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TEDx Albany brings together disparate voices

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TEDx Albany brings together disparate voices

“Who doesn’t wanna do a Ted talk, right?”

The recent Siena graduate Sam Necrason wrapped up a successful TEDx Albany conference Thursday, Dec. 1.

This year’s local, self-organized version (signified by the x) of the nationally renowned TED talk conference held annually in California was hosted by Overit Media on Albany’s New Scotland Avenue.

“This has been our biggest one yet,” Director of PR Alison Krawczyk said. With the event having sold out, one audience member proudly admitted that she was only able to make it after a friend couldn’t and had to give away her ticket. “It’s hard to predict,” Krawczyk said about the turnout, whether it was due to recent political upheavals and apocalyptic sentiments, no one seemed to be sure. Speakers such as Necrason credited it to the global popularity of the TED organization. A nonprofit company, TED hosts several categories of conferences and every one is streamed online free for international viewing. It is a cultural gathering of professionals and thinkers that exhibit a wide range of subjects and views, but can also reflect the concerns and values of a community. The theme of Albany’s 2016 TEDx seemed to push community action for preservation and development in science and society by using what we’ve got: ourselves.

Organized and coordinated by Overit CMO Lisa Barone, the day consisted of 11 presentations from authors, professors, CEOs and researchers. The hilariously charming transgender comedian Jaye McBride, who spoke at TEDx Albany 2015, hosted the event; taking time between speeches to tell stories and jokes, ask speakers any lingering questions and mercilessly taunt the sound technicians.

Starting from the ground up, Adirondack Council member John Sheehan spoke on behalf of New York State Park and its wildlife living on the 31,000-acre purchase of land by the state government. Some communities are asking that the government develop roads on the land, however leaving the wilderness wild not only supports our communities economically via nature tourism but also keeps endangered wildlife in their natural habitat. Our environment is so much of who we are, we desperately need it to survive and thrive so we can too.

Other speakers explored the discovery and management of self. Walsh University professor Philip Kim suggested the mental tools we need to do big things for our world, based on tiny steps along the way, based on his book Chase One Rabbit: 10 Habits that Move You from Failure to Success. In our multitask oriented world, we need to slow down to learn about the patience in the process. “When you give someone too many options they become overwhelmed,” Kim said.

Troy author Cristin Steding explores our “self-help” world telling us to be happier. If the world only took part in the things that make us happy, (like Netflix binges and shower beers) we would get nothing done.  Instead of being obsessed with happiness, we should focus on things to accomplish even if we really (and she means really) hate it. For Steding, that means climbing mountains in difficult terrain nearly every weekend. “You’ll never feel ready for something you hate,” she says. “But something you hate can become something you love.”

Sexologist Mal Harrison seconded criticism of an oversaturated, multi-tasking society. In her talk about erotic intelligence, Harrison discussed the sexuality in our society—the way it is sold, but not discussed—and how it reflects a need for education. Erotic intelligence elicits a deeper understanding of one’s own sexuality, self-awareness and need for mutual understanding in human society.

In her work, people have a tendency to ask Harrison, “What’s wrong with me?” “There’s no one-size-fits-all for sexuality,” she said. “The only thing that’s normal about sexuality is variation. “

Speaker Ric Orlando, owner of Albany’s New World Bistro Bar and internationally known chef, already knows what’s wrong with him: it’s everything. “I’m addicted to gambling, I’m addicted to pleasure and I’m addicted to adrenaline,” the long-time chef said. “Most of all, I’m addicted to applause. Orlando doesn’t feel any shame in his addiction to his work, it’s the love for what he does that makes the work stand out. “Chefs have done great things for our culture,” he explained. When it comes his work in the food world and creative economy, a project doesn’t end until it’s over.

NYPIRG Straphangers (the New York Public Interest Research Group focused on mass transit—based on a slang term for subway riders) advocate Jaqi Cohen took us out of self-reflection and into societal development. For those handicapped individuals relying on public transport, the New York City system is exclusionary.  “We’re talking about sending rocket ships to Mars,” Cohen said.  “Why not take a step back and look at the transit systems we already have?” While mass transport connects us all on the same route—and struggle—of travel, it’s time to start thinking of all community groups even if those who don’t directly relate to ourselves.

This sentiment was shared by Diane Cameron, award-winning author and journalist, who sheds light on the overlooked veteran community.  In her book, Never Leave Your Dead, Cameron discusses the economic history of military trauma. She focuses on the China-based U.S. Marines who “saw one of the most violent invasions in history [by the Japanese forces in China],” Cameron said. “Sixty-five years later they are still experiencing insomnia . . . addiction.” Today, we still live with the façade of the poised and perfect soldier in public representation, but these veterans experienced significant trauma and suicide rates are alarmingly high. “We must not close our eyes to suffering,” Cameron said.

After a terminal patient violently ended his life in suicide, Dr. David Pratt began actively advocating for medical aid in dying to give adult patients with less than six months to live some alternate options.  “Surprise is not a plan, hope is not a plan,” the doctor said, referencing the wishful thinking that creeps into a doctor-patient relationships. Patient suffering is something understandable only to the patient but must be addressed. “There has to be a better exit ramp that doesn’t involve guns . . . or mass trauma,” said Pratt. Everyone deserves the opportunity to die in peace.

Syracuse CEO of Terradiol biopharmaceuticals spoke in the afternoon on behalf of the Medical Cannabis Connection of New York (MCCONY) to educate the audience on the positive effects on cannabinoid treatment in patients with chronic and terminal conditions that increase their quality of life. When cannabinoids are introduced with standard regulations and quality control like pharmaceuticals, they can offset harmful side effects of serious medication for chronic disease such as frequent seizures and save families thousands in medication expenses. With the proper data collection and regulation, cannabinoids can be the future of medicine.

With so much talk of the day based on natural solutions and self-discovery, Nitzan Herman stepped in to discuss the history and future development of artificial intelligence. With development in mimicking human emotion and action becoming increasingly easy for programmers, Hermon poses the question: Have we become too proficient in being efficient? “There is data just shelling off of us [via] our IPhones or Apple watches, soon data will just be all around us,” he said. In the end, Hermon concludes, humanity cannot be computed.

It was with the subject of our humanity that the conference ended with Sam Necrason who used the study of economics to examine the connection between freedom and happiness.

“I found that economics was just the study of people . . . using data and information to see what they do, how they work . . . and I think that’s beautiful,” he told The Alt. During his speech he conducted a real-time online survey with the audience, projecting their feeling of happiness and personal freedom in a bar graph on screen. They varied dramatically, reflecting deeply personal human experiences. Necrason took the micro-representation and spread it out to an international scale on two relevant extremes: The United States, statistically one of the world’s happiest and most free nations, vs. Syria, one of the least.

“The global distribution of freedom is startling,” he said. “The people in Aleppo are real people with real freedoms and real happiness.” Here, citizens can use their freedoms of speech and action to work for the quality of life of our fellow humans. The sentiment of his speech resonated with the theme weaving its way throughout the entire conference:

“Circumstances are far from universal,” said Necrason. “We have the opportunity to use ours to make the world a better place. “

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