People are absent from CES this year, and many other shows will almost certainly be cancelled for the second year in a row.
As a result of the pandemic, we harnessed technology to allow us to ‘visit’ conferences and shows and to ‘meet’ people.
And for a while, it kind of worked.
We Zoomed and Teamed and changed the way we worked, and now the novelty is wearing off. We are Zoomed out. As Richard Windsor says, this year’s CES is a shadow, a virtual shadow, of its former self. There is a lack of any real announcements and news. It is difficult to find exhibitors (apart from the giants), and the smaller, perhaps more exciting exhibits are all but hidden from view.
Of course, this tells us what we all know: people and interactions make technology work in business.
The question is – while we are still unable to interact like real people, what can we do?
The obvious answer is to find ways to better interact as people. It will be interesting to see what the latest, widespread, lockdown will do to people’s ideas about going back to an office, once the pandemic has passed. It could easily tip people from feeling relaxed about working from home, to really missing the interactions of the office.
There is, however, still scope to make technology more approachable, more interactive. People still work with technology as if it is a machine and, even if it is, the experience should be more far more intuitive.
One obvious and exciting possibility is to stretch Virtual Reality (VR) to its limits. To get people to immerse themselves in a virtual experience. To understand and embrace the concept of avatars. It is technically challenging to make VR work at the scale of CES, but already the scepticism has gone. So, too, has the idea that VR is just a gaming tool.
As we reported last year, VR is being implemented by financial institutions and traders are seeing the benefits, because of the interaction and the similarity with talking to people in the flesh. One example was a banker who was ‘leaving’ a meeting and bumped into a colleague. The two-minute conversation turned into a business idea later – just as used to happen in real life.
Zoom and Teams are all well and good, but they are ‘flat’ or one-dimensional. If shows like CES are to avoid the flat trap, they will have to go the extra mile to mimic the experience of people talking to people. VR may be just one element of making this happen.
Until we can shake hands again, there is an opportunity out there to create a whole new work experience, and if someone can do that, then our need to go back to the water cooler in the office will probably dwindle again.