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TEDxStanford aims to illuminate

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On Saturday, 27 speakers and artists delivered performances, demonstrations and talks to a packed CEMEX Auditorium for TEDxStanford 2012, Stanford’s first independently organized TED conference. The event, produced by the Office of Public Affairs in partnership with the Graduate School of Business and the School of Engineering, was organized around the central theme of illumination.

The performances and talks were organized into three sessions throughout the day, dividing into the categories “Cultivate,” “Captivate” and “Celebrate.” The speakers – current students, alumni, professors and deans – delivered talks in their respective fields of expertise, ranging from yoga to virtual reality to early detection of cancer.

Speakers such as Jeremy Bailenson and Dan Klein ’90, communication and drama professors, respectively, who currently research and teach at Stanford, presented their work on virtual reality and improvisation. Bailenson and Klein’s talks were meant as a sample of their classes – Bailenson’s Virtual People and Klein’s Beginning Improvisation.

While many of the event’s talks focused on innovation and new technology – reflecting Stanford’s entrepreneurial ethos – there were several instances during the day when speakers cautioned against excessive innovation and drive that lacks mindfulness for context and human needs.

Krista Donaldson M.S. ’98 Ph.D. ’04 of D-Rev and a researcher at The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (informally known as the d.school) urged budding innovators to consider context when developing and delivering new technologies.

Banny Bannerjee M.S. ’00, also of the d.school, warned that students’ tendency for binary, oppositional thinking leads to self-doubt and misguided self-reassurance.

Julie Lythcott-Haims ’89, associate vice provost for undergraduate education and dean of freshman and undergraduate advising, suggested in her talk that parents foster more independence in children rather than cultivate safe spaces for undirected achievement.

Some talks more closely resembled demonstrations, and the speaker would call upon the audience to act out a series of instructions. Louis Jackson ’91, whose teachings fuse the traditions of yoga with modern health science research, had the audience performing breathing exercises to achieve peace of mind.

Klein called on audience members to create the longest run-on sentence possible with those seated near them, while Esther Gokhale, an anthropologist and back pain expert, instructed the audience how to relearn proper pelvic posture and how to sit.

Notable performances included 14-year-old cello prodigy Ila Shon and Pamela Z, who pioneered the live digital looping technique for music recording. Pamela Z projected a video with dance elements that created a multimedia experience in the auditorium.

TEDxStanford comes on the heels of STAN (Science, Technology, Art and Nature), which was produced last May as a prototype for events involving short talks interspersed with performances.