Putting TED heads together

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By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 11, 2010

"You're about to embark on a remarkable journey."

TED has requested that the 700-odd people in the auditorium turn off their BlackBerrys, and so the 700 people, mostly women, have done so. TED has pointed out that unlike other conferences, whose sessions may be dipped into a la carte, TED has found that TED works best when TEDsters give themselves over completely to the TED experience and attend every session.

The man on the stage is not named Ted but Chris Anderson, who is the curator of TED. But the real voice of TED is the TED mission: the passion with which attendees discuss their work, and the planet, and the work of the planet, both in the corridors of the International Trade Center and in the spa room.

(There is a spa room? Yes! It is called "The Sanctuary" and it is where the weary conference-goers retreat, to receive aromatherapy treatments and drink unpasteurized juice while lounging on squashy white couches and low-slung tables. It smells like tea tree oil.)

What is this?

It is TED.

But what is this?

It is a conference. It is a really exclusive conference where people from different professions come to exchange ideas and be transformed. The main TED event every year is in Long Beach, Calif., costs $6,000 to attend, and sells out quickly. This Washington offshoot, TEDWomen, costs $2,200 for 36 hours of aromatherapying with some of the most powerful women in the country. Hillary Clinton is speaking. Madeleine Albright is speaking. Donna Karan is speaking. Eve Ensler is speaking (about horrible atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And about her vagina).

Having money is not enough: Prospective attendees must also prove their metaphorical worth - their humanitarian impulses, their desire to do good. The wait list for TED is long.

But . . .

Okay, here's what it is: TED began as an elite powwow back in the 1980s. Now, the TED Prize funds important ideas. TEDTalks online are watched by millions of people lounging with their laptops, creating an earnest class of homegrown intelligentsia. TED has become a globo-cyber-cultural-movement.

That's TED. And this conference is CEOs, CFOs, COOs, sports stars, TV stars - every woman you've ever had a girl crush on, striding around in Condi boots and Anthropologie wraps, engaging in aspirational networking.


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