TEDx Interns’ Picks 2012: 10 great talks that might make you smarter, but won’t get you school credit

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(Not actually what TEDx interns do. Illustration by Amanda Schutz)

As 2012 comes hurtling to an end (and hopefully not the world with it), two of the fearless TEDx interns have come together to pick their favorite TEDx Talks of the year. From NASA research for family dinner conversations to the musical performances they listen to during lunch, TEDx interns have got the 18-35 year-old demo on lock for 2013.

And now, the Intern Picks 2012:

From Dan, TEDx Talks Screening Intern, who watches so many talks a day that he now knows 5 languages, how to program a series of robots, and which countries have the best bike lanes — 4 favorite talks of 2012:

All your ideas are bad; a letter to myself: Brian Crosby at TEDxYorkU

Ira Glass, host of NPR’s This American Life, spoke of a gap between taste and ability that all creative people must close in order to craft great things. In this hilarious yet compelling talk, Brian Crosby revisited the cringe-worthy failures of “young Brian” to inspire anyone with a creative passion to get working — right now.

Fighting cancer with nanotechnology: Sylvain Martel at TEDxUdeM

In 2012, we saw a wave of medical breakthroughs that might represent a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel for diseases like HIV/AIDS and cancer. At TEDxUdeM, Sylvain Martel shared a promising new nanotechnology treatment for cancer that is being developed and tested as we speak.

How music is like language: Jarrod Haning at TEDxColumbiaSC

Jarrod Hanning explored how the brain interprets music and language in real time. Since I joined the TEDx team, I’ve screened nearly 1,000 talks. The uniqueness and creativity of this presentation really stood out to me, and there’s a message here that’s meaningful for almost anyone.

Climate change is simple: David Roberts at TEDxTheEvergreenStateCollege

Events this year like widespread droughts, the D.C. derico, and Hurricane Sandy have pushed the reality of climate change back into public consciousness. In his easily accessible — and ominous — talk, David Roberts recapped what climatologists know now and what they project for the future if mankind fails to take action.


And editorial intern Hailey, who reads so many descriptions of events that she now knows some geography, with her picks:

Image is powerful: Cameron Russell at TEDxMidAtlantic

No matter how much you think you can ignore it, as a girl/woman you constantly get inundated with updates on how the media think how you should look, and it can get exhausting. This year, Cameron Russell, who just so happens to be a Victoria’s Secret model, changed that for me — giving one of the most frank, honest, and compelling talks on “looks” that I’ve seen in a while.

Her assertion that photos of her modeling are not photos of her at all — but something completely different — constructions of an aesthetic ideal that entire teams gather together to create — may seem obvious, but helped me to see fashion photography through a whole new lens, one focused more on art than reality. Though, I still stand with TEDxWomen’s Julia Bluhm and Izzy Labbe, who stood up to Seventeen Magazine and demanded that they change their use of Photoshop on models. 

Jonathan Trent: Fuels and tools for a sustainable future

Jonathan Trent works for NASA, and his team at OMEGA: Offshore Membrane Enclosures for Growing Algae are doing amazing things: namely, devising a plan to to reduce the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels by cultivating microalgae in floating farms—contained enclosures that blend into ecosystems and utilize natural, renewable sources of power. Watch it — it’ll give you something interesting to talk about at that next family party or awkward coffee date.

Bonus: He also gave a talk at TEDGlobal this year, which is equally awesome.

The hope we saw: Anthony Shadid at TEDxOKC

This talk from late NY Times correspondent Anthony Shadid on change in the Arab world is charming, eloquent, and absolutely beautiful. It articulates the power of journalism and the oft-quoted Margaret Mead, “thoughtful, committed citizens” remark perfectly. Only expands my appreciation for journalists who dedicate their lives to telling stories, even when their own lives are put at risk.

Stagger the vote, disrupt democracy: Nynke Tromp at TEDxDelft

Nynke Tromp believes that campaign season distracts politicians and citizens from the real issues voters face when we head to the voting box — politics. Campaigning creates a media maelstrom, she believes, one that rewards buzz over substance, and encourages myopic goals and superficial statements from political candidates. Though I don’t exactly agree with her solution (have every citizen vote on his or her birthday), I understand her concern, and after the wild and crazy election season that has been the last many months in the US, I think this talk is a good place to start.

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And now the final 2 favorites of 2012 — What we watch on our lunch break:

Being an intern takes a lot of energy, and for the TEDx interns, that means relying on a lot of soup, bubble tea, and jalapeno poppers to keep going. While we’re munching on our salads or carrot sticks, we like to keep ourselves entertained — and here’s what we watch when we do this:

Hoop dancing: Lisa Odjig at TEDxSenecaCollege

Dan: This deserves credit as the TEDx that did the best job of winning me over. At first it’s a little confusing, but by the end of the video I think you’ll agree: this girl can hoop.

Hailey: I’m pretty sure all of those hoopers at dubstep shows wish they could be as amazing as this girl. Makes you feel guilty for ever feeling awesome after you broke 100 on a Skip-It.

Ahmed Algaily at TEDxKhartoum

Dan: I have never seen anything this smooth on TEDx before or since. The costumes, the pageantry…wow! What a TEDx!

Hailey: Dan and I still can’t figure out why the audience at this event don’t love this as much as we do. At 1:45, when things really start going, it’s awesome. Bring chimes into anything and I’m sold. 12 minutes of solid harmonica jams.

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