We’re backing packing our bags at the Venetian just when the suite has become to feel like home. An odd home indeed, but I enter our last day here for the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) invigorated and feeling mainly pro-Las Vegas.
Much of the good vibe comes from the show itself. I’ve never seen anything like it. We have focused on one small corner of the 2,500 exhibits, the eBook TechZone, but to get there each day we wander through the central hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center, past gargantuan mini-worlds created by Microsoft, Samsung, Canon, Casio and the other big players in consumer electronics. I met a guy last night who had worked on the Samsung exhibit. He said they worked 18-hour days for three weeks and that it cost $13 million. You step into one of these exhibits and your feet begin to bounce on the thick carpet. The lights make everyone look marvelous, and the music plays loud and nonstop, making it necessary for the techno-hawkers to shout in your ear to be heard. I know this doesn’t sound great, but for me what runs through the entire scene is a pulse of creativity and optimism. Sure, it’s laced with greed and fear of getting edged out by the other competitors. But the dark side does not overwhelm the forward motion and ambition evident in every booth, even the small ones.
One woman I interviewed yesterday for my soon-to-debut podcast, The Reading Edge, has sold out her startup’s first production run of the Demy, a dedicated recipe reader. It’s designed for one thing in mind: to have your recipes available while you cook. So you can angle it just higher than horizontal when you need to, or it can stand up nearly vertical. You can load your own recipes into it or find others from the social-media community forming around the Demy. We spoke with the president, Wendy Jenkins, who by yesterday afternoon had a glazed look on her face as she went through yet another demo. Even in her fatigue, something sparkled. This thing is selling. The new production run is coming, and the price will be lower.
Darlene woke up this morning with an idea for how the Demy recipe reader could be improved. “It would be good if you could touch the screen when you’d added each ingredient, so you’d know what’s left to add,” she said. Makes sense to me. You get the feeling around CES that people everywhere are waking up in the morning with ideas on how to improve their product or service. And then some of them go out and find a way to make it happen, so they can hold their idea in their hands and talk nonstop for three days to anyone who will listen.
The other thing I love about Las Vegas is the sheer excess of vision. Here at the Venetian, if you go down to the second level from our suite in the tower, you come out into an area that at first seems to be outdoors. There is beautiful sky high overhead with yummy blue tones and perfect clouds. There’s a canal with gondolas and singing gondoliers. It took me a few moments to realize the sky was fake — you can see little holes up there that must let air in and out. But the effect of strolling along the canal, looking at the shops, and finding a nice little cafe with great linguini Bolognese — all that is pretty cool. What I love is the image of someone sitting out here in the desert of Nevada, waking up some morning and thinking, “I know! We’ll create a canal with gondolas and singing guys in striped shirts where you’ll stroll along at any time of day and look up at the same romantic sky!” It makes perfect sense here in Las Vegas.
Darlene and I have not put one quarter in a slot machine, and we have not turned on any of the three televisions in our suite. And, to be honest, there are sights we’ve seen that turned our stomachs. Last night, returning to our room from a meeting, I rode the elevator with a guy and a prostitute who had a credit card lodged between her breasts. He asked me a drunken question about football, which I said I didn’t follow much. “You’re kidding, right?” he replied in a tone that sounded as if thought I was mocking him and might respond with suitable agression. “Well, I live in Denver, so I’m for the Broncos,” I offered in hopes of defusing the fellow. That gave him pause enough for the silent woman wearing the credit card to guide him out the elevator door into the hotel.
So yeah, there is plenty that we’re glad stays in Las Vegas. But coming here opens a primal place of possibilities. Some ideas you wake up with in the morning need to be let go by noon. Others may change your life.