I enter the CREA Theatre, find a spot in the middle of the second row, face the well-known red TEDx sign, and I wait there with bated breath for the commencement. I was both excited and intrigued. Last Thursday was meant to be inspirational and transformative. And I am not just talking about the 2,5-hour conference itself, but more-so about the sparkling eyes of the audience who stayed behind after the talks to share their thoughts and elaborate on the topics with the speakers. But let me just take a step back and give you a short background on the first TEDxUniversiteitVanAmsterdam edition that took place on the 21st of September.
I believe I am not the only one who wished to be among the live audience of TED (technology, entertainment, design) conferences, and this year UvA together with 6 members of the TEDxUniversiteitVanAmsterdam Committee made it happen for 120 people like me. Once I joined the TEDx team and got involved in bringing the first UvA TEDx to fruition, it seemed to me as if almost everyone at university was either trying to get a ticket for the event or was talking about it. I can only imagine how much effort and time the committee members put into organizing this, beginning from setting up the theme to inviting the selected speakers, and kudos to that, it was a resounding success.
How often do you think about the future? Not in terms of your future career, life goals, marriage or a number of bedrooms in your house. I mean, how often do you picture our planet in 20, 30 years? Personally, I don’t think I do it as often as I should. The theme of the TEDxUniversiteitVanAmsterdam was “THINK BIG”. Think outside of the box, beyond your own boundaries and comfort zone. All 7 speakers shared their vision on the future with regard to their field of specialization. And these were totally ideas worth spreading. New generation of network, hyperloop transportation, textile that improves human performance, machine ethics, food that grows on Mars, and even restoration of health at an old age – ideas that have potential to change mindsets, lifes and, ultimately, the world. The committee member themselves admit that the biggest challenge they faced was to make sure that the speakers reflected what the committee wanted the event to be. They comment: “We believe we did a good job with that, although we were never absolutely in control of the content of the talks. We did help them to figure out how to structure it, but not what to say exactly, and I think this made our conference much more authentic”.
“Enhance change!”, advices us Edouard Schneiders, the Team Leader of Delft Hyperloop, the follow-up to the winning team in the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod competition. Change is inevitable, and we should accept it with grace. You may not believe you are ready for it, but the only way to move forward and get the most out of it is to embrace the positivity, however it shows up. Future is not a noun, it’s a verb, it needs action! Edouard sets a great example for us. His Delft Hyperloop Team is now working hard to design the best possible travel capsule in order to create fast, reliable, and, what’s more important – affordable vehicle, which will take you from London to Paris in only 30 minutes with no emission.
The next speaker steps on stage, starting with asking one simple question: “What do you use the most in your everyday life?” As obvious as the answer is, it doesn’t come straight to mind. Fortunately, or unfortunately, societal norms dictate us not to walk naked in the street. Yes, suprisingly enough, we use our clothes more than we use our smartphones. There’s an on-going discussion about artificual intelligence and threat of rise of robots, however, the future takes on a greater scale than just technological progress. Borre Akkersdijk, a fashion designer (and not only) who focuses on developing fabrics of the future. He is a conceptual designer who investigates the boundaries of textile. Borre believes that textile will soon become the next arena where the boundaries between humans and technology will be removed. He says: “Nowadays everyone is preoccupied with their looks. However, the moment you realise that clothes can do more for you – you will not mind having the same outfit. Textile of the future can improve human performance. For instance, it can measure your temperature or heart rate. Our fashion is not just a look and it can impact how people experience clothes.”
No matter how incredibly inspiring the talks were on the future of health, transportation and technology, nothing can beat the fascination of the unknown. I am talking about space, in particular, the possibility of life on Mars. While we are daydreaming of space travels, Dr. Wiegel Wamelink, a Mars One advisor, a senior ecologist at Wageningen Environmental Science at Wageningen University & Research, who has dedicated more than 5 years experimenting with growing plants on Mars and Moon soil simulants. He tested the growth of 14 plant varieties, and received surprising results. Plants grew and most of them even yield. They even managed to prepare a dinner for staff from these vegetables. However, through experiments they have also discovered that Mars soil contains more nutrients than expected. Dr. Wamelink describes space as dangerous, nevertheless, he avows that it still interests him enormously and he has no doubt that there is much more to discover.
The TED Talk Conference is meant to be influential. It is meant to make you think wider. However, it is also about networking, it is about meeting people who share the same view or who want to add to your ideas. Thinking outside of a box means to think creatively, free of any constraints of “accepted” norms. We need to trigger our brain to make connections that normally would not come to mind. Whether it is new methods of transportation, health restoration at old age, space farming and colonizing Mars or a new way of powering wireless devices – we need to look a few steps ahead. Find inspiration that seems entirely unrelated to a problem. The end message that each of the speakers sent across to the audience throughout the conference is “WE NEED YOU!”. And the world does need you. It needs your fresh ideas stemming from innovative minds. This is how we embrace the future. This is how we embrace change.