TEDx Kanata: Canadians failing to tell our own tech success stories

Digital storyteller Melanie Coulson took to the TEDx Kanata stage this spring to, what else, tell stories.

As a journalist suddenly laid off after 16 years, Coulson recently found herself in coffee shops across the city having conversations with other people about other people. When the conversation turned to herself, she says she drew a blank.

“In all those years of telling stories, I never told a story about myself. I was never really good at explaining who I was, what I was passionate about, or what I did,” she told the crowd. That problem, Coulson argues, is one Canada faces as a nation today.

“I think that we, as Canadians, have to get a whole lot better about telling our story.”

Coulson goes on to discuss the advent of social media and fake news, arriving at the conclusion that our use of online publishing platforms defines the stories that are told. We need to speak up and define Canada’s story for the next 150 years, or someone else will do it for us.

She gives the example of an artificial intelligence researcher at McGill University who’s using cognitive robotics to design an autonomous wheelchair, and a Dalhousie University lab where Tesla researchers are making waves in lithium ion battery development.

These relatively-unknown examples are changing the world, Coulson says, and it’s our job to promote these accomplishments through our own channels.

She cites Commander Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut with an astronomical social media following, as the gold standard for storytelling. His performance of David Bowie’s Space Oddity is just the beginning, she says, of the educational work Hadfield does for Canada and the world.

“He understood that if he did not tell the world about his work, it wasn’t worth anything, it wasn’t valuable.”

When Canada turns 300 years old, Coulson wants us to have cast aside our national shyness and learn from those like Hadfield who use digital platforms as the promotional tool they can be to talk about our successes.

“We are an innovation nation. We just don’t act like one,” she says.