Business Management

Why do the stars come out for tech conferences

A question: what do the following people have in common? Rio Ferdinand. Professor Brian Cox. Colin Farrell. Heston Blumenthal. Ashton Kutcher. Gwyneth Paltrow. Zooey Deschanel. Jessica Alba. Goldie Hawn. Donna Karan. Patricia Arquette. Adrian Grenier. Neil Young. George Lucas.

That’s right. They’re all celebrities. But did you know that they’re all due to speak at technology conferences this year or appeared in recent times?

It’s an odd correlation, isn’t it, but the stars of screen, song and stadia have become fixtures of the tech bro circuit. It’s rare for one of the bigger conferences not to have a member of the glitterati mixing with the digirati in the odd conference middle ground that links Hollywood to Silicon Valley and their respective global satellites.

Most of these speakers have a basic level of understanding about technology while some have some level of expertise but really they are there because of a Faustian pact. The techies want some pixie dust and the stars need a bigger audience for their philanthropic and entrepreneurial ambitions.

It is close to a rule of such events that the Big Name does not have one role in life but a trifecta of qualifications: ‘actor, entrepreneur and activist’, for example. But really they are the window dressing and the lure for audiences sated by the listing of new features, the rolling out of roadmaps, the exhortations of CEOs and the mutually back-patting of paeans to ‘customer success’.

In recent times at such events there seems to have been a move away from politicians and icons of business towards a more glamorous subspecies. It’s no longer enough to have a Clinton or two, a Colin Powell nor a Madeline Albright. We need the banner names of entertainment and sport. If they can make the segue between the shiny worlds they inhabit and the lanyard-wielding polo shirts so much the better and so we have the ‘we are both trying to engage with an audience, build loyalty, passion…’ shtick. But showing up to share their beauty, wealth, fame and so on is fine too.

If you don’t get a speaker than you’ll probably get an end-of-event band, cashing in their cheques in exchange for an audience that mostly doesn’t care one way or the other and  might have to be told off for talking through the tracks.

Often the names are very big indeed: proof positive that the technology business is huge, growing and here to stay. Almost no artist is immune to its overtures. It’s a strange combination, though rarely explosive, that probably says something profound about where we are heading as a society. But what?


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Torquemada, not his real name, has been casting a jaundiced eye on the technology world since the Sinclair C5 was causing as much excitement as the driverless car today, a 64K RAM pack could turbocharge performance, and Alan Sugar was the equivalent of Elon Musk.

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