Where gadgets (and words) come to die

A preview of the CES exhibition booths as they are still being built reveals that gadget companies are struggling to find the right words, or even any words, to describe their creations.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

LAS VEGAS--Words are bullets.

They get through to people in ways that pictures, or even deeds, don't. Pictures often fade. Words stay with you and delight or rankle till your last breath. You know, words like "I do." Or "I love you." Or "I'm seeing someone else."

So I wandered into the South Hall of the convention center during the Consumer Electronics Show today to see how the makers of tomorrow's world would be telling their stories.

What words would they use? Could they offer change I could believe in? Would they bathe me in the idea that it was morning in America? Or China? Or anywhere at all?

You will, as I was, be stunned into reaching for ambient music when I tell you that the word I saw most often, as the booths were being put together the signs were being erected, was "innovation."

It seems as if those who are creating gadgets that will make your life higher, better, stronger, feel the need to remind you that they are innovating.

Yes, SanDisk is offering innovation. Xilinx is "accelerating change and advancing innovation." And STC will no doubt be calling for crowd control tomorrow as the company is offering "products through innovation."

Of course, not everyone feels they are being innovative by using the word "innovation." Perhaps some aren't innovating at all, but are trying to sneak their products onto the slippery stream of this innovative juggernaut.

Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

So instead, they offer us the joy of other fine buzzwords that lost their buzz around the turn of the century.

Yes, CES visitors will be so inundated with "solutions" that they will have to waft off to their dermatologist to have them lasered out of their pores.

And if they arrive at CES with no skin showing, they will still be showered with "evolutions." These will make them feel only slightly less unless than the proliferation of "next generation" emitted by companies so very pregnant with their own prowess.

As yet, there is no overwhelming trend toward vintage electronics stores, where cool kids can come and buy beautifully retouched Walkmans for 200 bucks. However, if there were, I am sure they would be exhibiting themselves at the Consumer Retrotronics Show, rather than this week in Vegas.

Clambering over the boxes, trucks, sweaty, hairy workmen and sweaty, less hairy PR people, I found myself grateful for those companies that clenched their teeth and (mostly) avoided cliche.

A temporary respite came from KeyIngredient, offering "All of your recipes at the tip of your finger." Which will surely enhance any kitchen, whatever it might be.

But then I ran headlong into the Vivitek booth and was struck (dumb) by: "Embrace Green-Intelligent Digital Marketing and Display Solutions." It did not drive me to embrace anything more than an exit.

Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Perhaps gadget makers are far too involved in creating their gizmos to worry about, well, selling them. Perhaps they don't know how to tell a story, in which case I recommend Peter Guber's forthcoming book, "Tell To Will."

Perhaps there just aren't enough words any more to keep up with the pace of electronic change. Lenny Bruce said that Vegas is the place where neon comes to die. Perhaps it is the same with words.

However, as I continued to crawl around the South Hall on my hands and knees, I was grateful to TouchDiva. Just for the name. Just for the intrigue. I was moved by Sleek Audio, a company that is "combining hearing aid science with loudspeaker technology." Which should be perfect for most of the bands that still make money from touring.

And then there was HomePlug. I have no idea what part of my home this company might be willing to plug, but I was charmed by the honesty of its words: "Delivering Today. Defining Tomorrow."

Though I am sure the company didn't mean it this way, for me those words said: "Look, our thingummy is great. We'll work out how to describe it later."

I left with hope that tomorrow, when all the booths are fully functioning, there will be finer, more moving words.

But, as I exited I was confronted by one more display. With an American flag, whose stars seemed largely to be replaced by zeros, the words read: "The Great American Comeback Starts with Innovation."

Oh, Scotty, is your beam solution fully functional, integrated, innovative, and next generation? If so, please raise me up now.