Yvonne Carts-Powell

Tradeshow hell: the view from behind the press badge

In technology, writing on January 24, 2012 at 6:02 pm

CES 2012

Do you remember Apple’s “1984” ad? Trade shows are a little like that: the ad agencies want to create that sense of excitement, but most of the people feel — at least by the end of the day — like colorless drones herded for too long in cavernous halls with concrete floors.

And with that intro, I’ll mention that I was not at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, for which I am profoundly grateful.

(I still write about CES, still peruse endless press releases in which Household Name Brand shills effuse about how their updated device will Change Consumer Life As We Know It because it’s specs are just a tiny epsilon different from last year’s specs.)

Rob Beschizza’s expose of what life looks like for a journalist at a big show tells much truth. He starts by saying:

Every year, however, readers ask about the nitty-gritty details of the show, beyond the gadgets but short of the existential despair….

Read more: What it's like at CES – Boing Boing.

I have (of course I have!) my own trade show stories. Stories about faking the mandatory extroversion, about being schmoozed particularly charmingly or ineptly, about blithely walking into a meeting room only to discover an salesman looking about 30 seconds away from kneecapping his competitor, about trying to cover the show floor on crutches, about discovering more than I wanted to know about the taste and personal lives of my colleagues (and vice versa), about astonishing acts of goodwill on the part of my own competitors, and about the potent effects of combined exhaustion and information overload and alcohol. And that’s not even counting the actual work: the writing to deadline while trying to find art, quotes, fact-checking; and trying to find a quiet spot with phone reception where I can talk to my boss about a scoop without alerting everyone around me, and the endless, endless walking.

But in 20 years of attending tradeshows, I remember a total of 2 devices that I first discovered on the trade show floor that excited me, that were important, that changed the industry. The first one was commercially available beta barium borate, a nonlinear crystal from China. The green lasers in all sorts of medical and other compact lasers (including your green laser pointer) use that, or one of it’s successors. The second device wasn’t a commercial product — it was a serendipitous mistake that resulted in an organic laser. The university lab grad student who found that his thin film lased was testing it’s lifetime on the show floor. Organic lasers were in their infancy then (and they’re not all that advanced now), and it was astonishing to see and exciting to hear about.

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