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MWC should be cancelled forever — and all big tech shows too

(Image credit: Marc González/Europa Press via Getty Images)

MWC 2020 is dead. Good riddance, I say. In fact, let’s cancel all big tech shows forever, from CES to IFA.

Do we really need to put a thousand companies on giant stands, fly thousands of people in, and generate insane amounts of waste just to sell stuff? It seems that there’s no place for these 20th century relics right now. 

An absurd debacle

But before we get deep into this, let’s look at the absurdity of what has happened with MWC 2020. It all started with Sony cancelling its appearance. Then, one after the other, the big brands defected alleging the same irrational fears of the coronavirus epidemic.

Even while the GSMA — the association that organizes MWC — put in place an obligatory quarantine for people who had been in China two weeks before the show, companies kept leaving. Intel, NTT Dotcomo, ZTE, Nvidia, Vodafone, Nokia, Facebook, Amazon, Cisco… the daily dripping proved to be too much and the GSMA was forced to cancel the biggest mobile phone event of the year even while health officials kept saying there was no real risk.

The entire thing is even more ridiculous when you consider that, at the same time, a big tech show was happening in Amsterdam. Called ISE 2020, it’s billed as the biggest professional audio and video show in the world. More than 52,000 people have attended that event so far, which started on February 11 and will end tomorrow. More than 200 Chinese companies have stands there, crewed by people coming from China. And many of the companies who defected from MWC — like Sony — also have stands at ISE 2020.

A thing of the past

It seems clear that MWC 2020 was cancelled out of irrational fear and without any real, logical justification. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have been cancelled for one big reason: these fairs don’t make any sense in the 21st century.

Once upon a time, back in the 19th and late 20th century, they made a lot of sense. International trade fairs became a thing with the industrialization era, a place in which companies from all over the world could come, discover new products, and establish the commercial relationships that helped to spread worldwide commerce. There were shows for everything, from agricultural products to food to beverages to mechanical looms and trains and cars and anything you could imagine, including computers in the 1980s.

Trade shows became popular because there was not an easy way to tell the world about products and innovations. The epitome of these events were the world fairs, events in which entire countries would present whatever their companies and local geniuses were cooking in all fields, from technologies to the arts. It started in London, with the 1851’s World’s Fair, then New York, Philadelphia, Paris, Chicago… they became big showrooms that got press correspondents that will later report on any wonders back in their countries. Something like the telephone, for example, became world news after being presented at one of these fairs.

Do we still need trade shows?

But today? There’s really very little justification for companies to attend trade shows. Networking happens 24 hours a day in a globally networked world where email, social network announcements and real-time high fidelity audiovisual communications are instantaneous. 

Everyone knows what everyone else is working on. There’s no need for these companies to get together in a fair except to hang out and perhaps try to lure businesses using luxury suites, food and cocktails. Do we really want to believe that companies need expos to network and discover potential new providers in today’s world? I don’t think so.

But what about you and I, the regular Joes who want to learn about new stuff to buy? There’s certainly no major impact for consumers either. We get our hardware and software news from the internet on a constant basis. There are smartphone launch keynotes that we can watch through streaming from the comfort of our own home. 

There are video game releases that go viral thanks to YouTube or Instagram clips. Everything new and improved is available on blogs, Reddit, Facebook, YouTube and a myriad other outlets and forums. If anything, we have an overload of new stuff all the time. Trade shows don’t help with that. It’s the same cacophony but translated to the physical world. Any journalist who has covered them — including myself — will tell you about the nightmares that are CES, IFA and MWC.

The only things these major events are good for is to encourage people to get drunk, waste airplane fuel and create a big giant pile of trash. The last two are not needed at all in this frail world of ours.

Let’s cancel these things. Turn them into virtual spaces. Give attendants an Oculus Go. Do whatever. But let’s stop the waste and put these Victorian inventions 6 feet under once and for all.