Things I have learned from 20 years of CES

January 1998 brought something new to my schedule: a flight to Vegas (Southwest from BWI through Midway) and four days at the Consumer Electronics Show.

I’m pretty sure that at the time, I didn’t think this event would occupy my January schedule for the next two decades. But it has, and now that I have 20 CESes in the books I’ve learned a few things about the show.

ces-timeline• The timing is dreadful. Tearing yourself away from your family only days after the warmth of the holidays sucks—and having to deal with CES prep for the weeks beforehand doesn’t exactly put me in the Christmas spirit. If I could build a time machine, I would be tempted to let somebody else kill Hitler (on the theory that if I could construct such a device, so could many other people) and instead go back to 1973 to lobby the founding fathers of CES to hold the damn thing in early February.

• At the same time, the show often represents the first time I will have seen journalist and analyst friends in months. Catching up with these tech-nerd pals makes up for some of the family angst. Unfortunately, I’ve been doing this for long enough that some of these people have filed their last report; I had to cover this year’s show without the insight of Envisioneering’s Richard Doherty.

• The deliberate inefficiency of Vegas (casino-floor layouts are America’s answer to Tokyo’s inscrutable system of street addresses) is infuriating and has only gotten worse as CES attendance has zoomed past 175,000. I struggle to think of a major American event held in a place less capable of moving that many people around, in part because of its own choices: Not having the monorail stop at the Sands represents one of the worst unforced errors in the history of American transit planning.

ces-south-hall• Not getting a flu shot well before going to CES is one of the worst unforced errors in the history of business travel. I found out the hard way in 2009, when I spent five days after CES staggering around my house in a diseased haze–including the day when President-elect Obama toured the Post’s newsroom.

• Year after year, I never work harder than I do at CES. It’s not like I’m a foreign correspondent getting shot at… but when people who have never been to CES say they wish they could go, I struggle to respond with any graciousness.

• People will talk about the obsolescence of shows like CES, but most tech companies can’t pull an Apple and summon reporters to their own events. Having so many of these firms hawking their wares in one place helps me do my job of making sense of the tech industry–and the chance meetings that happen have connected me to good sources and new clients. As annoying as CES gets, it remains one of my more important journalistic and business-development ventures. It looks like I’m stuck with it for a while longer.

• After being from home for a few days and catching up other people’s CES coverage, I have realized once again how many things I missed–an event or a dinner I should have attended, a corner of the floor I overlooked, a vendor I should have met, a demo I should have checked out–despite spending five painfully long days immersed in the show. Whatever else 20 years of covering CES has taught, it hasn’t allowed me to not feel swamped before, during and after this thing.

Updated 1/11/2017 with some concluding thoughts.

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Trade shows may have ruined Las Vegas for me

LAS VEGAS–I’m writing this from a hotel room a little before 7 a.m., and I did not just get back from the casino floor. Instead, I got back after a couple of receptions for the CTIA 2013 wireless-industry show, thought I’d lie down for a bit and then slept for six hours.

The Strip at nightI could head downstairs now for a little gambling–but, honestly, I have some e-mails to attend to after this post, and then I want to get to McCarran to try to get on an earlier flight home. Maybe I’ll have time to hit the breakfast buffet first?

This is what traveling to Vegas for business has done to me. I have now made my way to this city 18 times. Sixteen of those (!) were for CES, there’s this trip for CTIA, and I went to Vegas once for a friend’s bachelor party. The one time I couldn’t get my expenses reimbursed or put them on a Schedule C, I had to stop myself from asking for a receipt everywhere.

I can’t tell you what any of the fancy shows at the Strip hotels are like, but I have memorized the fastest walking route through the Venetian’s floor to the Sands exhibit space. I’ve eaten in some of the better restaurants in town, but I have no idea what they charge. I should find better uses for my brain then caching the locations of bathrooms in the convention center.

Before the invention of blogging and Twitter, I had a little free time in my Vegas schedule. One year, I blew off a keynote to check out the Star Trek Experience; another, I detoured to the Gun Store and discovered how quickly an M-16 can empty a clip. But from 2007 or so on, my only time to experience Vegas as a civilian has been the last night in town–except when I’m too tired and conk out first.