You can consider MWC as being a giant augmented-reality computer game. You run frantically in and out of different constructed environments, very varied but actually deeply conventionalised, trying to score points. You get points for collecting gossip, useful information, sales leads, and shiny gadgets; you lose them for queuing, being publicly humiliated, or getting stuck in a vacuous keynote session you have to listen to because the guy burbling away is too important to walk out on. If you collect too many shinies in a day you may be robbed. You have various resources to manage – you can’t go too long without checking into a WLAN hotspot, and at some point you must eat and sleep or at least drink more coffee. Progress is measured by winning a higher-status badge for next time.
The ruling emotion is, as always, that horrible sensation that it’s all happening somewhere else. Something really fascinating is being said, in the next conference session or the other party. If you were somewhere else, you’d meet the bloke who can sign that interconnect agreement or uncork this or that barrel of money. So-and-so was at the Dilbertco stand and they were giving away Dilbertphones! Of course, this emotion is a lie. Lester Bangs nailed it in a piece about living in New York and being tormented by the feeling that everyone else must at that moment be doing something more interesting and cooler than he was. Shouldn’t he be out there, getting on with it? But really, he came to understand, everyone else he knew was feeling exactly the same thing.
I grew up in the Yorkshire Dales, so for years it was literally true for me that everything was indeed happening somewhere else, and I’ve never been able to resist it. Which was probably why I went to the awards after-party – I was sort-of invited, which can be the same thing as not being invited at all or even better than being invited, and it’s technique that makes the difference. Having changed out of my suit and donned something with horizontal stripes – literally every time you saw a horizontal stripe at MWC it was wrapped around a software developer, it was quite uncanny – I appeared comfortably after kick-off and climbed up the hill to the Palau Nacional by a back route, smiled politely at the outer layer of goons, asked one of them directions I didn’t need, passed through the doors and made for the rope.
I wasn’t on the list, which I knew, but I was able to muddy the waters sufficiently that they went off to talk to some authority-figure within. I considered a dart up the unguarded stairs but felt confident enough to leave it. And I was in – the usual scene, x hundred immobile suits, a depressed-looking DJ, and about three people dancing, a group of American short film-makers IIRC. Eventually we managed to get the gig going to the extent that others broke off the herd, including an expert dancer wearing (of all things, it’s not usually correlated) a GSMA gold speaker pass* who was eventually hauled to the ground by a drunken, boorish Colombian (I think – the identification is hearsay). The official photographer broke out of his Douglas Adams alert crouch to document the mess – God knows why, but it reminded me of the exhibition in The Kindness of Women (“How do you feel?”)
After he finally took the hint, I found a pair of sunglasses on the floor and handed them to his victim – for want of anyone else to hand them to, but she immediately put them on, before asking if they were mine. She apparently thought this had been some sort of dramatic gesture, but actually I just didn’t want anything smashed underfoot. I think they belonged to the Colombian. Not long after that, as they say, I made an excuse and left.
*not quite as exclusive as all that, I’ve had one in the past