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A Modest Proposal for TED 2011 (and Davos, Foo, etc)

The TED Conference was last week –if you’re in the tech business and on Twitter, you couldn’t have missed it.

There were complaints and controversy — that the conference is just too elitist, or that the audience was missing the funny gene. And this very funny and tart tweet got passed around:

Scobleizer, attending his first TED, came to its defense with this post.

In this age of Snooki, I celebrate any conference that seeks to inform and enlighten, be it TED, Davos, or FooCamp. The sessions and speakers at this year’s TED looked pretty interesting, who wouldn’t want to attend?

The problem with TED is the toxic admixture of self-promotional tools we’ve created (twitter, j’accuse!) and the self-promotional tendencies of so many of its attendees. If folks went off to TED, and just kept their mouths (and keyboards) shut for those 3-4 days, the rest of us would be just fine and we’d never notice.

But of course that’s now what happens. We get a steady stream of breathless Tweets — “TED is so amazing” and “The people here are so brilliant” all with the essentially the same subtext: “Look at me! Aren’t I amazing too! I’m at TED with the fabulous people!”

Elitist conferences and gatherings like TED have been around for years. But the elites who attended those kinds of conferences 50 or 100 years ago had the good social graces instilled in them not to boast about it. It’s hard to remember now, but there was a day when modesty was a prized character attribute.

But we seem to have lost that in the last 20 years or so (my first memory of modern conference-going boasting were those horrifying articles about the “Renaissance Weekends” the Clintons attended in the early ’90s). I blame the Boomers for starting this horrifying trend. And the barriers have been further reduced with all our newfangled social sharing tools which practically compel the hardwired self-promoters among us to be ever more self-promoting.

So here’s my modest proposal for anyone who goes off to TED, or Davos, or Foo Camp in the next year —  channel your favorite, self-deprecating and humble movie character from the middle of the last century. Remember that just because the conference you are at is amazing, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are amazing. Feel humbled by the genius that surrounds you; feel joy in your good fortune (you are with the boldfaced names!). Just don’t feel so compelled to share.

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