Leaving Las Vegas

I spent last week at a technology conference in Las Vegas. This was a rare confluence of a number of not-so-favorite things. I’m an introvert, and the opportunity to spend time with 47,000+ other attendees (many of them also introverts) is not on the list of things I enjoy. I also can’t endure Las Vegas for long periods of time. Anything longer than about forty-eight hours is too long. This time, I was there for five days and it was exhausting.

First off, I’ll say something about the AWS Re:Invent conference. The content was undercut by my sense that were just too many people. This is probably not the fault of the conference, I have this feeling as a matter of general principle. When I last went in 2013 there was one-quarter the number of attendees. This time, there was a good bit more frustration and lots of waiting in line. If there were a patron product it should have been the platform’s Simple Queue Service. There were a number of good talks and it was well run given the scale of the conference. The Re:Play event on Thursday night was probably the largest introvert-majority party of all time. AWS is a remarkable accelerator and forward leap in innovation potential for anything involving IT and software. Even so, in the future I’ll watch the keynotes from the quiet confines of my desk.

As to the location, Las Vegas is a city built on the failure to understand, appreciate or internalize probability. And perhaps a similar failure to understand the environment and natural limits. Organized crime was likely also involved, though one hopes it is less of a factor than it used to be. Not that the businesses that run casinos are much more virtuous in the scheme of things. Even so, Vegas is an impressive accomplishment. An opulent city of light that never sleeps situated in a wide, arid plain between two ranges of mountains. The architecture, infrastructure and logistics needed to build and maintain a city in the desert of this scale is something of a modern miracle. This might be a case of giving the devil his due. Because it’s not a well-motivated miracle. It’s an unsustainable endeavor that paints a thin veneer of fantasy over a number of human vices (cynics might say the same of civilization). We’re all animals with basic drives and neurochemical control structures. Vegas finds ways to tap into that foundation with surgical and scientific precision.

I did meet a few locals while there. It’s anecdotal at best, but they said once you get away from the main strip, Vegas is more like a small town. That seems possible. One wide swath of vice-fueled imagineering designed to separate people from their money surrounded by a normal town. Just one that happens to be in the middle of the desert. If I ever fly into McCarran airport again, it will be to rent a car, get out of town and into the mountains. Now that I’ve written all this, I doubt I can get a job with the Vegas Tourism board. Probably best for everyone involved. My slogan of ‘Save the airfare and burn your money at home’ would probably not go over well.