Sunday, August 7, 2011

Self worth and TEDcreds

To this day, I, Marine Putman, am “worth” an undisclosed number of dollars, a meager number of Euros, a large number of UEC (Undergrad European Credits), as well as 65 graduate credits (although some may argue that the 39 arts credits of my youth are not “worth” the same as my recently acquired 26 science credits). But here is the news, as of last month, and to my surprise, I am worth 16 “TED Creds” and that one deserves an explanation.

A few years back I became an avid viewer and an enthusiastic supporter of the TED conferences. I visited their website almost daily, recommended my favorite talks through my Facebook page, via e-mail and in person (yes, I am old-fashioned that way). A couple of years ago, I became a translator for TED, joined the Facebook group “I translate TED Talks”, got acquainted with a few fellow TED translators and happily volunteered my time because I believed –and still do- that I have the power to help spread “ideas worth spreading”. Last year, I got to join my inventor/PhD physicist/poet/musician husband on his trip to TED India. Although I did not attend the conference itself, I got to hang out with a fascinating group of “TEDsters.” TED does attract amazing people, most of them highly educated and many at the top of their respective fields. And so I lived happily in my TED bubble until I find out on my TED Profile that I am worth “16 TED creds”, which reflect [my] contribution to the TED community. Interestingly, this puts me somewhere in the internal TED hierarchy between Chris Anderson (744 TED creds as of today) and my dear husband who for some reason is “worth” 0 TED creds.

Now let me go on a linguistic digression –Don’t I always?- When I first came to the US and I heard the expression “How much is he worth?” I truly did not understand what it meant. Connecting a number value directly to a person did not humanly nor grammatically make any sense for a French speaker like me. Did they mean how tall he is? How much he weighs? But to my surprise, the expression was to be answered in a dollar amount. The French equivalent would be “How much does his fortune amounts to?” (“A combien s’élève sa fortune ?”) This may seem like a tiny linguistic detail but it is, I believe, a crucial one. If you tie the person to its ownership as in “How is he worth?”, what would be –literally- left of him if his fortune vanished? Nothing! On the other hand, if you do not tie the identity of the person to its belongings as in “How much does his fortune amounts to?”, what would be left after he suffered a reversal of fortune? Him! …still standing with his empty wallet. I don’t mean to say here that every English speaker is only considered for his or her assets and that French speakers all have identities that are free of venal considerations. Of course not. Languages, however, often influence the way we think and evaluate our surroundings. Or maybe it is that they are a reflection of our way of evaluating our surroundings. Which came first, the chicken or its golden egg?

All of this to say that I was not the most happy to find out that I had a “16 TED cred” score without being asked whether or not I wished to be “rated” in such a way. At least, Airlines companies and other merchants ask you to join their rewards programs. In this case, TED being a not-for-profit and my way of supporting them being volunteer work, I did not expect them to rate me. I did not wish to be rated. Although minimal for the TED institution itself, my support of them has been time-consuming, intellectually interesting but free and literally invaluable or –dare I say- priceless. I certainly will remain an active viewer of their talks and may eventually attend some sessions (unless I just offended Chris Anderson too badly?). I strongly believe however, that you should not start to assign a number value to your supporters, speakers or members without changing the whole tone of your institution. And THAT, is an “Idea worth spreading”.