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A Lesson in Disruption at TEDx Teen

14/10/2014 11:16 BST | Updated 13/12/2014 10:59 GMT

It's the phrase 'the first generation younger than the internet' that really brings it home.

Reading it in the programme of the TEDx Teen event in London, where it's used as a factual description of the speakers rather than anything sensational, it provides a mental bookmark, for me at least, of the moment in time we inhabit.

The young people I'm about to hear - the Remarkable Disruptors in TEDx Teen speak - are the true digital natives. The ones that recollect no former lo-fi era, for whom left and right swiping, hashtagging and snapchatting is as instinctive as breathing; and the ones who have had to grow-up in the glare of multiple screens, mercilessly scrutinised by the 'wild west' of the internet. I feel for them, I really do.

But teenagers always defy expectations.

Any preconceived notions of modern youth cowed by technology are exploded when Ankit Shah ambles on to stage to talk about his creation 'Tea With Strangers'. Shah articulates perfectly the need for validation we all experience when posting on social media: "Getting no 'likes' is like putting up your hand for a high five and no one reciprocating".

Realising that the image he and everyone else presents online is controlled and one-sided, he put wheels in motion to bring authenticity back to conversation. The result: teawithstrangers.com.

The website's simple proposition, 'Let's Get Tea', has enabled thousands of real-world interactions between small groups of strangers keen to meet in person for a good old-fashioned chat. There's no agenda other than openness and, naturally, a great cup of tea. As Shah says, "Authenticity never gets stale. Being real is a common denominator".

Reality is also what gets speaker David Saddington fired-up. As a young teen he experienced for himself the terrifying truth of climate change when he and his family were caught up in a flash flood on what had been a pleasant summer day. It was a lightbulb moment: everything is connected and our lives are dominated by nature.

Spurred on to discover more about why the flood happened, he found himself online and bogged down in climate science. The shocking reality of the flood seeming remote and impersonal, lost in a world of graphs and statistics.

It was clear that personalising the issue is what would rally people to act, to bring home in real terms how it would affect their daily lives. His tireless campaigning has put education on the realities of climate change on the UK national curriculum. As he says: "Climate change is personal. It's the biggest disruptor of them all."

By the time Trisha Prabhu gets up to speak about her innovation ReThink, the day has already been an electrifying and edifying journey: The searing honesty and bravery of brilliant street violinist Gabi Holzwarth; natural communicator Patrick Kane and his refusal to be pigeon-holed by disability after losing limbs to Sepsis as a baby; the charming and astounding Ashima Shiraishi who, despite being one of the strongest rock climbers in the world at the age of 14, still admitted to finding homework her biggest challenge. And in the middle of it all, a truly rocking jam that includes the music legend Nile Rodgers, whose We Are Family Foundation organised the whole superb and diverse shebang.

But it's the brilliant simplicity of Prabhu's ReThink that crystallises the nature of how young people are navigating the complexities of the world that they've inherited. In 2013, Trisha heard about a young girl's suicide due to bullying on the Internet. Shocked by the story, she set out to find a long-term solution to cyber-bullying.

She realised that if she could stem the problem at source, before the damage was done, she might be able to influence events. The outcome is ReThink - a notification that recognises hurtful or bullying phrases and gives young people the opportunity to rethink a message before they post it online. In trials, when adolescents received the message prompt, it reduced willingness to post abusive content by 93.4 per cent. Little wonder that she was a finalist in this year's Google Science Fair.

As of this week TEDx Teen will begin to upload each of the talks I witnessed at Saturday's event. If you didn't tune in to the live stream then this is the time to catch up and be inspired, engaged and entertained.

The first generation to be younger than the internet is also the first generation that truly knows how to harness technology to shape the world the way they want it to be: personal, authentic, thoughtful, open and compassionate. I for one know the future is in safe hands.