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Real life, not real time

By Simon Clayton, chief ideas officer, RefTech

I thought I’d seen the back of wearable event tech when Google Glasses fell out of favour. When they launched in 2013 our industry fell over itself to say how they would change events for ever. But of course they didn’t because they were a gimmick that didn’t offer any tangible benefit to the way we organise events.

Wearables have a benefit in certain environments; in aviation we have a knee-board, and wearable tech to show route planning - simply because having these things on hand in a cockpit can be a huge benefit when flying a plane!

But wearable tech is now back in the events industry with vendors claiming that it will provide real time data on attendees’ location and even allow the transference of personal data from one attendee to another.

Does anyone remember ‘Bump’? It was an app that allowed you to ‘fist bump’ your phone into another’s phone to exchange personal info and so do away with the business card. Sadly, it went the way of so many new technologies because it was fixing a problem that doesn’t exist. The exchange of business cards is a practice that is convenient and one that we really don’t mind doing.

One of the claims made about wearables is that we are on the cusp of ‘data driven’ events; that wearable tech can track an attendees’ every move as they walk from the main plenary to the catering area and back again. Does anyone remember ExCeL announcing that they were going to install a tracking system through their halls? They announced it with a fanfare, but they are now strangely quiet about it because it just didn’t offer any benefits that organisers were prepared to pay for.

And hasn’t the Cambridge Analytica debacle taught us anything? People don’t like to be tracked at every level. It’s just a little bit creepy, and I haven’t even mentioned the GDPR implications. But what real benefit will it bring to the average event organiser? It is claimed that it will show the ‘sticky’ parts of an event where delegates dwell, and it will show us this in real time – actually whilst the event is taking place. So that organisers can do what exactly? Will the screen highlight that a delegate is standing alone, so that the organiser can swoop in to introduce them to a colleague? Would the organiser watch and obsess about why delegates are standing to the left and not the right? Will it show the organiser where the most popular places of the event are? (I can tell you this for free – it will be where the food or the booze is…) In reality what live changes could be made to an event on the day because some data has shown that people prefer standing at the bar rather than sitting down?

This ‘real time’ analysis also implies that an organiser would rather watch their delegates’ movements from afar, on a screen in a voyeuristic fashion. Events are live and real, they should be experienced by all first hand, and not through a screen. All the organisers that I know will be submerged in their event, with their delegates and actively in the room.  They are busy running the event, interacting, making sure everything runs smoothly, so why should they step back and view it on a screen in real time when they are already part of it in real life? This technology is creating a barrier rather than enhancing the experience.  Why should we view our events in real time when we can experience them far better in real life?