4 in the morning

My summer cold, which I was sure would pass in 24 hours, is entering its second week. So, Nyquil notwithstanding, most mornings this week I’ve been awake at 4 in the morning. This feels like the worst of all times of day to be awake, doesn’t it?

Why is that? Where did I even get this idea about 4 in the morning? How did 4 in the morning get such a bad rap?

The slam poet Rives might have the answer. Check out his “4 in the morning” lyrical origami at the 2007 TED Conference. I don’t want to summarize any of it, for fear of ruining the effect. See it for yourself and you’ll see how Rives has the uncanny ability to take any topic and make it captivating, humerous and profound. His “mockingbirds” riff still gives me the chills. (check it out; it’s 4 minutes long)

Rives is just one of the speakers at the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Conference who defies easy classification. TED is a conference about the spread of ideas. It brings together some of the smartest people on the planet, and asks them to give 18 minute TED talks on their area of expertise. So the next time you’re thinking about watching a Seinfeld rerun on your DVR (“it’s just 22 minutes long,” you think), check out a TED talk instead.

I’m continually amazed by how transcendent the speakers are. Who could imagine being captivated by a biologist talking about the fastest movement in the animal world; a doctor and researcher explaining graphically why some countries are rich and others are poor; a brain scientist talking about her personal experience having a stroke; or computer scientist who modified a Wii remote control to make a $50 whiteboard (the market price is $2,500).

To me, TED is about the raw power of ideas, and of community, to change the world. It is also about how influence comes from the ability to communicate with people outside your field of expertise (see: the Obama campaign).

And listening to these speakers, one cannot help but think, “Wow, maybe I can do something totally fabulous that makes the world a different and better place.”