TEDx and My Experiment With Social Media Abstinance

In early April, I attended the 2016 TEDx Copenhagen event. I have had a little trouble articulating what the TED experience was, but I can say the friends I attended with and I all agree it was:

  1. Not what we had expected;
  2. A very worthwhile experience; and
  3. Something we would gladly attend again next year.

The ten speakers were all highly accomplished, passionate, and fascinating individusls, and covered a very wide range of topics. Amongst them:

A half kilo of crickets to go, please.
  •  Why we should eat more bugs, as population growth and environmental concerns preclude the production of an adequate meat.
  • How we can use jazz as inspiration for overcoming adversity, by turning the essence of what was otherwise a potential failure into the baseline for a new solution.

If this is a typical TED event, the range of topics may well catch you off guard, even after seeing the agenda. It’s not like going online, where several talks may be consolidated and tightly wound around a similar theme. Be prepared to have your horizons stretched.

But the unique and deep expertise of the speakers in often opaque fields makes it an experience that is difficult to forget. It’s hard to not be captivated by the passion and interest of speakers who are trying to better the world, even if only on a local scale.

Beyond a bizarre interpretive dance number about human sexuality (I can appreciate the artist angle, but damn if interpretive dance is just not my thing), a few topics really stood out.

  • Having worked for Maersk, Angela Oguntala’s talk about drawing inspiration from the culture and needs of developing countries was a good reminder of the value of keeping an open mind when spotting the next big thing. Read more: Angela Oguntala
  • Thomas Jam Pedersen’s talk on Thorium as a safe alternative to standard nuclear technology was both uplifting and at the same time a somewhat bewildering, “what could have been,” story. The technology was abandoned in the 60’s before it was fully vetted. Read more: Copenhagen Atomics
  • And Lis Zacho’s presentation on teaching kids to learn how to code apps, rather than just to consume content on the web, was fascinating and uplifting. If a 10 year old can do it, I want to build an app too. Read more: Coding Pirates

But for me, the most influential was Meik Wiking’s discussion on how happiness can be quantified and how social media can actually cause depression, a very intriguing topic that initially I didn’t buy into. I was wrong.


The report on the effects of too much happy Facebooking.

The premise is that depression and suicide rates are linked to one’s well being relative to the well being of others. And as Facebook typically portrays a distortedly blissful view of how great our lives are (yeah, guilty), our views of our own quality of life suffers as we read the blissful postings if others.

No analysis was made of the effects of Janteloven/Jantelagen on what one posts and misery caused to others, but I suspect the theory holds. Some people are just more equal than others, even in Scandinavia.

It’s not that any one post or our own awareness of the issue creates the problem. Rather it is the continual exposure and the net behavioral impact. Read a great article about it from The New Yorker here.

So at the speaker’s suggestion, my friend and I gave up Facebook for a week as a social experiment in happiness and mindfulness. As a pretty strong contributor to the FB community, I questioned the value. But there was an impact.

Not long after I made the decision, I had a slight sense of relief. I reached out with a few more messages to friends than I had in some time. The goal after all was never to disconnect from people, but to do it in a different way. And though it was tempting to check in on what people were doing, pulling back from FB didn’t make me feel worse. But what it did do was get me to consider having more meaningful interactions than simply reading and liking, and reconsider the content that I post. I know I will check it less frequently.

The Facebook post to avoid: “Just went to the dentist! It was so awesome!! :)”

So I would call it a successful micro-level test showing how exposure to happiness leads to unhappiness.

As an interesting corollary, posting failures can bring happiness as you and others reach out for support. Phew! Good thing I have my share of those!

And to my Facebook friends, you people are sick… Get miserable will you?!

This is of course just a small anecdote of what attending a TED event draws out. Unlike on the web, you will be exposed to a lot of fascinating people and ideas, and will be drawn to action if you are willing.

Which is why it’s going to be fun to go again next year.

See you on Facebook. 🙂


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