The Birth of Word – Tomasetti

I think for this particular reaction post I will keep the sarcasm to a minimum. Deb Roy’s “The Birth of a Word” definitely altered my attitude towards how powerful and important technology can be, more so than I had felt prior to watching the video. His TED talk deserves a reflection of 500 words (or more) that parallels the sincerity and mesmerizing quality of the presentation.

I have a watched many TED talks, some for class assignments and others while surfing the web. However, none made me physically take a step back from my laptop screen and gaze lost in amazement. None, that is, except Deb Roy’s. An unbelievably intricate and innovative concept, his presentation, “The Birth of a Word”, reimagines the way we understand language, the way we communicate, and the way we interact. He began his presentation with a very dreamy and almost futurist description, “Imagine if you could record your life. Everything you said, everything you did available in a perfect memory store at your finger tips so you could go back and find memorable moments and relive them or sift through traces of time and discover the patterns in your own life that had previously gone undiscovered.” Do exactly as he said. Imagine this. Imagine you could have your entire life recorded- documented- as if you were the star of your own reality show but without scripts or rehearsed scenes. An entire life seen through the lens of a camera, totally organic and raw and real. Within those first 40 seconds Roy had blown my mind. Years worth of footage tracing the every move of a family in real-time and real-life action overwhelmed me. I assumed my skepticism would kick in as the video continued but the opposite happened. I only became more and more of a believer through Roy’s words.


He documented five and a half years of his life, a quarter of a million hours. While he joked saying this was the largest collection of home videos, there was scientific reasoning behind his video recordings. Five and a half years ago he and his wife had brought into this world a newborn baby boy. From this, Roy fused the capturing of every waking moment to the process as to how a child learns to speak, how a child learns language. Hence, “the birth of a word.” But he didn’t just stop there. With a group of researchers at MIT, Roy took the movement and audio of he, his wife, their nanny and son and created a visualization of how language moves within a home. By doing this, he could follow the paths of interactions that stimulated his son to speak, to attempt pronouncing words like “water”. I’ve got to admit, hearing the time-lapse of his son going from “gaga” to “water” gave me chills. It seems like a typical moment for a parent to praise and cherish, but when you actually hear the difference from the first “gaga” to the first “water” it just takes your breath away. It’s hard to believe that a child can develop and grow up so quickly.


Okay, I’m guilty. Something funny had to be added to the blog!

Roy’s son was not just learning “from his linguistic environment but the environment [was] learning from him.” (7:40). By the end of his TED talk, Roy proposed that through this project he and his research crew were able to see communication both within a home and within the media unlike any way before. They were able to pinpoint where conversations started, how they moved through the internet, television, and social sites, and could even trace the most frequently used words/conversations to understand how communication travels. I know personally this is something I never gave much thought about. I think many of us take for granted the power of word. From a child learning how to speak to connections of communication through media, language is what drives our bonds, relationships, happiness, and knowledge. It may be cliche to end my blog with the same cliche Roy used during his presentation, but it just seems fitting to finish my thought with the same reaction his son had while taking his first steps, “Wow!”

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