Quote of Note | Nathan Heller

Richard Saul Wurman, who invented the TED conference, in 1984, lives in Newport, Rhode Island, in a gated Gilded Age mansion made to look like an eighteenth-century country home. When I arrived one day, in midwinter, he showed me into his study, which was painted forest-green and packed with baubles: Teddy bears beneath glass bells, sneakers speckled with paint (a gift from the artist Dale Chihuly), a large bowl filled with multicolored baseballs and globe ornaments, three bent spoons, and an action figure in his own image, propped up and ready to fight. Not long after I’d sat down, he stood—’Come with me’—and led me to an adjoining cottage, where the walls were hung with potraits and magazine profiles of Wurman, elegantly laminated.

To spend time with Wurman, a keen, fast-talking seventy-seven-year-old who has trained as an architect, is to enter a world whose careful design, childlike restlessness, and narrative authority feels—for want of a better term—TED-like. He designed much of the furniture on in his house; the grounds are landscaped to his specifications. Wurman’s attention span operates on TED-like rhythms, with frequent scenery changes and breaks, and although an assistant screens his calls, I never saw him turn one down….If you ask him why, given all the things a wealthy and well-connected man could be doing, he has spent four decades organizing conferences, he will look at you as if you asked him why he’s wearing pants. ‘I’m not an athlete, I’m not an entertainer, and I’m not smart,’ he says. ‘I have no skills, I’m abrasive, I can’t type. What would you like me to do?'”

Nathan Heller, in his article about TED Talks in the July 9 & 16 issue of The New Yorker