Expo, Newbie-Style

I’ve been in tech journalism for 13 years now and have been to more than my share of trade shows. But this is my first time at Macworld Expo. I knew there was something different about it as soon as I hit the show floor, but it took me a while to figure out what that something was—it’s the babies.

Within the first ten minutes, I saw three of them. And I kept seeing them, stuffed in strollers and Snuglis, hoisted on parents’ shoulders, and crawling along the floor show itself. (Ick.)

There were loads of bigger kids, too, particularly in the gaming pavilion, where dozens of them were busy blasting each other to virtual smithereens in Unreal Tournament. And did I mention the old folks? Lots of senior citizens, many of them couples, holding hands and walking slowly down the aisles.

You just don’t see that kind of thing at a PC show.

The yawning cultural gap between the Mac and PC communities is a cliche—but like most cliches it’s true. The Mac community is different from the PC world—and that difference was on display all over Expo.

For starters, Expo is human-scaled. Those behemoth PC shows I used to attend (Comdex, PC Expo) were, like CES is today, ginormous. It took days to take them in. I was able to cover most of the floor at Macworld Expo in an afternoon, then turn around and start all over again.

That size not only makes Expo way more manageable, it makes it more meaningful. The PC shows, at their height, were embarrassments of show-bizzy glitz, with vendors competing for attention with mini-musicals, faux-boxing matches, and some truly awful magic acts. (Where do entertainers go when they get cut from cruise ships? They do trade shows in Vegas.)

At Macworld Expo, the show-biz factor is turned way down. What music you get is, more often than not, being played by show-goers themselves trying out the latest version of Garageband. The big crowds are watching Photoshop demos instead of clamoring for some guy to throw them a T-shirt.

But mostly everyone’s talking—customers to vendors, customers to customers, vendors to vendors, me to just about anyone who walked by. Over and over, I saw show-goers—just regular folks—walk right up and start jabbering at vendors about how to make better products. More than once, when a vendor couldn’t answer one of my questions, some schmo standing nearby could—correctly, too.

And, like I say, you just don’t see that kind of thing at a PC show.

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