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This essay originally appeared in The New Inquiry – read it here.

When did TED lose its edge? When did TED stop trying to collect smart people and instead collect people trying to be smart?

Started as a one-off conference nearly 30 years ago, the TED (“Technology, Entertainment and Design”) phenomenon has grown to two large annual events and many smaller regional TEDx events, focusing mostly but not exclusively on technology. TED has posted more than 1,100 videos of the talks online. By my count, 89 of them have achieved more than one million views. Indeed, TED has gained an almost cultish following, where the topics addressed become the water-cooler topics for knowledge workers and the creative class. Remember how the Steve Jobs talk about how to live was topic of conversation the day after he died.

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