On Tuesday, I presented my talk at TEDGlobal 2014 to close out the TEDUniversity session. Here is a recap of the full event.
It was a really great experience. I rewrote and edited this talk frequently to get it right and try to fit my 7 minute mark. I had a lot of help and feedback from a number of mentors and the TED content team, which really helped me think through the content, sequence and strategy of the talk. It was, in essence, a very basic intro to why informal communities are interesting. I hope I will get to dig into more of the reasoning slowly as I keep moving forward with research.
I think I ran over in the end, but I was really in the zone during delivery… so I never looked at the clock beyond the 2.30 mark, where I was still making great time. After nervous run throughs all week and early early that morning in the hallway of the Copacabana Hotel… it felt good to walk on stage. Take a deep breathe and grin before delivering the best run through of my talk I had done yet.
It felt so good.
I received a lot of wonderful feedback and had really wonderful conversations about informal economies for hours (and now days….) afterwards. Which is essentially my ideal place to be.
It’s also helping me find ways to explain the ideas floating around in my head. The larger reasons why informal economies are interesting and worth noting. Especially for governments that want to understand fuller profiles of their cities.
To end, I’ll share one particular victory moment. A personal hero is a really talented researcher who works on black market/criminal activity and has spoken at TED before. I have asked him to advise my work before and he has been very supportive of me/my research. He was at TEDUniversity and saw my talk on Tuesday. And then found me Tuesday evening to tell me that I had done a great job. The feeling was comparable to what it would be like if Neil Armstrong told a young Astronaut that they had done a good job on a NASA mission. Not to say that my work is anywhere near as complicated and/or delicate as a NASA mission. But this was… well. I am very pleased with how this all turned out!
Thank you to everyone who sat through edits, run throughs, exhausted and frustrated phone calls/drafts/discussions with me. You are all so wonderful 🙂
I love artists doing sculptural work with different types of materials. In New York’s outdoor markets, this means I find a lot of interesting jewelry designers.
I really love collecting excellent, creative work by people working in great, experimental materials and forms. I really love having a unique collection that adds to the visuals I work with. Especially when a lot of New York tends to drift towards “uniforms” for work, it’s really great to find things that can make a conversation or experience interesting right from the beginning.
I like to wear things like the Petri Dish necklaces by Stern Design Works. This couple brings together concepts from science and the natural world (the bacteria plates, aerogels, mushrooms, tea, etc.) and develop designs around it. They create beautiful little capsules that display the colors of aerogel, the structures bacteria colonies form in labs, and the natural beauty of blue flowers from Earl Grey Tea in their pieces.
I’ve actually had them make a few things as gifts before — including the pair of Bacteria Plate inspired cuff links for my biotech-loving father.
They also work with a 3D printer and love to take on very challenging structural ideas. Right now, I am wearing one of their 3d Printed designs in the form of a “Diamond.” My Diamond necklace is a larger model of the relationship between atoms in the Diamond’s atomic structure. It’s really cool and people are generally transfixed by it when I am talking to them. I know I was when I first saw it.
Another artist I really found and love is Britta Boeckmann, who works with wood and resin combinations that play with light and texture in wonderful ways. I was reading about Marcel Dunger‘s work and admiring the colors/texture combinations of the work, when I stumbled across a link to her Etsy page. Each one is completely unique, which I really appreciate.
I’m always looking for creative and clever work, like these pieces! If you’ve found any, let me know!
Another piece of office organization to think through — what does the image of your team do for your company? Does it still matter? Is it relevant to think about for start ups, researchers and new companies?
When you search “Office Dress Code” in google, there are still many many entries and opinions about what you can/cannot wear to a meeting or an office. It gets more confusing as we add new cuts and fabrics to the market, but also because tech companies are really shaking up the “traditional office conduct” for things like dress, relationships with coworkers, office layouts etc.
I always had a lot of questions about this, particularly when I was interning in college in offices with varying degrees of formality and “traditional” work spaces.
I think the other interesting piece of “dress code” conversations is what it says about the way you want your office to be perceived. It’s been interesting to be in a start up based near the financial district… we definitely try to navigate the space between the two worlds (start ups with a leaning towards tech/research and finance), but it’s not always the easiest to figure out. We find ourselves in the tech/think tank/financial district office culture conversations.
Outside of that, women’s attire is generally more complicated because there are so many options.
There is also a lot of room for error, and the judgment attached to decisions about attire is apparently worthy of regular commentary, as we saw from some of the articles written about Hillary Clinton’s pant suits during her bid for the Democratic Party nomination in 2008. Unfortunately, a lot of people judge based on first impression of a person, which includes your immediate presentation of yourself (clothing choices, cleanliness, how neatly put together you are etc.)
I remember searching online for blogs explaining to me what the typical DC attire for an intern working for a conservative think tank vs. a law firm vs Capital Hill looked like. Even just skimming a few of those blogs, you’ll note how much judgment is attached to personal attire decisions.
The DC intern crowd definitely gets made fun of a lot for their poor fashion decisions.
Other groups try to lend a hand in navigating the secret rules about fabrics, shapes, colors… really even things you didn’t know there could be rules about.
Levo League tries to explain in a sort of blanket approach to appropriate office attire what women can do to dress for the job and their body types. Not necessarily helpful to navigating specific industries, but maybe some food for thought.
Some offices have clearer rules than others. Capital hill has clear expectations for offices when in or out of session.
But for someone like me, formerly in pure research with think tanks and now with a start up, I’ve only read a few things that seem to hit the right tone of not-taking-itself-TOO-seriously and being respectable.
This Daily Worth article navigates the conversation well. It doesn’t feel like it’s condemning the reader, nor that it takes itself too seriously. A good way to talk about start ups and tech scene dress codes.
Who knew it would be so hard to find something clear?
[Best advice I’ve received, for those who have questions, ask your boss what he/she wears to work. Dress slightly more conservatively and adjust from there.]
Remember sitting in the Doctor’s office and being asked to read the distant document with black letters of varying sizes on the far wall? Then covering one eye and reading it again?
And then that terrible moment that it turns out you need glasses… so you’re back in the office, this time look through different lenses, comparing clarity until you find the right combination and suddenly the world is crystal clear?
I spent the last two weeks staring at a five page document in Microsoft Word, reading and rereading the text through those different lenses. I am writing a TED talk for the TEDGlobal University session that kicks off the morning of the first day of speakers. Each round of my edits focused through a different lens.
First, the clear ones. Does this talk make sense? Are the words spelled correctly and in a logical order?
Then, the different color options: Do I like the stories/examples I share in here? Do they support the story and make enough of a point for this to work?
Followed by: is the material digestible. Is there time for people to take in information, digest it, and move with me through the talk.
Next: How can I make it shorter, cleaner, neat.
And finally, what do I sound like when I give this talk? Am I the person on stage that I want to be.
Maybe when all of these different colors and edits come together… you have a talk that you don’t mind people seeing and remembering about you before they meet you. Maybe not.
The process of writing and revising a TED-style talk requires layers of edits. It was challenging, fascinating and rewarding. I got a lot of feedback, about my writing and my mannerisms, in a short period of time. All very useful, but how often do we get such high touch feedback and help from a team of very busy people? It was fantastic.
Even during the late nights where I could feel my contacts drying out and the clock ticking away, warning me that there were mere hours until morning.
It was also an experience that taught me how to ask for specific feedback and identify pieces I wanted direct focus and attention to. I took risks in my writing and presentation — some of it paid off and other pieces of it were cut. But I learned and felt brave. And I’m excited to have this story, this script I wrote myself, out in the open.
I’ll have a hard time reading anything I write the same way again.
It’s been a while since I had a late night duel with the English language.
In College, it happened regularly. Especially in my German/French/English courses, when the professor cared and measured and judged each of my word choices as a direct reflection on who I was as a student (perhaps also as a person. The boundary was unclear at times.). Well, also in those anxiety soaked episodes when I was writing to a new professor, cold calling someone for research/fundraising, or reconnecting with an old friend.
Those letters and emails where your language has to stand starkly on its own and represent you without you there to hold its hand any further. You hit send and you were out of the picture. Was your language enough?
I learned to stop worrying… after a certain point.
I have something to say this evening. I have a lot of ideas and things I would like to share with my audience, but words don’t seem to be arranging themselves in any recognizable order. Especially given the restraints of time and attention spans.
So English and I will have to fight each other for a while longer.
And in the mean time, I’ll overthink the meaning/tone of each word until my (hopefully) pending Eureka! moment when this talk just crystalizes and lets me sleep.
Language. This clunky tool set tagging experiences and sensations and the fog of ideas. It always feels clunkiest when I need to perform it, in whatever capacity.
I am on draft number 3 of the my TEDGlobal University talk for October… and hopefully getting somewhere. The talk I want to give keeps dodging me around dark corners. But I think I’ve almost caught her.
What does it mean to write a profile for New York City? Would it be easier to write one for Queens? Or perhaps, just an avenue and a few side streets of Queens?
Is it too ambitious to hope that we can build collaborative profiles that dig into the hearts and moving limbs of our neighborhoods, cities and districts?
As I started working through these questions these last few months, I went hunting for inspiration.
All of the books I could find on the shelves of the Strand were about food tours in Queens. They recommend trying the Chinese food in Flushing, Latin American food in eastern Jackson Heights (Streets above 77), Indian food South of 77th street in Jackson Heights. It’s harder to find books digging into the history of neighborhoods and community organizations in Queens in a broader context.
Brooklyn is perhaps one of the best known boroughs of New York: a friend who recently visited Stockholm told me everything she found in the Boutiques of the city were “Made in Brooklyn,” because it was seen as THE trendy place to be. I also remember considering where I wanted to live when I first moved into New York City and having everyone ask if I was moving to Brooklyn (it seemed to be followed by a “… because that is where everyone is moving now, dahhhling.”).
It is interesting to watch as more and more of the people I know living in Brooklyn are moving up to Long Island City, Queens. This seems to be a new hub for the artist community. We’ll see what happens!
What I do find, however, is that the stories of Queens come through the talents and pursuits of people from the area. Is this the best way to remember an entire neighborhood’s history? Not really, but I am digging through the material I can find so that I can learn. [Side note: if anyone does know of a great history of Queens piece, please send it my way!]
We found a photographic history of Queens, discussing the neighborhoods through primary sources like flyers for events, local decrees, etc. All for a population that lived in the area around the 1930s. This book is also great, but it was printed in the 1980s and doesn’t answer questions we have about the communities there today. I also found a pictorial history from the NYTIMES describing Old Queens. In terms of more recent texts on the neighborhood, it seems someone is addressing the pan-hispanic communities of Corona and the neighborhoods of Queens through collaborative mapping efforts. In terms of a comprehensive profile, however… there are so many things I would love to dig into or see in another writer’s work.
Some authors are trying to highlight some of the narratives coming out of the community today: Forgotten Borough: Writers Come to Terms With Queens seems to be more about remembering specific pieces of communities and how individuals interacted with these neighborhoods.
I think part of the challenge in developing maps that communicate cities as organic, moving organizations (as I am right now) is that good profiles of cities can really only exist if they can come together as collaborative pieces. It needs to be at the center of a network of different thinkers and doers and people who are able to take all of the overwhelming amounts of information that come from a moving breathing city… and distill it into something we can each sip slowly.
A profile isn’t a good profile if it is afraid to dig in and get its hands dirty — but it is also required to be approachable, in some capacity. If I cannot keep you engaged with my maps and what I want to think about, if I cannot inspire you, you as my partner in developing and understanding my city profiles, to remember corners of the city and the people that move and breathe and create and build there… then I have failed.
But I’m still digging and learning and I want to listen. Teach me how you would listen.
I am working on a few interesting projects right now, but I wanted to get through a sort of raw profile/information dump of my first day time hike/fact finding trip for a project I’m on in Queens. We spent a few days planning out what we hoped to do here and searching for books on the history of the area. Besides food books and “Eat Your Way Through Queens: The Guidebook,” the Strand carries very little on the history of Queens. We ordered a book from their warehouse on Jackson Heights (our subject for today) and found a book capturing Queens through photographs and narratives from the 1930s. We have an interesting narrative to build from here… This first piece is my raw impression of the area we explored and what stayed with me. I want to allow you to see how this evolves over time, because its a fascinating place and project.
Now we find ourselves on set in… three, two, one:
In what looks like it will be a long term project, I spent this morning walking through Jackson Heights getting to know the area. This wasn’t my first time visiting, but it was my first time seeing it during the day. My first trip was as a member of a midnight tour group — we walked up Roosevelt avenue taking in the busy scene of the street, the 7 train roaring overhead and the community gathering and passing time together on the sidewalk.
I am writing about informal economic communities, and this was the beginning of a very interesting trip. It felt totally different — far few consumer directed informal businesses on the sidewalks and off the side streets. Instead, it was a lot of people commuting to and from work, passing through with their children or grandchildren, older people gathering for lunch and enjoying the beautiful summer weather… all of this.
Walk with me:
The layout of this particular part of the city was fun. We started on the edges of Jackson Heights, on the part of Roosevelt where there is still a strong Indian population. The area is very orderly and full of wonderful bright colors, sari stores, grocery stores with specialty spices, Ghee and Naan, costume golden jewelry and other odds and ends. Scattered between some of these stores, we saw the occasional Chinese owning, advertising legal services and medical services, among other things.
We had the repair-all tech stores, offering to “unlock” your cellphones [this is a service directed, typically, at phones that are either stolen and resold and therefore need to have the previous user’s information wiped off them or it allows you to remove the factory settings on iphones to use them in ways the initial software would not let you. It made me smile because it reminded me of some of the underground economic activities of college campuses — I definitely knew people who would “jailbreak” iphones for other students and get paid for the service. Usually it was for more of the techy crowd that wanted to write code for their phones and build apps. Some of them were the variety of hackers who enjoy breaking everything into little pieces to examine all of it while they put it back together. Sort of like design thinking… but through someone else’s preexisting model.
The series of streets after the low 80s is predominantly Colombia and Ecuadorian. Slightly further up, we found a lot of Mexicans. They helped us navigate this transition and understand where we were through the particular branding mechanisms that they offered. The stores owned by Ecuadorians had the country’s flag somewhere in the images on the front or inside of their stores. Colombian stores followed similar branding schemes — both groups sometimes included some version of word play about the products this business offered and country of origin of its owners.
Perhaps my favorite moment of “I really am in Queens and this is the coolest immigrant community in New York” happened when I was wandering around the Indian mega-grocery store (Patel Brothers) and found Northern and Southern Indians working there next to a Mexican man who was rearranging different types of amazing curry powders in 3lb bags, a Puerto Rican family was going through the MASSIVE bags of rice deciding what they wanted to purchase, and a few other Latin Americans scattered between enormous glass jars of Ghee, an aisle of Goya offerings and the frozen Indian dinners section. I found the aisle with Naan and Paratha, which, of course, smelled wonderful. And… it was quiet. There was space between aisles for me to walk comfortably without being afraid I might bump into someone coming around a corner or end up juggling and dropping things I was carrying. What a special place to find in this city!
We did spot a few cool examples of informal business.
I found a group that sells “herbal remedies” made in-house for everything ranging from immediately good luck, love potions, potions to help exercise spirits and hexes, to connect with the dead… you name it! They managed to create their own products, sell products that were clearly manufactured somewhere (aerosol cans… of love or retirement potions????) and they offered “spiritual consulting services.” We did not exactly figure out what the last one was from this particular trip.
We saw computer classes, offering basic computer skills at $2/hour. We also noted a number of other medical offerings, many of which offered services like dentistry, massages, and basic medical care within their own homes. I found a “freelance” tow truck operator who also offered general maintenance/repair services. We spotted a few “cars for sale by owner,” and independent video/production design for people who “had something to say and wanted help shaping it.”
There were also a number of people advertising with sandwich boards for recruiters. This photo is one of the offerings with full transparency in the rates they were offering to potential workers. The list includes help in kitchens, cleaners, Deli men and Pizza men. The highest paying offer was for a pizza guy at $700. They also hire for “factory” though we did not end up getting an answer on which factory/where and that position offered the lowest pay of the group of offerings. We noted one woman had at least 2 offices on Roosevelt Avenue not too far apart down the same street. I was given a card for her office by someone handing them out on the street.
The neighborhood is a different creature during this “shift.” People were working in the stores and advertising their services in the streets. There was only one particular street that was walked down where the hawkers shouted about their wares offering us passage into their stores. This seems to happen less than I would expect in Jackson Heights, given the number of businesses competing very closely together.
It feels totally different after 8pm, when many more vendors come back to the neighborhood and sell food along Roosevelt Avenue. The vendors are completely unfazed while the trains roar overhead, rattling everything nearby. The streets are full of families and workers sitting down along window ledges eating their take out. It’s beautiful and smells completely divine. But that is a story that will have to wait for another day!