The TED talks became popular about ten years ago once broadband video had become widely available. At first, the videos seemed like a compelling alternative form of education in a post-literate world. Few people would read, or even find, a report about the eradication of smallpox, but many more would find and listen to a twenty-minute personal narrative by the man (Larry Brilliant)  who led the UN program which successfully eradicated smallpox. What’s not to like here?
But over time I noticed that more and more of the talks ended with the speaker saying something to the live audience like “go out and change the world,” and it was clear that the message was directed at the wealthy, important people in attendance, not at the masses watching the recordings. It had become clear that TED reflected a particular belief system about how to improve the world, and that the conference had a missionary purpose which left people watching at home as mere spectators.
Critical voices started to grumble about a vaguely-sensed banality that arises from the missionary aura of the event. For a while, no one was quite able to define the problem, and it was difficult to find fault with a forum that presented so many interesting speakers and was apparently devoted to changing the world for the better. It wasn’t until 2012 that critical reviews began to articulate what is wrong with TED.