What do a former mafia hitman, a couple about to be married and some Vegas partiers have in common? They have no idea why so many nerds were in town this past week.
At 2 p.m. on a Monday, I’m having drinks at the Peppermill Fireside Lounge with Frank Cullotta, once the most notorious mafia hitman in Las Vegas. Of all the things we could discuss, we’re talking about Google Cardboard.
I’m here for CES, the biggest convention for all things personal tech. For a week every January, tech worshippers meet in the desert to bear witness to product pomp from tech upstarts and tech giants like Samsung and Google — and to quench their thirst with Vegas’s alcohol-soaked nightlife. It’s one of the city’s largest conferences and last year drew more than 170,000 attendees from around the world.
But I know lots of people are in Vegas doing what Vegas goers normally do — gambling, taking in shows, partying, standing up in their limos as they take a ride down the famous strip. So I set out to find out what regular folks think about such a major event in town and what technology means to Vegas. I wasn’t too surprised to learn that Cullotta — and most of the other people I talked to away from the show floor — had no idea there was a big tech conference even going on this week.
Las Vegas has hosted CES for the past 38 years. The show now covers more than 2.4 million square feet and sprawls across the three halls in the Las Vegas Convention Center, as well as the ballrooms of some of the big casinos nearby including The Venetian, Cosmopolitan and Mandalay Bay. This year, Snapchat’s logo is emblazoned on the center of the pyramid at Luxor and visible from the air as you fly in. Tech industry luminaries, tech industry hacks, actual hackers, backend Web designers, salespeople, journalists, A-list celebrities, B-list celebrities, C-list celebrities and D-list celebrities all journey here, looking for a little bit of luck.
There may be no better place to reflect on our relationship with tech. At its best, tech is a lifeline and connector, letting us see more, do more and swell with empathy. At its worst, tech can be stifling, pummeling and a source of constant overstimulation. Now take Vegas. It’s a place where the ringing and lights of slot machines never stop, and one of the few stretches of land where your senses bow to the clamor of the casinos instead of the fainter ding of your smartphone.