After nearly falling down a flight of stairs (twice), I made it safely to my first TEDxSydney Salon, relieved to be alive, and curious to see how the rest of the night would play out. Supported by the Samsung Galaxy Note9 in the beautiful Museum of Contemporary Art, October’s Salon was nothing short of exceptional, eye-opening, and thought-provoking.
Four speakers and one performer posed their own unique perspectives on the notion and theme for the Salon: ‘Everything is Connected’. I must admit, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t smiling at the magnitude of technological and social advancements that seemed to be taking place around me. Creativity is a host to many wondrous things, and I had the privilege of listening to how they took place in vastly different concepts.
Mike Seymour: How can we connect human emotion with technology?
Does anyone remember being astounded by the numerous face-swap features on Snapchat? Well, Mike Seymour, Digital Human Researcher at the University of Sydney makes those features look like child’s play. Human beings have been able to remain connected with each other and the wider world through computers and the multi-faceted social platforms that have sprung up over the years. But Mike put forth an intriguing idea. “Imagine that you could deal with your computer and it would respond to you emotionally when you used it.” I must admit, while this did trigger memories from every robo-apocalyptic film I’d ever seen, these advancements could have beneficial implications on our learning, work and connection. “Would a six-year-old learn maths better if a six-year-old teacher was on the screen? Would a grandparent be more likely to check in with their computer system if they didn’t have to log in and type? They could talk to a virtual agent that was actually someone from their past.” That’s pretty crazy stuff. One moment you were engaging with Mike in real time on stage, and the next you were watching a life-like ‘digital him’ talking, face full of expressions, on the screen above him. It was a sight you couldn’t help but feel slack-jawed over.
Chyloe Kurdas: Harnessing social media to break down stereotypes
After speaking at TEDxSydney earlier this year, in front of a whopping five-thousand people, Chyloe Kurdas was back to engage once more. Chyloe is a former AFL player with quite an impressive resume. Spending the past decade dedicating her time to facilitating the nation’s first professional AFL competition solely for women, she’s throwing stereotypes and the patriarchy well and truly in the bin. She spoke about the role that technology and media played when it came to building the female game and connecting women with the rest of the world.
“The media didn’t want to touch us, they didn’t want to touch female football. The media always wanted to tell the mad, bad and sad story, and we just wanted to create our own.” To do this, they utilised mass social platform, Twitter, to sculpt their media portrayal into something they could control and have pride over. There’s no doubt that social media comes across as a double-edged sword, especially with sport. But with a careful direction and education on positive social strategies, these young women didn’t have to wait for an invitation to connect and make a name for themselves in the wider community. “The kids loved it. These were thirteen, fourteen and fifteen-year-old girls. We were teaching them about the power of social media and having agency through using your voice and the means that you have in your own hands.”
Jack Shepherd: Connecting sounds; an immersive experience
Jack Shepherd is a genius performer who creates guitar loops and sound samples like Ed Sheeran, generating a range of sounds that ultimately end up connected in a little control box. Vocals, beatboxing, you name it, is it an effective way to make music. The crowd of Salon-goers were the first to hear some beautiful brand new songs that were truly immersive, sucking you in further with flowing melodies and rich tones.
Alex Hogue: Hacking and what happens when we’re disconnected
When it was explained to the crowd that ‘a legit hacker’ was going to be speaking at the Salon, all was intrigued. Then came out came Alex Hogue with electric, purple hair. It would be safe to say that he has one of the coolest jobs in the world as an Information Security Specialist. He spends his day trying to hack into his company’s computer systems in order to improve them, keeping employees and the business safe. And he was there to show us that it was much easier to trick us than we thought it was.
With that, he whipped out a cup and a ball, ready for an interactive magic trick. The crowd and I had to decide whether he placed the ball under the cup or in his pocket. The first time it was under the cup, the next was in his pocket, until he revealed he’d slipped a lime under the cup without us paying attention. After a bit of explanation from Alex, it turns out that hackers essentially do the same thing. They take advantage of when we’re disconnected and not paying attention. “Those resourceful scoundrels have figured out that sometimes the easiest way to get what they want isn’t to do something and upload themselves into the Matrix, it’s just to trick someone to get what they want.” That’s a very scary thought. How many times have I been moseying around the interwebs, half asleep and disconnected from reality? Numerous. How many times have I had to enter my bank details while online shopping? Countless. That’s the last time I forget to really connect to what I’m looking at online.
Dana Bradford: We’re connected at levels that unparalleled
Dr Dana Bradford, senior researcher at the CSIRO and the Qld Brain Institute, is paving the way for the future of digital health. Coming from a psychology background myself, I was particularly excited to hear her thoughts. Dana explained that with today’s technology, we’re able to send a photo of a skin spot off for analysis without having to wait weeks. We can even monitor vitals like our mood and wellbeing. “We’re connected at a level that’s previously unparalleled.” Dana told us the story of one of the elderly patients in care where they were trialing a digital health system. Her name was Mrs L, and she was an independent, spit-fire of a woman. She had developed a system in the morning where she’d open her curtains, signaling the others that she was up and about. It was rather effective, both in practicality and making my heart explode.
So how beneficial would a connected, digital health system be, if the simple act of opening curtains connected and reassured others? Extremely so, we came to discover. The aim of the health systems is to assist the elderly in living independently for longer and improving their quality of life. Unfortunately, while the systems were being installed and the sensors were being tested, Mrs L had a stroke. Her curtains being closed for two days alerted the neighbour. “I looked back to see what secrets the sensors held, and I found a ten-day window prior to the stroke during which Mrs L’s habits around the house changed drastically. From the motion sensors alone, we could see that the activity around the house was significantly reduced.” Through these advances in the connection between health and technology, there’s true power to make a change to the way we view and respond to health. Systems like these could save numerous lives, and that in itself reiterates the profound power that connection brings us all.
While I might have started out the night effectively falling down the stairs, by its close I truly felt a much greater sense of grounding. As people we are connected in so many wonderful ways, and not in an interdependent form, but in a way that is open, transformative and presents a whole new world of opportunity. It’s an exciting future, to say the least.
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SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – OCTOBER 2018: Mike Seymour speaks at the Salon Event during TEDxSydney at The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia on October 30, 2018. (Photo by Jennifer Polixenni Brankin) @polixenni #TEDXSYDNEY