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TED Radio Hour / Friction | TED Radio Hour

Friction | TED Radio Hour

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In this episode of the TED Radio Hour, titled “Friction,” we explore the concept of friction and its significance in various aspects of our lives. From the science of tribology to the role of friction in social media platforms, this episode delves into how friction can both hinder and benefit us. Join us as we uncover the complexities and implications of this necessary force.

Main Takeaways

The Science of Friction

  • Friction is a force that opposes motion, but it’s a necessary and important force in our lives.
  • Tribology is the science of interacting surfaces and relative motion.
  • Friction can be dialed up or down to improve our lives, and finding the right amount of friction can be complicated.

Friction in Dental Care

  • Brushing teeth is a complicated friction problem, and there’s a fine balance between wearing plaque away and not damaging teeth and gums.
  • Animals commonly get periodontal disease, so brushing their teeth is important, and pet food suppliers are trying to address this issue.
  • Brushing pets’ teeth is important to prevent periodontal disease.

Friction in Medical Devices

  • Benchtop tests are used to study the effectiveness of treats in removing plaque from dogs’ teeth.
  • Tribology labs study friction and wear in various systems, including vaccines and syringes.
  • Syringes have stoppers that need to move smoothly to deliver the vaccine quickly and prevent contamination.

Friction in Automotive Industry

  • Tribology also plays a crucial role in the design and function of cars.
  • Tribology research has helped reduce friction and increase fuel efficiency, leading to reduced emissions.
  • Energy consumption of passenger vehicles could have been reduced up to 60% in the last 20 years through tribology research.

Friction in Social Media

  • Recognizing and coexisting with friction can help us use it to our advantage, whether it’s getting more of it or reducing it.
  • Entrepreneurs aim for frictionless platforms and gadgets, but is it always the best idea?
  • Building slower technology and engaging with people who have different experiences takes time and creates friction.
  • Extremism is spreading in the US, and diplomacy and friction are needed to combat it.

Friction in Elections Integrity

  • Americans were becoming radicalized in some of the same ways as people in different communities around the world.
  • Social media companies were designed to monetize anger and divisiveness.
  • Building a system with friction can help slow down and question information.
  • Facebook’s business model relies on keeping users on their platform as long as possible.
  • Facebook’s parent company meta pays NPR to license their content.
  • Facebook offered the speaker a job as their elections integrity head.
  • The speaker was hopeful that Facebook was serious about protecting elections integrity.
  • The speaker’s team proposed a plan to protect against online voter suppression tactics in political advertising ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
  • The speaker was yelled at and accused of making Facebook look bad after proposing the plan.

Friction and Public Discourse

  • Friction can slow down the spread of misinformation on social media platforms.
  • Despite evidence that adding friction can slow down misinformation and political rhetoric, social media companies prioritize making money over creating healthier discourse and protecting the integrity of elections.
  • Companies are starting to think differently about changing the incentive structures around public discourse.
  • Every little piece of the puzzle matters and can make a difference in creating change.
  • It’s important to pressure companies, governments, and financiers to think differently about incentive structures.

Friction in Prosthetics

  • Friction is important in everyday life, including prosthetic legs, to prevent pain and discomfort.
  • The prosthetic socket needs to fit perfectly to avoid injury and ensure comfort.
  • Many amputees in Sierra Leone did not use their prosthetics due to painful sockets caused by poor fit.
  • Even state-of-the-art prosthetics have the same issue with socket fit and discomfort.
  • A multi-material prosthetic interface can minimize internal stress and strains and improve comfort.
  • Pressure on certain areas of the leg can cause pain and discomfort for amputees.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging and finite element modeling are used to create prosthetic sockets tailored to the patient’s anatomy.
  • 3D printing allows for the creation of multi-material prosthetic sockets with customizable colors.
  • The project is still up and running and generating excitement among amputees in Sierra Leone.

Friction in Dating Shows

  • Conflict and friction are key elements of dating shows.
  • F-Boy Island is Elon’s latest show where three women choose from 24 men, some of whom are “nice guys” and others are not.
  • The show takes real dating world tropes and turns them into a game to win a cash prize.
  • Ghosting is not an option on the show, leading to more hashing out and drama for viewers.
  • Real dating and dating shows have one thing in common: people are complex and getting to know someone takes hard work.
  • Sometimes, it’s better to accept rather than understand different perspectives.
  • Wanting everyone to understand your point of view can be damaging, and it’s okay to not see eye to eye on everything.

Podcast Production

  • The episode was produced by Fiona Gehrin, Rachel Faulkner White, Matthew Cloutier, and Katie Montellione.
  • It was edited by Katie Simon, Sanna’s Meschkin Por, and James De La Houssi.


Friction: A Necessary Force in Our Lives

Friction is a force that opposes motion, but it plays a crucial role in our lives. Tribology, the science of interacting surfaces and relative motion, helps us understand friction better. From dental care to medical devices and automotive industry, friction is present in various aspects. It can improve our lives when balanced correctly, but finding the right amount of friction can be challenging.

Friction in Social Media and Elections

Friction also exists in the digital realm, particularly in social media platforms. While entrepreneurs strive for frictionless experiences, it may not always be beneficial. Recognizing and coexisting with friction can help us use it to our advantage. In the context of elections integrity, friction is essential to slow down the spread of misinformation. However, social media companies often prioritize profit over creating healthier discourse and protecting elections integrity.

Friction in Prosthetics and Dating Shows

Friction is significant in prosthetics to prevent pain and discomfort for amputees. The fit of prosthetic sockets is crucial, and innovative approaches like multi-material interfaces and 3D printing are being explored to improve comfort. On the other hand, in the world of dating shows, conflict and friction are key elements. Shows like F-Boy Island embrace the complexities of human relationships and challenge the notion of a frictionless experience.


Friction is an integral part of our lives, and understanding its role can help us navigate various domains more effectively. Whether it’s finding the right balance in dental care, optimizing medical devices, or fostering healthier discourse on social media, recognizing and coexisting with friction is essential. By embracing the complexities and challenges that friction presents, we can harness its potential for positive change.

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