In a disgustingly irresponsible, tone-deaf, and opportunistic move, the organizers of CES have announced plans for the 2021 iteration of the world’s largest consumer technology conference. While the U.S. is contending with not just a global pandemic — that, until recently, it led in terms of the number of infections — but also civil unrest, protests, riots and police violence to varying degrees in all 50 states, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) thinks it’s a good time to talk about an event, the 2020 edition of which may have helped spread the coronavirus.
Why would anyone think now is a good time to pretend that all is well in the world and a technology conference deserves any airtime? Perhaps to appease a president who’s equally enthusiastic about downplaying the severity of the ongoing health crisis that’s showing the economic prosperity to which he laid claim was a house of cards, and who has no problem using tear gas to disperse protesters so he and his wife can create a photo-op in a church.
If it quacks like a sycophant — The timing here is no coincidence. President of the CTA, Gary Shapiro, had some strange takes on what a Trump presidency might look like before it materialized, and he's subsequently defended Ivanka Trump's attendance and keynote at CES 2020 which saw numerous people threaten to boycott the event. It turns out one surefire way to infuriate women who work in technology is to give a coveted speaking slot to someone who knows about as little about consumer technology as her father does about the correct way to hold a bible.
The CTA is obviously looking for a signal boost from the president, who's likely to latch onto any narrative that suggests the U.S. is returning to something resembling normal. A bit of presidential support could also help the association reassure those exhibitors contractually obliged to take booths and marketing materials at the show. You can bet any company that can afford to absorb the loss of not attending despite having laid down cash will be doing so.
No one who doesn't need to attend will — Following the announcement, editor-in-chief of Android Police, David Ruddock, took to Twitter and outlined some of the challenges attendees and exhibitors will face when deciding about attending, and the cost-benefit analysis that will almost certainly see the bulk of them opting to skip CES 2021 entirely. “Companies can risk being on the Very Wrong Side of History (attending) or choose to, at worst, look a little overcautious (not attending),” Ruddick says. “The math isn't hard.”
All of this makes CES’s reassurances that “[m]ajor brands are committed for the show," and that it looks forward to "announcing another slate of top-tier speakers,” pretty hard to believe. Moreover, its optimism that wider aisles, increased sanitizing practices, and “contactless thermal scans at key venue entry points,” will nullify participants’ fears are downright ludicrous.
Another super-spreader event — Though there’s not enough evidence to categorically confirm CES 2020 helped spread the coronavirus, there are suspicions that’s precisely what happened. Multiple attendees reported getting COVID-19-like symptoms in the wake of the event, some tested positive for the virus, and with literally hundreds of thousands of people from across the globe attending and spending days in close proximity to one another, all it would have taken was one carrier to affect (and infect) countless others.
With a second wave of the coronavirus all but guaranteed now that states are easing their lockdown restrictions and people are (quite rightfully) protesting police brutality and systemic abuses against people of color, announcing plans for CES 2021 is more than tone-deaf, it’s revolting. And anyone who’s genuinely making plans to attend needs their head checked... almost as badly as the CTA does.