Why CES Matters (For Now)

It’s easy to hate CES. It’s a vapid, broken wunderkammer filled with booze, waste, and gadgets that no one will buy for months if not years if ever at all. The show floor is a crass place where marketers try out ways to get into our wallets and manufacturers, caught in a spiral of “design-build-trash” have to pump out new hardware just because they have to pump out new hardware – like a toothless, abscessed shark that can’t stop moving as it seeps its own blood into the the water.

But this year, I have to say, was different. It’s different because we at TechCrunch gave ourselves a mission. We wanted to spot the little guy. We wanted to meet all the hardware startups we could. We made a general call on the site and got hundreds of people clamoring to show off their coolest inventions. They brought their best efforts and held them up and said “I made this.”

It was, in short, the BEST.CES.EVER.

It’s what CES – and it’s what innovation in general – is really about: the lone genius (or geniuses) working in the dark, brining something into the light. Call it a CESPool if you want. Say it’s hopeless. Fly in with your dark glasses and your post-collegiate snark and try to go Hunter S. Thompson on the show. That’s fine. It’s been done before and it will be done again.

But when you take a step back and look at CES from an innovation standpoint, and with the expectation that the big money here makes the most noise but the small guys here make the most sense, then you’ve got a different show. There’s some really cool stuff here. We tried to celebrate that.

Because that, in a nutshell, is why everyone watches CES. They’re looking for something amazing. While we’re here on the ground, wandering around halls full of “consumer electronics,” the rest of the world sees CES as a strange, bright star that blinks out in a few days. When’s the last time anyone called what we’re seeing here “consumer electronics” outside of a Circuit City bankruptcy hearing? They call these things tablets, TVs, DVRs, TiVos, phones, and toys.

However, weeks or months from now, the iterative changes you see here will trickle out into the world and change things. That’s important stuff.

CES isn’t for us, the consumers and the pundits, anymore. It is for those lone geniuses on the run. They come here to figure out how to make it big and to meet manufacturers and distributors. They’re here to see what marketing is all about and how they can do it better.

So that’s why we came: to meet with the brave men and women who are actually building something. Technology changes every minute. CES was born in a time when it changed every year. But a lot came out of here. Color TVs, transistor radios, VCRs, early lumpen computers – all of these once thrilled the world. Now Fitbit, Indiegogo, Jamstik, Parrot and countless others are thrilling the world. We don’t need to come to CES because we hear from these guys every day, but it’s still nice to meet face to face.

So yes, I hate CES. But this year was different, and we’ll be here every year until the sun burns out or those little guys figure out a better way to get together and make the future happen.

[Image: Shutterstock]