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Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson
February 2004

Being, Nothingness and CES

CES marks the beginning of the consumer-electronics year, as press, dealers, distributors and exhibitors all swarm Las Vegas, mostly to find, promote and cover new products.

But what I find most fascinating about attending CES, which I've done now six years running, are the philosophical questions it raises. Why are we here?

We are a well-defined group of people -- 80% of us attend CES every year. We come together for a few days, interact, share meals and conversations, "live" near each other, and then go off to other existences -- only to do it all again a year later, year after year. I see most of the people at CES more often than some of my relatives (and I like a good many of them more as well). It's an odd experience, like living in a city (129,000 people attended CES this year) that forms for a few days and then disbands for the rest of the year.

An average conversation at CES goes something like this:

"Hey, Happy New Year."

"Hey, you too."

"See anything interesting?"

"Yeah, over at the blah-blah room they're demo-ing their new flagship speaker with new electronics from blah-blah-blah. The room is too small, but I liked what I heard. How about you?"

"The new blah-blah-blah-blah CD player is hot, and it's under two grand."

"Haven't seen it. What room?"

"2617."

"Which way is that?"

"Back, past the swimming pool. On the left."

"Well, I'm off."

"Good to see you."

"You too."

And so it goes all over the Alexis Park. I've had this conversation, or a variation of it ("Which way is that?" is replaced with "I was just there and missed it."), numerous times. I see someone I know, say hello, trade pleasantries, and then I'm off to eventually meet someone else I know and do it all over again.

The worst thing that can happen to you at CES (other than having to eat all of your meals at Mr. Lucky's in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino -- nothing lucky about that) is seeing someone you recognize but whose face you can't quite place. That person, of course, always knows you. It's like a scene from Seinfeld as you simultaneously fumble to be friendly and search your memory for a clue as to whom it is you're talking to but not to let on that you don't know this person's name:

"Hey, Happy New Year."

"Hey, you too."

"See anything interesting?"

"Yeah, over at the yadda-yadda room they're demo-ing their new flagship speaker with new electronics from yadda-yadda-yadda. The room is too small, but I liked what I heard. How about you?"

"The new yadda-yadda-yadda-yadda CD player is hot, and it's under two grand."

"Haven't seen it. What room?"

"16-something."

"Which way is that?"

"Near the front. On the left."

"Well, I'm off."

"Good to see you."

"You too."

And so it goes for four days, with breaks to take pictures and notes, and fill your bag with press releases for gleaning later.

One of the fundamental philosophical debates is that of free will versus determinism. Do we humans direct our actions and lives or are we merely following a preset script -- and don't know it?

If nobody showed up for CES -- no exhibitors, no press -- would it still take place? Does a slot machine that pays out with no one around still make a sound? Of course it does! New products would still be released, bought, and sold, and the Las Vegas economy would continue to roar like the planes that take off and land over the St. Tropez. But the most important piece of evidence is this: All over Las Vegas in early January, people will run into others they know (or think they know and can't recognize) and say,

"Hey, Happy New Year."

Makes me think anyway.

...Marc Mickelson
editor@soundstage.com


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