CES 2014 Is Not Where the Tech Action Is. I Know, Because I Wasn't There

A performance at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas on Jan. 6 Photograph by Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

I was talking to my mom on the phone last night, and she brought up something she had heard about on the news. It was related to the International Consumer Electronics Show, and it was “Internet something underwear.” Internet-connected underwear? Internet-enabled underwear? She couldn’t remember, but she wanted some reassurance: This wasn’t something she really needed to know about, was it? At that moment I felt pretty lucky to be walking around the Elmhurst neighborhood of Queens, N.Y., freezing my hands off rather than being the one producing these kinds of reports.

Every year hundreds of technology companies head to the Las Vegas Convention Center, and reluctant journalists are compelled to produce articles and television segments that confuse people like my mother. This would have been the third year I headed out for the festivities, but then came the polar vortex: A plane skidded off the runway at JFK International Airport, and I spent my Sunday watching the NFL playoffs and eating Mexican food at a friend’s house rather than flying across the country. I rescheduled a few interviews, made sure the press releases got forwarded, and I don’t feel like I missed a whole lot.

There is inherent value in an event that brings together so many people from the same industry, but it’s not the news value. Even the concept that CES is over has been around long enough that reporters struggle to find new ways to whine about it. But I’ll try.

The action in the technology industry has long since shifted to software, and the most important companies in tech either make token appearances or don’t show up at all. Many companies actively avoid announcing anything big at the show, because it will get lost in the noise. This means much of what’s left is pointless one-upmanship from the television manufacturers, recycled concepts that many people pretend weren’t also at last year’s show, and optimistic prototyping from companies that have little chance of following through. The problem with reporting on CES—especially if there’s a video camera involved—is that what is most viscerally interesting to cover is also the least likely to be relevant. So we all pretend that enormous spherical televisions (not really) or forks for the quantified self (yes, really) are “where tech is heading.”

The basic trends in the industry manage to be represented primarily in “bizarro world” form. Wearable computing, Internet-connected devices, and the future of televisions are worthy topics. But finding the wackiest examples of each thing is a pretty tiring exercise. So no, Mom, don’t worry about that Internet underwear, whatever it was.

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