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TEDxPrincetonU brings discussion from across the globe

How can we optimize the happiness of others, given that our actions directly contribute to the well-being of those in need, through traveling? Why are male athletes perceived to be aggressive and arrogant? How much do we really know about marijuana? Questions like these were posed at TEDxPrincetonU, which featured speakers from different backgrounds and disciplines on Nov. 11.

TEDxPrincetonU, which was started in 2010, brings together a panel of professors, undergraduates, graduates, entrepreneurs, and researchers, from both within and outside of the University community, to speak about topics ranging from drug policy and the economy to the implications of language and the effects of television in today’s culture. This year’s theme was “Panoptic,” chosen to reflect the event’s goal to promote creative discussion on a variety of topics.

The first session, which featured the first four speakers, followed immediately after an introductory video explaining the purpose of TEDx talks.

Sociology professor Matthew Salganik gave the first presentation, “Beyond Big Data.” According to Salganik, there exist two types of data in the research world. Custom-made data is collected from research and surveys conducted specifically for the purposes of a social study, whereas ready-made data exists in many forms that are frequently overlooked as useful information. He went on to explain that ready-made data, though currently an untapped resource, is up to ten times faster and fifty times cheaper to collect than custom-made data. In the future, he said, both will be utilized for social research.

“Companies are potentially sitting on lots of valuable information that they are not currently utilizing,” said Salganik. “Big data sources can help address important social problems.”

Christoph Winter’s talk focused on “The Ethics of Traveling.” While today’s travel industry generates most of its capital from wealthier countries like France, he claims that travelers should frequent low-income countries more often, since they would benefit more from the same revenue based on scientific models relating money and happiness. He encouraged travel to low-income countries, emphasizing that travelers will be more inclined to empathize with those in poverty and will be more likely to take action.

Melana Hammel ‘18 gave the next presentation, “What Slay and Swagger Reveal about the World of Athletics,” which involved the use of slang such as “slay” and “swagger” to describe social constructs such as the dynamic female image in athletics and hypermasculinity.

“Slay is used to represent the evolution of the female athlete identity,” Hammel said. She then shifted the focus to discuss the harmful interplay between hypermasculinity and the static male athlete identity.

“What are the effects of hypermasculinity and the static male athlete identity? Dominance, aggression, sexual objectification of women, lack of empathy, homophobia, emotional detachment, domestic abuse," Hammel said.

Kevin Sabet gave a presentation about the legalization and criminalization of drugs like marijuana. Sabet, director of the Drug Policy Institute and professor at the University of Florida, discussed the culture around these issues among young people. In his presentation, “The False Dichotomy of Legalization and Criminalization,” Sabet discussed how younger generations view marijuana use as completely safe despite the lack of sufficient research to draw any concrete conclusions. There are striking similarities between the commercialization of tobacco during the rise of the tobacco industry and marijuana today, according to Sabet. He asserted that commercialization of marijuana needs to slow down until further research can shed light on its true psychological and physical effects.

“Right now, there is a massive industry with special interest lobbyists that see this [marijuana] as their next big way of getting rich,” Sabet said. “We shouldn’t fall into a dangerous, false dichotomy that our only two choices of dealing with the situation are legalization or criminalization.”

The second session also included a range of diverse speakers, including Anhar Karim ‘18, who explored the misrepresentations of Muslims on television in his talk, “You are What You Watch.” Another speaker, Zack O’Malley Greenburg, a senior editor of media and entertainment at Forbes Magazine, discussed how celebrities attain their Hollywood status and how others can learn from their success in his presentation, “Stardust: Making the Fame Economy Work for You.”

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Several talks in the second half addressed concerns specific to the academic environment, such as Nic Voge’s presentation. As senior associate director of the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, Voge explored the complicated history of procrastination in students and how people can break the habit in his talk, “Self Worth Theory: The Hidden Key to Understanding and Overcoming Procrastination.” 

Simon Cullen, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, questioned traditional classroom learning and discussion in his presentation, “Are We Hearing the Best Ideas at the Table?” and Sergio Marrero, an entrepreneur, facilitator, and researcher, spoke about the diminishing value of a college degree and the importance of other educational factors in his talk, “The Degree is Dead.”

Jack Miron ‘21 found the event particularly intriguing.

“I enjoyed all of the talks, as they covered some very interesting topics,” Miron said. “It’s important that more people can hear the viewpoints presented in TED talks, and they’re great for communicating complex problems to people who don’t have degrees in specific fields.”

This year’s TEDxPrincetonU was run by Princeton Social Innovation (PSI), the University’s social empowerment organization that promotes social responsibility, according to Victor Guan ‘21, a TEDx Officer for PSI. Guan said PSI spent many hours putting the event together, and was pleased with the turnout.

“PSI hosts this event every year to bring TED talks to Princeton students,” Guan said. “It was nice to see the commitment of the current officers of PSI to bring in interesting people to talk at the event.”

PSI plans to host the event again next year, bringing together more speakers from around the world.

The event took place on Saturday, Nov. 11, from 2 to 6 p.m. in Peyton Hall.