NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, August 2004
Times, They Are A-Changing
by Dale Oliver, Past President
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One of the largest, longest running computer expos on the planet has been canceled this year due to lack of interest. Comdex organizers say that they will try to put together a meeting in November 2005, but there seems to be doubt that the 2005 expo will come to fruition. The first Comdex was held a quarter of a century ago in 1979, just a few years before the introduction of the IBM PC, back when the operating system of choice was CP/M.

Our inimitable club president, David Hinds, has attended Comdex, as have other club members over the years. Why is such a long-standing tradition in the computer industry becoming history?

Personal computers have become a commodity. Be honest, now. When was the last time you became really excited about (yet another) computer model coming onto the market? Or (yet another) version of Microsoft Office, or Windows being available? Personal computers have become like automobiles in that virtually everybody owns one, and everybody pretty much knows how to use one to accomplish at least their basic needs. The mystique is gone, and personal computers have become an everyday fact of life.

When the automobile was first introduced, it was a novelty that was enjoyed by mostly affluent people. So it was with the personal computer. It was exciting. It was expensive. It didnít do much. You were part of an elite group. There were things to learn. It was a grand adventure.

Nowadays, we take both automobiles and personal computers for granted. The personal computer has become just another household electronic appliance, like a telephone or a television. The only time we think much about it is when it doesnít work the way we want it to. Then weíre indignant.

Key vendors arenít supporting the expo anymore. Many of the big technology companies that made Comdex financially feasible through their financial support and attendance frankly just arenít doing it anymore. Many technology companies donít have the financial wherewithal to support these types of events the way they have in the past, and some of the companies donít even exist anymore. Without significant support from the industry, an event like Comdex is not economically feasible.

Comdex attendance has been dropping drastically. Last year 45,000 people attended Comdex. Only four years earlier, the attendance was 211,000. What had grown into one of the biggest, most unique trade shows in the world eventually became just another conference on a long list of conferences competing for sponsorship dollars and attendance.

At the same time, other shows such as CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) are picking up momentum. As opposed to offering relatively narrow computer-oriented products and services, CES is targeting a broader range of consumers by showing off all kinds of new electronic gadgets, including items for automobiles and personal entertainment such as XM satellite radios, portable DVD players, GPS units, palm-sized computing devices, digital cameras, etc.

Information is at our fingertips. Why spend the time and money to travel somewhere else on the continent to attend a technology conference when you can obtain all the same information (and more) from the World Wide Web? The Web has become an amazing resource where we can learn about all kinds of new products and communicate with people from all over the world, without ever getting up from our computer. All of the information available at a conference can be obtained via the Web, eliminating the need to contend with airports, taxis, rental cars, hotel reservations, travel delays, throngs of people, convention vendors try to hawk their wares, etc. Itís safe and comfortable to sit at our computer where we can obtain better, more objective information than if we had actually attended the conference.

Whatís missing? Meeting other people. Fellowship. Human interaction. Making friends. The human touch. You canít get it from a computer. The proliferation of local computer clubs and user groups is likely another thing that has contributed to the downfall of Comdex. You donít have to wait for a conference in another part of the country to meet with knowledgeable people, find out about interesting new electronic gadgets or software products, and get your questions answered. You spend a few hours with like-minded people at a meeting near your home.

Even these community-oriented clubs have been losing momentum in recent years. New computers and graphical user interfaces are considerably easier to operate than in the past. Just clicking an icon or two can get you headed in the right direction. There are no arcane commands to memorize. The whole computing experience is less traumatizing to learn.

What will reenergize local clubs and user groups? Likely the same approach that CES has taken: Concentrate on topics dealing with a wider range of consumer electronics that can make our lives more enjoyable and entertaining. And having people who care enough to get involved. Without interested club members who are willing to get involved, user groups will sooner or later become relics of the past, just like the Comdex expo.

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