Rupert Goodwins' San Jose Diary

Monday afternoon, 15/09/2003This is more like it! Post-lift, the morning proved fun: a set of press briefings setting the scene.
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

Monday afternoon, 15/09/2003
This is more like it! Post-lift, the morning proved fun: a set of press briefings setting the scene. The best was a discussion of Intel's Personal Server project, given by a British PhD who is clearly not used to presenting to a room full of journos but gets into it with relish. There are a couple of hundred of us, paying rapt attention and typing furiously into our notebooks.

It's here that the effects of technology used to empower the individual first become apparent, and not in Intel's favour. At one point in the talk, the researcher holds up a prototype of the Personal Server -- it's tiny and lovely, with a perspex case sparkling over a collection of interesting looking chips. Now, until quite recently there weren't many photographers attending IDF: in the traditional manner, they lugged around big bags of lenses and had fearsome devices dangling from their necks. There were ten or so at even the bigger meetings, and they went about their business in the normal ostensibly unobtrusive manner.

These days, every hack with a laptop has a digital camera as well. No sooner was the tiny glistening prize hoist above the lectern than the hall surged forward in an enormous scrum, chairs tipped over in the rush to get the shot. The researcher disappeared behind a tidal wave of bodies, the room ablaze in an actinic blizzard. Talk about a flash mob.

After a couple of chaotic minutes, the organiser got on the PA. "Please, ladies and gentlemen, resume your seats. There will be a photo opportunity later." Nobody took a blind bit of notice. He tried again, this time more angrily, and the wave reluctantly subsided.

The effect on the researcher was dramatic. The light from the flashes was as nothing to that coming from his broad grin. For a moment, he's been Hugh Grant getting papped at the Academy Awards, and how about them apples? He radiates joy, already relishing the conversations he's going to have back at the lab canteen.

The talk resumes. But he knows something we don't, and is now getting into role. A few minutes later, he fishes in his pocket, stretches the grin another metre and pulls out -- lordy! -- a wrist-mounted remote control. This time, the organiser is ready: "Please, don't go forward. There WILL be a chance to..." but three or four villains are already out of the seats and snapping away. For the ravening pack of hacks, that's all the permission they need. The mob bays and rises.

"Roy, could you put it away?" says the organiser to the researcher, trying a different tack. But Roy will not. Roy is enjoying this far too much -- all those years of research and good works by stealth?
Payback time.

It's all good fun for everyone, except of course the forces of control. But what can they do?

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