The New Academic Celebrity

Today, we are more likely to bestow the aura and perks of stardom on speakers at "ideas" conferences like TED, which held its 30th-anniversary gathering last month, in Vancouver.
Among the speakers was Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, who seems to have been born to give a TED talk. He was one of a few dozen "all-stars" that TED’s curators invited to Vancouver, to give hyper-compressed updates on their work. TED talks are normally 18 minutes or so, but the all-stars got about five on the stage, standing before blocky red stage-prop letters spelling out T-E-D, wearing conspicuous headset mikes and peering through the bright stage lights into the crowd of 1,200, each of whom had paid at least $7,500 to attend. ... The newest versions of that lecture circuit hold out the prospect of delivering ideas to a broader range of people, but they also privilege some kinds of ideas over others. This year’s TED, for example, featured research psychologists, analysts of technology, scientists, and a couple of philosophers (David Chalmers, Daniel Dennett) with an interest in neuroscience, the academic field du jour. But there were no literary scholars or academic historians or political scientists. chronicle.

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