Knight Center’s Sanjeev Chatterjee Opens Inaugural TEDxMIA Event

TEDxMIA from KnightCenter on Vimeo.

Story by Bolton Lancaster, video courtesy of Simone Berger

The audience of about a 100 people sat in the dimly lit room and leaned in their seats, attentively listening as Sanjeev Chatterjee stood in the spotlight and told a story from his childhood that was animated in the slideshow behind him. It was a hot day in India as he turned on the ceiling fan and splashed some cold water on the floor so that he could lie in and cool down. Light poured through a hole in the skylight overhead and turned the room into a camera obscura, allowing him to see upside-down images from outside of the house. Before long, he started to hear voices of a crowd and explosions, seeing images of people running past his house as police chased them in the turmoil of political unrest.

Chatterjee, vice dean of the School of Communication at UM and Executive Director of the Knight Center for International Media, used this anecdote to open his speech at TEDxMIA, an event November 4, 2010 at The Wolfsonian on Miami Beach that aimed to spread and inspire new, innovative ideas through speeches and presentations.

Throughout his speech, Chatterjee focused on how the common language of visuals could be used to spread new ideas. He stressed that the world is gradually becoming more connected and that people are becoming increasingly interested in creating digital images. During his presentation, Chatterjee showed a clip from the video documentary that he helped make: One Water, which focuses on the importance of conserving fresh water around the world. The movie does not use any narration, making it ideal for spreading ideas to people regardless of what language they speak.

“There are almost 7,000 living languages,” Chatterjee said. “What I was looking for was what is some kind of a common language? And things like visuals and music are able to reach people at a very basic level for communication across borders.”

Isaac Prilleltensky, Ph.D., dean of the School of Education at UM, also delivered a speech at the event, critiquing different ideas rumored to increase community well-being and offering solutions to these misconceptions.

“We are very arrogant. We tell people how to live their lives when we haven’t got a clue as to what kind of lives they lead,” Prilleltensky said. “We should empower people. We should give them a voice as opposed to telling them how to live their lives.”

Other speakers covered a wide range of topics, from explaining how power harnessed from the Gulf Stream could power 7 million homes and businesses in South Florida to describing the importance of art in Miami. One of the speakers was Rodrigo Arboleda, chairman and CEO of One Laptop per Child Association, an organization aimed at promoting education around the world by providing impoverished children with a laptop as well as giving children a sense of ownership.

The curators of the first-time event, who followed general TED guidelines but independently organized TEDxMIA, were confident in their goal to continue holding the program once every six months due to its popularity.

“I enjoyed this event because there is a great opportunity to learn about what’s happening in the community,” said Mayur Patel, an audience member. “This is a great way to learn about the hidden talents and resources that are here.”

TEDxMIA started in 1984 as an organization that brought together people from the fields of technology, entertainment, and design in hopes of spreading new ideas. While the talks have expanded to cover many other areas, TED derives its name from those three areas that it initially covered.

The organizers of this inaugural event said they hope to hold the program every six months due to its popularity.