Christian Jankowski: Silicon Valley Talks
Fourth post in a series about the installations that are in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's Project Los Altos program
Everyone’s familiar with TED Talks, right? Well, just in case you’re new to the Internet and haven’t stumbled across one yet, a TED talk is a short talk that can be on a wide range of ideas and subjects given by an expert or a celebrity that falls under the description of “ideas worth spreading”. Christian Jankowski’s installation plays with the format of TED Talks and giving them a Silicon Valley twist. A speaker steps up to a green podium and begins to share an everyday topic with the audience, something he or she is passionate about. However, the language used to describe these ordinary things is the technical jargon and terminology one would use while doing business in Silicon Valley’s tech industries. This “tech speak” is familiar, and in some cases is part of our daily vernacular. (How often does one hear “I’ll Google that!” instead of “I’ll look that up!” in conversations?) But though the words are ones we recognize, the use of them is not, and the listener is challenged to follow along with the futuristic language that may not be too far off. To assist the viewer, subtitles “translating” tech speak into more common terminology.
Personally, I think that the Silicon Valley Talks videos are a lot of fun. Each speaker comes from somewhere in the technology field, and talks about a topic that’s commonplace and easy to understand: raising children, fly-fishing, falling in love, or drinking beer. But as I said, the jargon isn’t what we normally use in everyday conversation. Children become “bit buckets” who “download protocols”, for example. Each talk becomes a puzzle, a challenge to sort out. Whenever I work in this gallery, I spend most of my shift watching the videos, seeing how well I can follow the talks without looking at the subtitles.
I do get a lot of mixed reactions from visitors, though. Most people will try to sit through one whole video (there are nine in a continuous loop) but depending on which one it is, they may give up. Older guests – and since we’re located in downtown Los Altos, the majority of visitors I see are elderly retirees out on a morning stroll – have much less patience for the videos than people under forty. They might try to watch a talk, but since they often wouldn’t recognize the technical jargon in its original use, let alone in this adapted way of speaking, they get frustrated and give up.
In the older audience, the men are usually more patient and willing to give the talks a chance. Elderly women rarely last more than a minute or two. However, in younger demographics it is the women who sit it out and keep watching, and the men who give up first. They may watch two or three videos, and quit when the topics cease to interest them instead of when they get too frustrated with the language barrier.
Children rarely listen to the talks, but they are always the first to notice and point out that the benches, counters, stage and podium are all green text bubbles like the ones used on iPhones.
People often ask me if the talks will be going online after the show closes. I have no idea! If the fate of the videos has been decided, no one at the museum has yet notified us.
Silicon Valley Talks: Speaker List
|Do you "LIKE" me? Will you "FOLLOW" me?||Chris Block
CEO of American Leadership Forum — Silicon Valley
|How to Write a Poem in Ten Easy Steps||Jason Danielson
Director of Media Solutions at NetApp
|An Introduction to Fly-Fishing||Michael Flynn
Director of Innovation & Strategy, SAP Labs
Entrepreneur, Former Consumer Product Lead for Eventbrite
|Staying in Touch Remotely||Yukiko Habu
Director of the KDDI Research Lab
|Kale Juice of the Valley||Vanessa Hope
A Poet Who Works at a Venture Capital Firm
Founder and CTO of Lookout
|Falling in Love||Philip Rosedale
CEO of Hi Fidelity and Founder of Second Life
|Raising a Family in an Alien Culture||Harry Saal
Serial entrepreneur, leading and creating both for-profit and non-profit entities in the arts, technology, and science
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art