By CLAIRE CHOI
The third annual Tiny Talks event, hosted by University High’s TED Club in collaboration with TEDSocial Bommer Canyon launched once again in the MPR on February 1st. This TEDSocial dinner party series, themed “What You Don’t Know About Me,” sought to spark conversations between strangers and encourage vulnerability.
Expecting to be seated with friends when I checked into the event, I was initially confused when I had been seated with no one I had met before, of all different age groups and backgrounds. After talking to a volunteer I learned that seating was randomized to encourage students coming with relatives to share more, as it is often more comfortable to be yourself without the judgement of friends and family. This approach was unlike any event I had ever been to before. It was designed to be an interactive dinner party, in which deep conversations were encouraged — straying from the typical lecture series, forum, or performance.
Audience members were met with a string of red yarn attached to each of their seats and webbed in the middle. The first activity we participated in was introducing ourselves by untangling the yarn from our chairs from person to person. The interconnectedness of the yarn represented technology’s ability to bring the world together, while the separation that the yarn created between the chairs represented the divide caused in part by the digital age. According to the hosts, this digital age is a new outlet for social numbing and the demise of vulnerability.
As expected for a TED sponsored event, we first watched a TED Talk about the meaning of vulnerability. And throughout the night, several more TED Talks were played. After each one, hosts Kasra Lekan and Gabe Eggerling issued prompts to the audience, and natural discourse followed. Conversations topics ranging from comparing ourselves to others using social media, vulnerability, and mental health filled the room. We were just talking to one another, telling each other stories about our lives, and sharing the experiences that have defined us.
After the first prompt, dinner was served. You could tell a lot of planning and consideration went into the food menu. Traditional Persian food was served by volunteers, accompanied by drinks and donuts. There were vegan and vegetarian options, and it tasted like a home-cooked meal.
Junior Arne Noori remarked, “The drink situation exceeded my expectations, with options ranging from coffee to hot chocolate. The donuts were bomb!”
Overall, the event was immersive, thought-provoking, and incredibly grounding. From the comforting atmosphere of the room, the amazing food, and the inspiring TED Talks, Tiny Talks was truly a special experience. We exchanged our outlooks on the world with complete strangers, and were able to form meaningful connections with them.
When reflecting on his volunteering experience, senior Ryan Redjaian said, “Overall I felt more comfortable hearing many different perspectives and establishing a bond with others.”
One of the slogans of Tiny Talks was to “Take a Seat, Not a Side.” In this age of political rift and fragile social climates, it becomes imperative to build a community of people that are able to connect deeper than social media allows us to. Genuine human connection has been the core of civilizations from the start of our history and will continue to be for years to come.
Senior and president of TED Club Kasra Lekan stated that “the central goal with the Tiny Talks project is to unite groups of differing perspectives, whether they be generational or social, around conversations about mental wellness and how we can promote it in our daily experience.”
But this experience was not a therapy session, and as the hosts prefaced before the event began, it wasn’t meant to be. It didn’t serve to diagnose mental health issues, or to be a place of stress. It’s purpose was to practice vulnerability in a casual setting so that audience members can implement listening and empathizing in the real world.
“I hope all attendees are now able to take their conversations at our events and communicate about mental wellbeing to others in our community and beyond,” said Lekan.
According to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System Report, suicide rates among teenagers have increased by 25% since 2009. This epidemic has been attributed to a multitude of things, but many researchers have pointed to social media as being responsible for painting a false reality for teens, ingraining instant gratification in their devices.
The digital age has connected 8 billion people and has acted as a catalyst for ideas, cultures, and beliefs. But in a lot of ways, it has left us more isolated than ever before. Maybe by having these tiny talks, we can change the world in a big way.