On Monday of this week

by francine Hardaway on January 9, 2008

On Monday of this week I made a sacrifice for you.  I ate nothing but Doritos and salsa, peanuts, gelato, a turkey salad sandwich on cranberry bread, two apples, and a frappacino while I walked about five miles on a concrete floor. Why? Because I spent the day at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a larger-than-life trade show in a larger than life city. I went there so you wouldn’t have to.
I haven’t been to Vegas in several years, and the Bellagio, the Wynn, and Paris Paris have been built in my absence. So have what seemed like miles of tourist-oriented restaurants and designer clothing shops. Las Vegas, with all its casinos and neon signs, is a consumer electronics show even when CES is not in town.
And by the way, it may not be in town next year, because rising costs in Las Vegas are driving it to find a new home. Las Vegas won’t care, because geeks don’t gamble. It just means there will be more space for the  Adult Entertainment Expo, which takes place at the same time as CES and probably needs to expand.
It is said that the energy used to power CES is enough to power 2600 houses for a year. So what does it matter that this year the show is using recycled carpet? Yet that is one of the big greentech headlines from the show–the “greening” of the show itself.
But the very existence of a show devoted to unnecessary products  is an embarrassment in a year devoted to contemplation of the carbon footprint. How can a 150-inch TV screen contribute to lowering one’s carbon footprint, even if it has an Energy Star sticker on it and its maker is part of a new recycling company? The excessive consumerism that makes 150,000 people attend this show every year seems offensive after we’ve all acknowledged Al Gore’s inconvenient truth.
I went to the show to see  Podtech’s Bloghaus, Robert Scoble, and my other blogger friends, who have nothing to do with the planning of the event or its consequences. The bloggers  actually “carpooled” from the Bay Area to Las Vegas in a bus, which although replete with high tech gadgets ( sponsored by Microsoft and AMD), still was more energy efficient than flying twenty people.
There are, I am told, 35 football fields worth of gadgets in the Las Vegas Convention Center and the surrounding hotels that contain the show’s overflow. In no way could I claim to see them all. But in my full day of racing through the exhibits, I didn’t see anything remotely green, nor was there a greentech category in the program.  After I left though, I began reading the conference’s green marketing hype: how the convention itself was trying to save energy by using more efficient processes, and how the exhibitors are designing more energy-efficient products.
None of that takes away from the grossness of the Panasonic 150-inch HDTV, or the superfluousness of the remote-controlled robotic beer dispenser .
Quite frankly, even those exhibits took a back seat to the Sony “Blu-Ray” display — a gigantic replica of a pirate ship that called attention to the winning format in the HD-DVD wars. BluRay discs hold twelve hours of content, and play in fantastic high definition. If you haven’t seen them yet, you will soon. Disney ran demos all day at the BluRay “booth,” playing to large crowds who will now invest in the winning format. One of your friends will have one before long.
So now we have another consumer electronics gadget to buy, another new piece of technology to learn.
Anyone who doesn’t want a  Blu-Ray player or a credit-card thin TV would love the selection of audio equipment: speakers  the size of postage stamps. Pocket projectors, wearable camcorders. Eyeglasses that double as video displays. Everything a decadent culture would need.
You know I love technology. But now my love is tempered by my perception of its downsides as well as its riches. If there were no Consumer Electronics Show, I wouldn’t be forced to contemplate the clash between my environmentalism and my geekery.  Next year, I’m not going to go. And neither should you :-)

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Markman January 9, 2008 at 6:53 pm

Bravo! Oh, but Francine, we love those gadgets so. So many of us have fallen into a pit so deep that we can only distinguish ourselves by how much we know about the product lines, strategies, strengths and weaknesses of endeavors that are nothing more than distractions. Whence cometh our salvation?

francine hardaway January 9, 2008 at 7:18 pm

Voluntary simplicity. For years I’ve followed this rule: when I buy something and bring it home, I have to throw out something else. Or give it away. I waterfall (regift) all my old gadgets.

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