One of the main features of living in Las Vegas is the influx of tourists—different tourists—on a weekly basis. For one weekend last fall, motorcyclists had a big gathering, and the city grew loud with revving engines and blaring rock music. In December, a big rodeo conference came through with the most white people I’ve seen in one place since I left Oregon. (Not to mention the cowboy hats and the cowboy boots and the fact that downtown actually reeked of horse manure for a week afterward.)

It’s hard to avoid the tourist influx. They’re in the restaurants or visiting some tourist attraction or wandering the streets, usually looking lost.

When the conferences or special events happen, they have their own group identity. At the end of January, we held a writing workshop in a tiny room at one of the downtown hotels. At the same time, some big furniture organization held a conference nearby that hosted 50,000 people, many of whom stayed at the same hotel.

Those folks were utterly miserable. They didn’t have time to party at night, and they hated being at the conference. They talked about it as they walked the halls, grumped about being away from home, and often took their misery out on those of us around them.

Rewind about two weeks to the Consumer Electronics Show. That convention brought in hundreds of thousands of people, scattered all over the city, filling the hotels to 97% of capacity. (That’s a lot of people.) The conference was held at the convention center—all 3.2 million square feet of it—and in three other large hotel convention centers, several hotels, some downtown space, and more. They bought out entire restaurants for the week, put up totally cool exhibits of driverless cars and smart homes in the parking lots of the various locations, and took over the city in a way much more noticeable than the motorcyclists last fall.

Only everyone who went to CES looked like they were having fun. Oh, they might have been tired, or stressed, or worried. But everyone smiled and laughed and joked and talked about the cool stuff they saw.

I saw tons of cool stuff. One benefit of living here was that I didn’t have to pay the ridiculous hotel fees and fly in with that super huge crowd. I walked everywhere, didn’t see one-fiftieth of the stuff I wanted to see, and got tired.

But I remembered that looking at the future—which is what all of us were doing, in all of the industries—was an absolute blast.

As an sf writer, I saw almost nothing that surprised me. There were fun things, like a virtual walk on the moon or being able to ride in the driverless cars. The attack of the smart home was everywhere—Alexa, Siri, Google Home devices spoke to you as you walked past—and almost everything seemed to have a smart link-up somewhere.

But it was fun to hold newly-invented things in my hands, fun to imagine how they would be used, fun to talk to the actual inventor (a few times) or the people who worked with the devices regularly.

Exhausting, but fun.

I blogged about this on my Patreon page in a free post open to everyone, but geared at writers. You can find that here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/ces-for-writers-23915065. I also blogged daily for my Patreon supporters, which I will do at a few of the other conferences I’m attending in 2019.

I don’t expect those conferences to be as joyful as CES, though. I’ve been watching that influx of tourists every week, many with some kind of convention to attend, and CES was the only business-oriented one where the attendees smiled and laughed. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they enjoyed themselves, because for the folks who don’t live here (heck, for those of us who do) that convention is exhausting, almost from day one.

But it’s interesting. It’s intriguing. And it literally takes the attendees out of their day-to-day existence and sends them to the future. Or maybe a little corner of the future.

And that’s just plain exciting.

So what did I learn for the sf crowd? Mostly what I already knew: almost everything I saw sf had envisioned decades ago. There were a lot of robots and drones and self-driving cars. Lots of “smart” this and “smart” that, with more computing power in a tiny device than any computer had in the 1960s. (Or 1970s, or 1980s, or even the 1990s.)

If we can imagine it, someone else can produce it, eventually. And once they produce it, people use it, and come up with even more great applications. I don’t think the early inventors of 3-D printers ever thought they’d be used for medical devices in disaster zones or impoverished areas, but that’s such a big thing now that an entire wing of the conference focused on 3-D printer tech for medicine.

For the first time, food made an appearance at CES. Not as the stuff we all consumed (and boy, oh, boy, did some restaurants make money), but as tech. Plant-based meats were everywhere, which immediately made my sf brain leap forward. Because if plant-based meats become even more acceptable than they are, then it’ll be easy to have variety on space ships. The hydroponics bay will be able to grow everything, from “meat” to “cheese” to actual recognizable veggies.

By the way, because of my health issues, I eat a lot of plant-based meats and cheeses now, and many of them (not all) taste just like the real thing. Some are better because they aren’t so heavy; they sit easily on the stomach.

That’s just an aside, though. I have a lot of asides. It’s been weeks since CES, and I’m still processing what I saw there.

A tiny glimpse into the future. One all of us who attended found exciting and worthwhile.

Not like those poor furniture conference goers, who just seemed miserable. Or their compatriots who are flying into town as I write this for some other conference.

Those of us who look at the future see a lot of scary things. But we also see cool things, and exciting things, and fun things.

I think it’s just the very thought of a future that’s exciting. Something new, something different.

Something to look forward to.

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