How can we build stronger societies?

One of our core concerns at TEDxTUM is to shape our society in a positive way. From the words in our mission statement to the communal feel of our events, we strive to influence our area for the better.

But what does that look like? In reality, how can we imagine better societies for the future? In this edition, we present a few TEDx talks (two from our stage in previous years) that outline a few ways we could mold our communities for tomorrow’s citizens, who will face new challenges head-on.

It’s an undeniable fact—we all need a community to survive. At this point, let’s ask ourselves a crucial question: how can we step up to build something sustainable, a place for everyone?

Mara Mintzer: We let kids design our cityhere’s what happened

When Mara Mintzer was asked to join a “child-friendly city initiative” in Boulder, Colorado, she figured she’d be pushing for more diaper-changing stations in public restrooms. Perhaps she’d fight for cozier play spaces for young children. She assumed her job would be, chiefly, to make life in Boulder easier for families with little ones.

Only once she’d signed on to the project did she realize she’d misread the situationthis wasn’t supposed to be just a city created for kids. It was going to be a city created by kids.

As Ms. Mintzer points out in her talk, “We let kids design our city — here’s what happened,” children are starkly underrepresented in the demographic of city planning. And, at first blush, it seems like urban planners have a good reason: kids’ ideas can seem unrealistic, immature and impractical.

But if you examine the life of a child through a different lens, a staggering perspective blooms into focus: children represent a specialized sector of society that needs to be supported by the design of a city, not hindered by it. And if the city meets the needs of its kids, it’s also working to benefit its low-income citizens, disabled residents, aging population, and immigrants. 

When children are given the chance to step up and create a community, they design for everyone.

Jürgen Gradl: The glue that holds society together

Admittedly, one of the greatest luxuries of adulthood is that as long as you are a law-abiding citizen who shows up to work on time, no one is going to tell you what to do. However, that fundamental freedom comes at a price—you’ve still got to pay your taxes. For decades, this system has been the go-to for how to provide social benefits on a mass scale, and if you ask most people, they might say that it’s worked pretty well.

But Jürgen Gradl has a different perspective.

“Something was stirring underneath the surface. I don’t know if you know that feelingit’s like you’re about to get a cold, but you’re not sick yet.”

As Jürgen explains at TEDxTUM in 2017, he and his peers were feeling as though society itself needed a revitalization; something that couldn’t be fixed by simply raising taxes. The push that society needed was organic, something personal. As Jürgen saw it, the way to strengthen society is through a universal year of social service directly after high school.

A mandatory year of service enforced by the government might seem parallel to a new-age draft, but Jürgen implores his audience to think bigger. “Social service” doesn’t translate to military service, or even service to the government—it’s classified as “anything beneficial to society.”

What skills could a young adult acquire when given the freedom to explore her curiosity for a year? How many ways could she flourish under the spotlight of public service? What would such a force of young people do for the greater morale? Maybe one day, we’ll get the chance to find out.

Justus Schütze: Why we need a human-scale energy system

When you wake up every day, what’s the first thing you do? If you’re like a lot of people, you probably switch the alarm off from your phone screen before checking the latest posts on Instagram. And when you fall asleep at night, where’s the last place your eyes land? Between last-minute scans of the news, mindless scrolling on Twitter, and finalizing the next morning’s alarm, there’s a good chance you’re looking at your phone.

In his 2018 TEDxTUM talk, “Why we need a human-scale energy system,” Justus Schütze takes us on a chilling ride through the history of mankind’s energy production, culminating in a reality that feels so dystopian, it almost masks the truth in what’s being said. Almost.

“Prosthetic Man wakes up and realizes that the tools meant to liberate him have enslaved him.”

The message of Justus’s talk, though, isn’t just a cautionary tale of burned-out humans in a dismal haze of whirring, technical gloom: it’s a call to action. Through his work with the company BUZZN, Justus explains that a new kind of energy system is on the horizon for humanity—one that literally puts the power back in the hands of the people. By creating and sharing energy in a group, people can decrease dependence on machines and make more conscious choices about their energy sourcing.

When we’re not spending our energy on the machines we’ve created to help us get through the day, what kind of energy could we give back to the community around us?