Whether Emerson has a modern heir remains an open question, but, more than a century after his death, the speaking trade he enjoyed continues to thrive. In this week’s issue of the magazine, I write about TED, a constellation of conferences whose style and substance has helped color our own moment in public intellectual life. As many media companies trading in “ideas” are struggling to stay afloat, TED has created a product that’s sophisticated, popular, lucrative, socially conscious, and wildly pervasive—the Holy Grail of digital-age production. The conference serves a king-making function, turning obscure academics and little-known entrepreneurs into global stars. And, though it’s earned a lot of criticism (as I explain in the article, some thinkers find TED to be narrow and dangerously slick), its “TED Talks” series of Web videos, which so far has racked up more than eight hundred million views, puts even Emerson to shame."