Medgadget’s coverage of TEDMED has one simple goal: to give you a synopsis of each day so that you can get the TEDMED highlights from afar (that is, unless you are watching right along at one of the thousands of TEDMEDLive Simulcast sites). Rather than only pick one or two speakers, or events to cover, we prefer to provide you a recap of the day with an emphasis on the talks you may find more relevant. For reference, you can view the schedule and the speaker list. If there’s anything in particular you’d like us to cover in more depth, don’t hesitate to let us know by visiting our Facebook page and commenting there or messaging us.
Medgadget is at TEDMED 2012 in Washington D.C. and we’re excited that we did not have to wait a full year to experience the magic again. Though it’s only been six months since TEDMED 2011 in San Diego, much more has changed than the venue and season. Everything seems bigger and bolder. There are over 1,200 delegates here from all around the globe and virtually every profession you can think of is represented – from the Director of the NIH to the world’s foremost big wave surfer. There are also tons of new programs and features, such as remote simulcasts (TEDMEDLive), the Great Challenges program, attendee scholarships (Frontline), and even a mobile app (TEDMEDConnect) devoted to the 3.5 day conference. We look forward to reporting on how each of these take form, beginning with Tuesday’s proceedings.
TEDMED’s new curator-entrepreneur Jay Walker began by likening the conference to an exotic cruise down the Amazon River, thus making the first session, of 11 total, a sort of “bon voyage” to mark the beginning of a journey filled with innovation, imagination, and inspiration (the three themes of the conference).
The first act, “TRACES” by the Montreal-based troupe 7 Fingers, symbolically kicked off the conference. A fast-paced urban acrobatics performance, TRACES features seven talented young artists who use props such as skateboards and hoops to challenge the viewer’s notion of what the body can physically accomplish in terms of coordination, flexibility, and strength. It was an exciting performance to begin a conference devoted to health and medicine.
Next up was Bryan Stevenson, the director of the Equal Justice Initiative and an acclaimed lawyer who has devoted his career to representing indigent defendants, death row prisoners, and juveniles. It was clear from the start that he would be an engaging speaker, especially in light of his compelling story about developing an identity from his grandmother, whose parents were slaves. However, it was not immediately clear what relationship he had to medicine (Jay said that Bryan recently argued in front of the Supreme Court for the fifth time and many of us assumed it had to do with health care reform). Mr. Stevenson’s take home messages were worth the initial uncertainty and included the following paraphrased remark: ‘As a society we will not be judged by how advanced our technologies and designs are, but rather by those issues lurking in the shadows,’ such as how we treat our poor and incarcerated. Interesting thing to say at the Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) MED conference, but it was a well-received and humbling opening because many of the innovations that will be discussed throughout the week may end up only being accessible to the “haves” and not so much the “have-nots.”
The next talk lightened the mood a bit and was given by English graphic designer Teresa Monachino. Playing on the fact that the English language is a confusing and often jumbled mess, Monachino put together a selection of 26 particularly confusing words or phrases from A to Z (or “Zed”, as she pointedly said). Some of the highlights: D stands for “drugs,” a word which still has a negative connotation because when someone says “I’m on drugs” one tends to avoid them whereas if they rephrase “I’m on medication” they will be invited into your home for a bit of tea and sympathy. K stands for “Kinda like that…yeah,” which most healthcare professionals will recognize as the go-to and ambiguous phrase many patients use when prompted by examples to describe their symptoms. And P stands for “Political correctness,” such as referring to ‘blind people’ as ‘visually challenged.’ Tongue-in-cheek, she proposed we stop calling people ‘fat’ or ‘obese’ and rather switch to ‘calorically challenged.’ After her talk, Jay joined Teresa on stage and demonstrated the interactive polling system of TEDMEDConnect by asking the audience to answer two questions related to her talk. We’re looking forward to seeing how this plays out for the next few sessions.
Next was a TEDMED favorite, singer and songwriter Jill Sobule, who probably got the most laughs of the night with her new song about modern drugs. Recognizing that creativity and genius are often associated with depression and mania, she explored a few hypotheticals about the world’s intellectual greats and what would happen if they lived in our heavily medicated society. A few choice lyrics:
“If Edgar Allen Poe had Prozac he’d look into the sky, hear the little blue birds sing, ‘There’s always more, there’s always more’….
“If Kafka had Abilify he’d be satisfied, turn into a butterfly, perhaps he’d never write…
“If Einstein had been on Ritalin he wouldn’t have flunked sixth grade, he wouldn’t have had that hairdo and he wouldn’t have been on that Apple ad…”
Following Jill was the second headline speaker of the first session, Rebecca Onie, who like Stevenson also graduated from Harvard Law School. A MacArthur Fellow, Rebecca discussed how and why she founded Health Leads, a growing organization with thousands of alumni and which she described as “Teach for America for health.” Onie recognized that a significant fraction of healthcare resources, especially when it comes to the poor, is spent on treating the disease and not the cause of it; for example, prescribing antihistamines to a child who then has to return to a run-down and allergen-filled home. Her goal with Health Leads therefore has been to provide the missing link between healthcare and social services by enabling healthcare professionals to literally prescribe “food” and “heating” to their patients, who are then guided by committed college students in navigating the often complex system of getting these necessities. Like Stevenson, she also made a resounding (albeit paraphrased) remark: “I believe we will measure the success of our healthcare system not by the diseases we fixed, but by those we prevented.”
The evening session concluded with two remarkable and energetic performances by Step Afrika! and Children of the Gospel Choir, which is coordinated by the Washington Performing Arts Society and provides opportunities to Washington-area youth. Though it is too early in TEDMED to be fatigued, if any delegates were tired going into session one, they certainly were not leaving it that way.
While we at Medgadget would have liked to see more science and tech talks to begin the conference, session one was certainly innovative, informative, and inspiring. Stay tuned for more!