Coronavirus Is Killing Conferences
Roopinder Tara posted on March 06, 2020 |
Engineering events are falling like dominoes in the COVID-19 panic.

Update March 8 - The City of Austin has cancelled South by Southwest, attended by 160K attendees last year.

What may be the premier gathering of AI researchers and hi-tech practitioners, Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference, or GTC, scheduled for the end of March in San Jose, Calif., was “moved online.” The reason: mounting concern about gathering a crowd during the coronavirus epidemic.

An abundance of caution? Engineering and software events are being cancelled due to the coronavirus panic.
An abundance of caution? Engineering and software events are being cancelled due to the coronavirus panic.

Moving a conference online is the kiss of death to an event. Going online instantly transforms an event you have to travel to and pay attention to into something you can do at your desk while you are checking your email. All the fun reasons to attend GTC, like the flights, hotel, dinner out every night, too many drinks and social events, sunny California, meeting with friends and colleagues you might see only once a year… are eliminated. All that is left is a live feed on your workstation. And it’s probably not even in your time zone. You will mark it to be watched later. You will not.

We understand that communicable disease travels faster through crowds, and COVID-19 kills 1 percent of those infected—many times more than die from the seasonal flu. Companies that hold large gatherings don’t want their events to be the source of the next outbreak when infected attendees go home.

Already, Mobile World Conference, or MWC, a show that draws over 100,000 attendees and sells out every hotel room and Airbnb in Barcelona, has been cancelled. The Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco was cancelled after major sponsors pulled out. Like dominos, Google and Facebook have abandoned their smaller conferences and no doubt are holding the ax over their major events.

The local economic effect of a cancelled conference can be severe. Local leaders, merchant associations, downtown hotel managers and restaurants owners are interviewed on TV wondering what they will be do without the crowds that GTC draws. They beg locals to come downtown. There will be no waiting for a table at a restaurant and there are good hotel deals for those cancelled rooms.

Expect to see a lot of these at your next conference. That is, if it is not cancelled. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)
Expect to see a lot of these at your next conference. That is, if it is not cancelled. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

We are still planning to attend Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG), the premier additive manufacturing conference, later this month in Chicago. AMUG planners are resolute in keeping the doors open and say they are breaking no laws in doing so. They are assuring attendees that they will be taking “appropriate precautions.” This includes checking for bulletins on the CDC website. Although it is doubtful they will be scanning temperatures and confining those who have potential virus symptoms, we expect to see Purell dispensers everywhere we look.

Show planners getting apologetic and defensive are a sure sign that, unless there is some lifting of the disease threat, any conference, trade show or user meeting left standing will be seen as running counter to public safety.

Engineers and developers hoping to attend GTC or GDC, anticipating that once-a-year paid California vacation, will no doubt be disappointed. But perhaps they can enjoy their time at home. And for their evening entertainment, may we suggest Contagion, a gripping and prophetic 2011 movie about a deadly viral pandemic. While the movie is scientifically authentic and convincing that millions are at risk from a pandemic, it is panic and chaos that could cause a complete breakdown of society.


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