Back in 1998, I was a fresh-faced technology reporter from North Carolina making my first journey to a mega-tech trade show in Las Vegas. Then, it was COMDEX that drew seemingly every tech company with a pulse to this desert city.
During my four days there I walked miles of trade-show floor, wrote far too much, drank even more at way too many corporate networking parties, and slept about six hours total. My good judgment so completely abandoned me that at one point, I actually watched an entire performance by the B-52s.
It was an epic week, but it almost killed me. And so I vowed: Never again.
Then I was hired by the Los Angeles Times. And one of the first questions my new editor asked was: “Do you want to go to CES?” Which was one of those questions that wasn’t really a question. Because when I hesitated and tried to make excuses, he led me into a small, windowless office at the far side of the newsroom that contained only a chair.
What happened next, they later assured me, was something short of the legal definition of torture. It was, in their words: “enhanced journalist persuasion technique.” But two days later, after the blindfold and the ball gag were removed, after the speakers that had been blaring heavy-metal music nonstop were switched off and I was allowed to leave the room, I didn’t hesitate when asked again about CES. “Yes! Yes!” I cried. “I want to go to CES!”
And so, here I am in Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show and about to plunge into the madness. But for weeks now I’ve wondered: How I will survive? At night, in my dreams, I am chased by hordes of PR reps who finally drag me down and shackle my hands and feet with HDMI cords, and force me to listen to product pitches until my ears and eyes bleed.
My only comfort is that I am apparently not alone in this anxiety over my ability to find a way to endure CES with my sanity intact. Indeed, based on a string of PR pitches I’ve been getting amid the tsunami of CES-related email, there are a number of companies offering products designed to help navigate and endure, perhaps even thrive, amid the more than 150,000 people expected to attend CES.
For instance, the good folks at TripIt sent me an email, (“CES or Bust: Be a Better Traveler in 2013 with TripIt”) suggesting I use their app to organize all my travel plans for CES. And once I’m there, the makers of Blackjack Strategizer for iOS (“Go to CES without this app at your own risk”) recommend I use their their app to improve my odds at the gambling table. Gambling is one vice, however, I’ve managed to avoid.
Endomondo suggests that fat, drunk and stupid is no way to experience CES. In its email, (“Covering CES Is Hard Work, and Endomondo Can Prove It”), the company suggests that their help will help me stay fit and prove to my bosses that I am working like a dog.
“Covering the International CES event is hard work,” reads the pitch. “To show your audience (and bosses back at the office) that your trip to Vegas ain’t all ‘bout blackjack and booze, take advantage of Endomondo’s free fitness tracking app to log the physical effort required to deliver news from the massive show.”
But the fear keeps on coming. The PR rep for myCharge wrote to stoke my fears that I will be stranded in the middle of the trade show floor without a bit of power for my bag full of gadgets. Not surprisingly, they suggest their line of portable chargers might help.
“Call CES whatever you want — a marathon, a war, a week away from the office — but at some point, regardless of what you call it, everyone at CES will share at least one gut-wrenching experience: watching the battery on your smartphone and tablet drain to a painful death … at least until you find an outlet to recharge.”
Even the sponsor of CES, the Consumer Electronics Assn., is worried about my ability to cope. In an email this week (“Stay afloat with these handy tools”) aimed at CES first-timers (that’s me!), they point me to an entire section of their show’s website aimed at newbies. That includes an entire first-timer guidebook as well.
So, it seems I could spend the entire show learning about products to help me make it through the show. But I will also end by asking you, CES vets, what are your survival strategies? How do you cope with the trade show that seems to have expanded to fill the entire universe?
Oh, and one other favor. Pray for me.
Follow me on Twitter @obrien.