Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Fundamental Electronics Show

The International Consumer Electronics Show has come and gone for another year.  The annual celebration of technology as a consumer aspiration did its thing, attracting over 180,000 exhibitors, marketers, reporters, retailers and general enthusiasts (but only if they could borrow a badge from one of the first four groups).

On display were the biggest, smallest, fastest, farthest and most complex examples of electronic wizardry this side of DARPA.  TVs were bigger and brighter and more shapely.  Phones got thinner, faster and more... extendable(?).  There were robots that folded laundry and answered questions and guided people around.  There were new wireless technologies displayed that don't really exist yet.

On top of that the booths were more bombastic, curating brand and drawing attention and creating high concept experiences.  Experiences that were lost on the attendees as they threw elbows just to move and yelled at each other like couples at a rave club.

But none of those were the most interesting things at this year's CES.  At least, not to me.  No, the most interesting thing that happened at 11:30am PST on Wednesday, 1/10/2018.

That is when the power went out.

Dark Hours

Granted, it did not go out for long, maybe two hours.  And it did not shut down the whole show, just the central hall, the one that is populated by all of the Samsungs and Sonys and LGs and Intels of the world.  For those of us in the South Hall (South Hall is Best Hall), all it did was increase traffic and delay the staff lunches by half-an-hour (the horror).

It was not caused by any excessive electrical use by the exhibitors in the central hall.  If anything, the electronics are more efficient and eco-friendly than ever before.  The rumors are that a outside transformer blew out due to the increased humidity from heavier than normal rain the two days before.

Dark Highlights

What it did do is 'shine' a light on just how dependent all of these futuristic gizmos are to the infrastructure behind them.  This glorification of entertainment and labor-saving devices is nothing without a source of moving electrons to turn the motors, arc across gaps in LEDs or turn transistors on or off.

More than that, it got me thinking about how much of the features and benefits touted by all of the vendors really matter.  Ask a Puerto Rican huddled in front of a fire in an oil drum if they care about the black levels when watching a 65-inch television.  Or the frame rate on their smartphone screen.  Or the algorithm that their robot vacuum uses to map their floor.  I suspect that their response will be less than nuanced.

Dark Divide

Those people without power, electrical or otherwise, are likely more aware of what that power means than those of us that use it without thinking.  Drive-through food?  Gone.  Reading in bed?  Gone.  Studying after work when the sun is down so that you can make a better life for you and your children?  Gone.

Yet, I still go.  Partly because someone pays me to, but even if they did not, I would still read the coverage and lust after the latest headphones from Sennheiser or monitor from LG.  I love technology from the science that develops it to the precision of the engineering to the experience it provides.  Does that make me a hypocrite within my own blog?  Maybe.  Maybe I can love something and still recognize that it has its faults.  Lord knows, I do.

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