Roger Ebert Finds His Voice – With a Little Help from His Friends and His Laptop

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Roger Ebert at the TED Conference

For the movie critic, who made a career out of his verbal explanations about what movies we should see, the transition to voiceless life was uncomfortable but not impossible.

At the TED Conference in March, luminaries from various fields and disciplines gathered to discuss the most poignant ideas that are changing our society. But what about those who are unable to speak? Ebert counts himself among the newly voiceless, but he’s proved that he hasn’t lost the power behind his words – only the ability to speak them.

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“These are my words, but this is not my voice,” he began the talk. He speaks through his computer now, both literally and figuratively. Ebert has become one of the most dominating voices online, commanding huge audiences to his Twitter feed and blog. He is able to type his words into his Mac computer, which reads it out. But “the flow isn’t natural,” he said.

And in a time when speaking is so tied to identity, no one wants to listen to a mechanical voice for lengthy periods of time, especially not a 17 minute TED talk. He recruited his wife, Chaz, as well as educator John Hunter and Dr. Dean Ornish to read his story of cancer and communication.

As his friends read, Ebert helped narrate with goofy gestures to show his humor in the face of adversity. “I was forced to enter this virtual world in which a computer does some of my living for me. I felt, and I still feel, a lot of distance from the human mainstream,” he explained.

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But the upside was turning to the Internet to share his thoughts. “Because of the digital revolution, I have a voice, and I do not need to scream.” His online voice is indeed as good as the real thing.

Ebert may have spoken his last words, but he’s one man we hope will spread his messages forever.