true of historic science, art, government, business and pure social interaction, in small groups and closed societies.
It remains true of modern science, art, government, business and pure social interaction in global groups and open societies.
We don’t make the human race better by doing more of these things at a larger scale and with better communication technology. We just increase our output: some good, some retarded.
Getting together and patting our own backs saying “look how great humanity is when we work together” or “look how bright the future would be if we could all just share more ideas” is kinda pointless. Good ideas, attached to a good execution plan (and, for better or worse, a good business model) will generally succeed to the scale that available communication technologies allow — without us sitting around and talking about them. Bad ideas will generally (sometimes not quick enough) eventually fail, and sitting around talking about those just makes us look stupid.
I tire very quickly of these “networking events” where people who feel like maybe they could be something mingle with other people who feel like maybe they could be something and hope that by rubbing together long enough, a good idea will be conceived. If you have a good idea, you’ll have no trouble attracting people to help you with it (or capitalize on it!) If you don’t, no amount of “IRL meet-ups” will give you one.
Don’t get me wrong. I love an inspiring talk about an interesting challenge, and how people worked together and overcame it. But let’s not pretend that the speaker has somehow evolved to a new human condition through Internet collaboration, or networking events. There’s no speaker I’ve ever heard that isn’t just a normal, flawed human being with as many misses as hits, who had an idea, worked hard at it, surrounded himself by other people who’d also pursued and honed their skills, collaborated in the same manor humans have collaborated since we were first placed on this earth, and achieved something through persistence, failure, learning and eventually success.
The story isn’t the triumph of humanity. Its God-given creativity and gifts, managing to occasionally shine through the fallen human condition. The hero isn’t the Internet, or the scientist, or the artist. Its a creator God who made us in His image to do creative things. And I’ll add personally, that any endeavor that doesn’t recognize Him as the source, and give Him the glory is, at best, an empty, meaningless victory.
And any idea-discussing-networking-event that starts with the notion that we’re it — that there’s nothing greater than us, is desperately depressing and hollow…


I remember once, when I was young, going over to a friend’s house to play Nintendo (specifically, we were playing BattleToads… that doesn’t matter, though) and seeing his dad’s stereo. I didn’t really notice it until my friend mentioned that BattleToads would sound much cooler through those giant speakers — but that he wasn’t allowed to turn them on. With my attention drawn to the equipment, it occurred to me that we weren’t really using any of it. The TV was on, and the Nintendo was on, but the shiny silver receiver, with its knobs and dials, the speakers, the cassette player… all sat idle.
It seemed silly to me at the time that we couldn’t use all that cool stuff, but I wasn’t seeing those components for what they really were. I saw appliances. What they actually were was trophies.
Trophies of a time when my friend’s dad was young, and cool and rocking out to music with his buddies, or having movie nights with stereo sound(!) right in his own home. We weren’t allowed to touch those things, not because they weren’t useful, but because we couldn’t appreciate them — and, if heaven forbid, we had broken them, no one on earth could have replaced them. Not, at least, replaced what they stood for…
I think most guys have trophies. It’s not always a stereo; sometimes it’s a jersey, or a snowboard, books, or a poster, or an action figure. Sometimes its even an actual trophy. These aren’t bad things: they remind us of who we were, and how we got to who we are now. They are monuments to challenges conquered, memories cherished, or friends we had before we all grew up and assumed the mantle of responsibility. They represent accomplishments, and give us confidence of dragons once slain, mountains once climbed, and the hubris we had when we were young enough to think we could change the world.
My trophies are technology. The best kind is the technology that was better than the mainstream, but didn’t quite last. LaserDiscs and MiniDiscs, HD-DVDs. Computers, like the original Macintosh or Newton, that were only popular with a select few who were intelligent enough to understand their purpose before anyone else did. Video game systems are great cause they represent a million memories packed into their brief lifetime of existence before being supplanted by something else. And like many dad’s before me, I keep these trophies safe from the inquiring hands and mouths of my kids, who couldn’t possibly understand what these things represent. I keep them in my man cave, entrance to which is by invitation only.
The funny thing about kids, though, is that they become sort of constant monuments. As they inquire, and grab, and break and explore… they grow. And in a glance they reflect both the things you were, and the things you hope for. I see in my son’s eyes the same untamable curiosity that devoured three decades of technology and led me to the job I have now… and suddenly I’d sacrifice all of my trophies, if it would give him more and better chances to learn about the world, and find who God made him to be.
Last month I started a project to sell off three shelves worth of trophies. I got a promotion at work, and it came with a little coaching: I need to work on my executive presence. Reading between the lines, its time to grow up. I got pretty far being just a geek who loves to take things apart and put them back together. But as my career matures, so must my communication and bearing. $500 worth of old video game stuff sold on eBay goes a long way to furnishing a more “executive” wardrobe.
This weekend we started a project to clean out the man cave and turn a portion of it into a play area for the kids. Our little house is bursting at the seams, and the toys and legos and books that my kids need to grow are rapidly expanding into parts of the house that used to be mine. There are few better illustrations of “death to self” than watching the things you treasured as representing who you are, get thrown out or donated to make room for Dora the Explorer books, and big bins of Lego.
I still have a few treasures — and I hope to always have a few, so one day my grandkids can dig through them and learn just a little bit about what life was like when I was young. But my joy doesn’t come from these trinkets and toys of my youth. It comes from watching and helping Ben, Abi and Eli discover for themselves the wonders and memories and challenges that God has in store for them. And in exchange for that blessing, I’ll happily hand over even the rarest of Star Wars Collector’s Edition LaserDisc Sets… after I’ve watched them with my son, that is!

Insurance Money

I’ve wrestled more than a little with the morality of our insurance process here in Canada. Last spring I was hit by a car. I was not at fault, and my leg was very nearly destroyed. When I got a suspicious call, shortly afterward, from the other driver’s insurance company, who were clearly trying to mitigate their exposure, I knew it would be prudent to work with a lawyer. I consulted a directory of Christian lawyers in Canada, and found one in our area who had a track record of success and integrity — even putting his career on the line to advocate for Christianity in our government system.
Over the past months since that happened, I’ve met with him occassionally, updating him on my progress as I spent time with my surgeon, physiotherapist, massage therapist, and in recent months, in the gym rebuilding strength. On our last meeting, he proposed that we pursue a settlement. We chose a round number, based on a history of precedence he had available, and I left it with him — not really expecting, certainly not needing, anything. The number was large, and the counter offer about half what we asked, but still eye-brow raising… I would balk at it, if it weren’t for the things I’ve learned along the way:
– The Ontario government limits your insurance company from having to pay out more than $2500 in rehab costs. Once you’ve exhausted your health coverage through work (assuming you had any), you may then begin to draw on that $2500. Once that amount is gone, you have to pay for recovery yourself. This virtually guarantees that you’ll have to go to the other driver’s insurance company to cover costs.
– The Ontario government limits your insurance company from having to cover “care” costs outside of medical needs, except in carefully documented exceptional cases. Again, the system all but requires legal action.
– For settlements under $100,000 the Ontario government allows the other driver’s insurance company to take a tax-free deductable of $30,000! This has multiple implications. For one, a legal settlement for less than $30,000 only benefits the offender’s insurance company: they get that amount as a tax write-off, you get nothing. This also encourages a wasteful and litigious process where, even if your costs are less than $100,000, you still need to start the negotiation at at least that amount, because at $99k or below, you have to immediately subtract $30k from whatever you settle on.
The end result is a government-backed scam (much like automotive insurance is to begin with) by which, in the event of an accident, everyone profits except for the person at fault. The lawyers, both insurance companies, and (if you’ve been shrewd enough) you. I do feel something for the person at fault — in my case a little old lady who for some reason believes she doesn’t need her prescription eye-wear — but the actual cost to them is only in increased premiums (as well as whatever ticket she incurred for her erratic driving.)
I would have liked to have found a way to cover my costs without a legal process. I feel bad retaining a lawyer “against” a little old lady. But she and I are just pawns in a game — she’s not actually involved in the process. I’m sure they put her premiums up even before I called a lawyer. This all happens despite her, and as an individual, she hasn’t the resources to find a solution at this level anyway. The fact is, if I hadn’t found an advocate, I would have been screwed. I’d have a ruined leg, medical bills beyond what the systems I pay into cover, and nothing to show for it except the bent license plate of my sweet old Honda Shadow hanging sadly on the garage wall…
So we played the game, and now we’re getting more than we need — so that everyone else can get the profit they expect from the process. What do we do with it?
Well, frankly if this had happened 10 years ago, we would have had a blast spending it. Praise God for his discipleship over the years: now we know exactly what to do.
We’ll be paying off the van and the car. Two nice vehicles, appropriate for where we are in life. Both a few years older, but in great shape and with the features we need for our different responsibilities. Hopefuly we can get 5 years out of each of them.
We’ll be paying off the remainder of Nicole’s school debt, the last vestiges of which have been hanging on for far too long.
We’ll be updating the kitchen, and taking care of a few other things around the house that need to be addressed: the air conditioning went two summers ago, and although we’d been trying various cheap fixes, now’s the time to bite the bullet and deal with it thoroughly. A few minor equipment replacements for the hot tub, some paint, and this house should be ready to sell.
We’ll be tithing at our reguar target percent, as if this were any other income we make. We’re actually very excited about the impact we’ll be able to make with this — and praying a lot about where God would have us direct it.
The rest will go into savings, or easy-to-access investments. We feel we need to stay fairly liquid to be agile for whatever God is preparing us for next. From this position: a house worth more than our investment and with a sizable equity, no debt, and cash in the bank, we can literally turn on a dime. Wherever God wants us, and whatever He wants us to do, we can obey immediately and without hesitation.
And we will… even if its with a slight limp.