Right now, I should be wandering the Consumer Electronic Expo floor. Backpack squarely on my shoulders and filled to its breaking point with cameras, free flash drives, press materials, a laptop, and a variety of chargers, I should be navigating my way through the Alice in Wonderland-like maze of gadgets and technophiles.
But for the first time in three years, I’m not at CES. And if we’re being completely honest, I’m thrilled.
I don’t want to join in that constant “CES is pointless!” hum that buzzes as an undercurrent to the event each year. There are things I miss about not being there: playing with prototypes, a great many off-the-record conversations, lurking into the startup ballrooms.
Still, I have to admit that these things shall not be missed.
1) The exhaustion
I don’t know if I truly knew what exhaustion was until my first CES. I’d worked hard before and I work hard now, and it’s true that all conferences come with an adrenaline pump that wreaks havoc on your body after a few days. But CES is massive—not just the show itself but everything surrounding it. Getting to the conference center, getting to the writers’ room, getting your lunch (which, out of three years, I only got a total of five times), getting to your appointments, getting back to the writers’ room, fighting for outlets, desperately writing at lightning speed. Doing it again. Doing it for five days.
And after the work part… well you work more. Parties are, of course, optional, but many require a dropping-in to say hello and thanks and nice to meet you, etc. Afterward, you usually go find an outlet somewhere on a casino floor, sit down, and start working again.
2) Las Vegas
I’ve never been to Las Vegas except for CES, and I’ve been made to understand it’s an entertaining and fun place for adults. My only impressions of it thus far, though, are that you are rarely able to go outside, and when you do it’s to wait in a bus line for approximately 30 minutes. After that, you are again shuffled indoors. And the indoors usually come with a fun type of “air” that’s pumped into the casinos, hotels, and conference centers at near-polar temperatures. Its supposed to keep you awkward and alert. Eventually, you are just permanently shivering and your skin feels like it’s going to crack.
Any sense of day or time (or week, or month…) quickly goes out the window. Soon, CES feels like you’re just wandering through a maze of robots and wires, in a half sleep, because everything is so gaudy and out of control that maybe it is all a dream.
3) The paper
For a conference so focused on technology and the future, CES throws a ridiculous amount of paper at you: maps, guides, press releases, pamphlets, posters, business cards. Even though there are official apps for scheduling and navigating your way through the event… and even though most appointments give you a flash drive with all the information on it… and even though there are QR codes posted everywhere with necessary data on them… you will leave everything you attend with three to 10 pieces of paper. They will remain in your backpack for a minimum of three years because maybe you’ll need them someday (really, never).
4) Booth babes (and boys)
I really didn’t want to bring this up because you get attacked whichever way you fall on this issue. If you’re all, “Yeah sexy people in latex holding gadgets, that’s my jam!,” you’re pervy. If you’re all, “So… explain to me again why the lady in a bikini makes me want to learn about quad-core processors?,” you’re a prudish hag.
So I’ll keep this short: I just like to imagine that everyone at CES is smart enough to want to talk about a brand’s products without the lure of an attractive person wearing body paint or a towel or less. I’m uncomfortable approaching these desks, honestly, and the memorized bullet point-like lists the “brand representatives” spew out to me are just sort of insulting. Worse yet when they can’t answer any of my questions. And no, it’s not because I have lady parts: I know plenty of men that feel the exact same way.
If your product needs a sexy person to sell it, I’m liable to think it can’t stand on its own.
5) The Bieber effect
This could also be called the Snooki effect, or the 50 Cent effect, or the Ryan Seacrest effect, or the LL Cool J effect. Every year, CES brings in a seemingly random collection of celebrities to pump some buzz. They might have a legitimate product to rep (headphones, usually—although that Bieber robot thing was a nice departure), but it’s usually such an inane pairing that reporters are left trying to ask tech-related questions like, “So… Snooki… what inspired you to make, um, headphones that look like hair bows? How would you describe the sound quality?” I can tell you from experience, these attempts at legitimacy are met with blank stares. The people who want to read about CES are going to whether or not you bring in a a celebrity to sexy things up.
And just… Snooki? Really?
6) Because we can’t have nice things
I’ve always seen CES as having two separate missions. Mission one is to tell consumers what is coming. These are the smartphones that you should look into this year, or the cameras, or televisions. The other part of CES is just to astound you in order to get good press, using absurdities like giant, room-sized TVs that won’t even actually see production and talking refrigerators that are just there for fun. They feel like cheap ways to get our attention, to get us to quickly put up a photo gallery—when in fact they are very expensive attempts at this. Sure, they are cool to see… for 10 minutes, and then time’s up, you’re out the door, and all your readers just get a glimpse at this thing from the unimpressive view of their 13-inch screen laptops. This is purely for us, the writers. It’s a bait we’re happy to take, even though it really doesn’t do much for the audience we’re supposed to be at CES for.
But that’s the general problem with CES: grandeur overshadows purpose, and the things we’re there for in the first place get lost in the abyss of digital insanity.
Photo via Qualcomm/Flickr