Thursday, March 15, 2012

Babble Bubble Trouble

One of our favorite word-nerd articles of the year was the recent New York Magazine cover story about what was cutely referred to as the “babble bubble”—the explosion of big-think, TED-like conferences and the mass speechifying they have spawned. What was most interesting to us was the big-think questions the piece spawned: Is this bubble likely to pop relatively soon, as writer Benjamin Wallace suggests, a fad to soon fade away? Or are these fabulous confabs looking like an enduring fixture?

To get some expert perspective, we asked some of our speechwriting pros about the implications for our industry, and unsurprisingly, their opinions led in many different directions.

James Buchanan, a business journalist, writer, and editor, is in favor of anything that encourages intellectual rigor and affords us the time to contemplate new ideas. “In the modern digital world, communication and data/information sharing happens so fast that we barely have time to think about the implications of what we hear. TED and others provide a moment of time and clarity where we can hear what others think, they can explain their insights and the implications of those insights, and we can develop our own opinions. As a writer, this can only be of help. Ideas spark books, which spark ideas, which spark books, and on and on.”

On the other hand, Michael Gural-Maiello, an accomplished business writer who writes regularly for Forbes, comes in on the other side of the fence. “The undoing of these people is their unapologetic elitism; look at the pathetic complaints about all of the ‘betas’ being let into the room. I think the saddest observation [in the article] was that the TED Talk has replaced the book as the ultimate ambition for somebody who wants to express themselves. That's certainly evidence that we've lost site of the breadth and scope of human experience. Or maybe it's just easier to talk for 18 minutes than it is to write 300 coherent pages.”

In the middle we have Assaf Kedem, an award-winning speechwriter and communications strategist, who takes a historical view of these conferences. “Confabs have been around for longer than one may realize. Their modern-day version, in some respects, is a reincarnation of the historical town meetings that date back to previous centuries. Today’s ‘fabulous confab’ is more exclusive, glamorous, and intellectually specialized. But whatever form it takes, the essential confab is here to stay so long as there is a marketplace of ideas to be exchanged.”

As the Millions noted yesterday, it’s suddenly fashionable to hate on TED. But hating is still discussing, and as long as we’re doing that, we don’t think the reign of the “babble bubble” is likely to wind down anytime soon.

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