Modern Original People: Patrick McIvor

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas in 18 minutes or less through short, powerful talks that are posted free online. TED talks became so popular that an international community began organizing TEDx events based on TED’s format and rules to celebrate locally driven ideas.

Celebrated hairdresser and educator Patrick McIvor and his wife Leah attended one of these events in Lehigh, Pennsylvania, in 2006. Nine years later, they attended a TEDx Global Simulcast in Allentown, Pennsylvania where McIvor was approached by a woman who asked what he did for a living and if he had an idea he’d like to share on the TEDx stage.

McIvor’s answer—“Why does having your hair done feel so good?”—was delivered without hesitation, though he admits that he couldn’t answer that question himself at the time. “I knew that grooming was one of the most common experiences in the world, as universal as being born, breathing, eating, drinking, sleeping and dying,” he says, “but I still hadn’t made the connection to the power of human touch yet.”

During the grueling process of auditioning for a spot on the TEDx stage, McIvor’s talk would begin to take shape. “In the age of Instagram, a lot of people think that doing hair is about posting an after, and they’ve gotten very good at using filters and taking photos from a certain angle,” says McIvor, who notes that in the past few years more than a few young hairdressers have made careers out of posting pictures, which, for McIvor, is missing the point of why they got into this industry in the first place.

“TED gave me a platform to share my belief that we’ve forgotten how important human touch is,” he says. “A quick haircut does not give someone sitting in your chair what they need emotionally. It doesn’t get their endorphins moving. Our clients come to us not only because we make them look good, but also because we make them feel good.”

Case in point: Let’s say you work in an office and your boss walks over to your cubicle, places a hand on your shoulder and tells you what a great job you’re doing. “It feels good, doesn’t it?” says McIvor, “but what if you work remotely and all you get for your hard work is an email with a smiley face emoji? Not the same, is it?”

The question is rhetorical, but it supports McIvor’s theory that in the age of smart phones we are becoming more disconnected than ever. “Digital is the hieroglyphics of today,” he says. “It lets anyone put a drawing on the cave wall, but it isolates us.” That isolation, he says, didn’t begin in the digital age, but it’s gotten much worse. “We’ve been around as communal people for a lot longer than we’ve lived in small apartments where we may have no contact with anyone else,” he says. “Just 10 years ago you’d go out to dinner and actually talk to each other. Now we stare at our phones, scrolling through emails or checking Facebook, and that takes a toll.” The antidote to staying present and original, he says, is the services that beauty professionals provide, and he doesn’t just mean cut and color. It’s looking your clients in the eye, putting your hand on their shoulder, really listening to what they have to say. “That’s what matters.”

To see McIvor’s TEDx talk, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCJoMzM_s3g