I’m sitting in the Las Vegas airport, shoes off, looking at the fellow CES’ers waiting for our flight back home. We all look beaten down by the 72 hour onslaught of tech sales and marketing tactics. There were microphoned sales people, yelling, trying to be heard over the speaker companies’ attempts at attracting us with loud music. There are video chat companies with live performing rappers trying to earn their paycheck by rhyming the features of the products. There are ridiculously objectified booth-babes that had no information about the products they were “hired to represent.” And, there are even elvis impersonators trying to sell security.
I came to CES with excitement and hopeful anticipation about where our industry might be going, but all this conference has done is destroy my technological optimism and replaced it with tech-buzz-word skepticism. Granted, I’m exhausted, so that pink, hair-brush, selfie, iPhone case may appeal to me after I get some rest. I have to admit, it stood out in my head from the other 96 selfie stick companies I came across.
I know there are some companies here at CES that are doing their part to have meaningful impact on the world. Intel, HP, Bosch, NVIDIA, and Sharp all stood out to me as companies solving big, complex problems in elegant ways. But, they are the minority here. Tuesday, I walked out of an amazingly engaging panel on wearables with the CEO of intel and walked right into a live broadcast Engaget interview of Will.i.am who was telling us that the future is all about fashion-ology (thats fashion combined with technology). He tells us that he is months away from producing a really cool leather jacket that will also be a “device.” If it isn’t coming across, I rolled my eyes as I typed that.
The truth is, Will.i.am was engaging for one reason. He is a musician among computer nerds who fantasize they are suppressed rock-stars that aren’t awkward, but just merely misunderstood. What he said made no practical sense, but it was gobbled up by the crowd because he is “cool” and we are not.
We, the ‘technological elite’, suffer from a collective A.D.D. This conference put its emphasis on everything that is wrong about technology and obscured technology’s promise – to improve humanity. The focus on features and not meaning was never more prevalent than in the Samsung booth. It was probably the prettiest space in the conference, but all of the products were displayed showcasing the intelligence of their engineering, with no regard as to why that engineering was important to people. The 8k television was the most idiotic example of this. If you held up a magnifying glass to the television, you couldn’t see the pixels. Let me say that again in a different way in case I lost you – A television, designed to be viewed at a distance far enough away so you can see the entire television, had a resolution high enough it could be watched standing 2 inches away holding a magnifying glass. You simply can not tell the difference, standing 5 feet away from a 4k tv and an 8k tv. The engineering effort was staggering, but so what?
I get that there are fringe elements in most any industry, not just in technology. The companies that try to capitalize on naive or socially bankrupt customers can be found in Transportation, Pharmaceuticals, Insurance, Banking, Energy, Education, Telecom, etc. However, at CES that fringe has officially become the majority. The tchotchkes have taken over and they’re drowning out the voices that have a real shot to make a positive impact on society. I think CES should take a hard look at itself. It should employ more discernment on the types of companies it allows to display their wares – I know my request is ludicrous because that would mean lowering their revenue and operating with a touch of a moral compass. Perhaps that is why the conference takes place in sin city: to set the attendees’ expectations away from noble pursuits.
My plane is boarding, I need to get my shoes on and get on board –