Brian De Los Santos
TED speaker and Google employee Gopi Kallayil paced the stage of the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center (PAC) and claimed he’d found human’s 79th organ.
He smiled, then pulled his Smartphone out of his pocket.
As vital as any other working part of the human body, smartphones have become as ingrained in the human lifestyle as our brains, he said on stage. And most importantly they allow the network of 6 billion cell phone users to be connected in one, large community.
“It is unity that creates the groundwork for social good,” he said in his speech. “That’s what it means to be human.”
This was the main topic and theme of TEDxSanLuisObispo on Friday, and numerous speakers came from all over the country to talk about “the power of community” to the hundreds of audience members that attended the eight-hour event.
Co-founders Kimberly Anderson and Jenn Prentice organized and coordinated the event, the first-ever TEDx event in San Luis Obispo, and it drew many positive reviews from the crowd that attended, Prentice said.
“Any time that you have an event you are doing for the first time, there’s always going to be some glitches that you are working out,” Prentice said. “But overall I thought the speakers were awesome. They ran really smoothly.”
The lineup included a total of 14 live speakers who were broken up into four sessions: community and relationships, online community, community and the workplace and community and social good. The sessions spanned for eight hours, starting at 8 a.m. and ending around 4 p.m.
Social media and technology were the most prevalent topics. The aspect of being connected by different technological media wove its way into almost every talk, whether it was about cloud-based information systems or politics.
Speaker Matthew Huxtable made that a point in his speech, mostly because he’s lived the lifestyle. He built a server at the age of 11 in his parent’s basement and became hooked with technology and online communities while on his way to becoming one of the youngest students to attend Cambridge University.
“Based on the feedback people have given me, I am very pleased with how I managed,” Huxtable said of his speech. “Two years ago I never would have been able to go on stage in front of two people, let alone 700. So I am quite pleased with myself in being able to do it.”
In doing so, he talked to the audience about the importance of technology, and how it needed to be treated with a great deal of respect. Technology made him who he was, he said, but at the same time, it has its pitfalls. According to Huxtable, the advent of social media and technology has taken away from the traditional sense of community.
“I firmly believe that social media isn’t community in any sense,” Huxtable said. “I don’t think community directly exists on social media sites because no one does anything original with them. OK, you gain some things from there, but people aren’t connecting on the social media site; they’re just seeing what people did off the site. There’s no shared experience at all.”
Other speakers, such as Jason Putorti, had different views. Putorti co-founded Votizen, a company that aims to piece together an honest government and better politicians by communicating messages through a medium other than traditional television or print: social media.
With social media, citizens can be heard over the loud, paid mouths of lobbyists, Putori said, and make a difference. It’s how citizens can be empowered again, he said, and how they can hold elected officials accountable.
“I think that if you’re open-minded and if you go out there and you find an issue that matters to you, you can meet other people that share that with you and that can be very powerful,” Putori said. “People can come together and create coalitions and come together around real issues, and once people feel they have that power … I am hoping they wake up, open their eyes and realize that they can make a big difference.”
Like most of the speakers, Putori said he hoped he inspired the audience members to realize this point. To Prentice, most speakers did, she said. In the first-ever TEDx event to hit Cal Poly, almost all of the speakers were able to engage the audience and emphasize the theme of the day.
“When we were looking for speakers, we were looking for people who could speak authoritatively on the subject of community both online and offline,” Prentice said. “I think we achieved that.”