Friday, September 22, 2000

The Cyber Scene in Stockholm

There are Events, and then there are events.

The past week saw a plethora of conferences and seminars on wireless Internet: ‘Nordic GPRS’ (September 11-12), ‘A Glorious Day for Wireless Communications’ (September 12), ‘Nordic Telecom 2000’ (September 13-14), ‘Brainheart Capital Seminar on Wireless IT’ (September 19), ‘Networks Telecom’ (September 20-22). Having attended all of the gatherings mentioned, in retrospect I have severe problems distinguishing them from each other. They all tend to blur together in a heavy-eyelid haze of PowerPoint excesses and intermittent meals.

The one conference that did stand out from the crowd was the ‘Glorious Day’ event at prestigious venue Cirkus. This was partly due to the strong line-up of speakers: The opening speech was held by Lars Berg (former CEO of Telia and the telecom branch of Mannesmann) and the closing ditto was delivered by Östen Mäkitalo (Executive VP Strategy & Innovation, Telia). Mr Mäkitalo has recently reached guru status in Scandinavia, being dubbed ‘the father of mobile telephony’, very much due to ample advertising efforts from Telia.

Over the post presentation Italian buffet, the attendees were dealing with two quandaries.
I: Why you never seem to learn how to save plate space for the good (expensive) dishes typically found towards the end of the buffet table.
II: Why you never seem to learn not expect insight, rather than plugging of products, from speakers on such events.

The second point (never mind the first one) touches upon what can be referred to as the conference conspiracy: How, under the guise of serious and well-intended competence enhancement, conferences attract knowledge-starved delegates to gatherings that are nothing but exposure extravaganzas. Often attendees are left feeling disappointed, however not disappointed enough to turn down the next offer to go to one.

The cynic delegate doesn’t even mind the disappointment, being fully prepared for it. S/he is well aware of the fact that the event is about propaganda, rather than insight, but just doesn’t care since conferences are a nice distraction from ordinary life. Thus, for a certain breed of conference attendees, the competence enhancement element of the conference is more of an excuse for attending than a 'guise'.

What the participants at the ‘Glorious Day’ event did seem to enjoy the most, though, was the ad-hoc appearance of illusionist and performer Joe Labero. Possibly scoring somewhat lower in providing mobile Internet insight, Mr Labero was the feature that made the event stand out from the crowd. However, such features are regarded as unserious – not to mention proper release parties and other ‘happenings’. Events like that are deemed speculative and scheming.
Why? At parties, at least the hidden agenda is fairly transparent. What you see is what you get. Let’s be frank: Every business is more and more turning into show business. If there is product plugging to be done; why not do something exciting with it?

Fortunately, conference days are over for me. Tonight (September 21), I will be enjoying an honest cocktail party at bachelors’ bar Tiger, hosted by a network for IT professionals called Shortcut. Looking forward to some sincere PR.