jack wayman

It’s 2:50 pm PT in Las Vegas. CES is winding down, and booths are being dismantled. Booth babes are headed back to acting auditions in Los Angeles, and tech journalists are fantasizing about sleeping off the entire last week.

Amid the deflating festivities, a much older gentleman rolls through the crowds on a scooter. He wears a tweed jacket and wire rimmed glasses, with a box of Ritz crackers stuck in the back of his power chair. He could be any one of the army of senior citizens attending the CES spectacle.

It’s only when you peer closer at his CES name tag that his true identity reveals itself: He is Jack Wayman, godfather of the Consumer Electronics Show.

Ninety-one-year-old Wayman is the original founder of CES, having prompted the Consumer Electronics Association to create it back in 1967. He’s seen the years and then decades wash over the trade show, changing it in shape, size, and purpose. He remembers CES when computers and cell phones didn’t exist, back when radios and phonographs constituted the bulk of the show.

As John Batelle discussed in a recent post, the Consumer Electronics Show has become a massive affair. Every era brings with it new products, whether it’s stereos or PCs or mobile phones. And with each new wave, the old technologies — like TV and radio — don’t disappear. The first CES that Wayman ran back in 1967 featured 200 exhibitors. This year is features 3,200. They just keep adding more.

This 2014 show in particular is special to Wayman. As he scooters through the booths, a brood of children follow him. Their ages range from six or seven to mid-teens, and they all look vaguely alike, with brown or blonde crops of hair. A few adults accompany them, securing ice cream for the little ones and making sure Wayman himself isn’t hungry.

They’re Wayman’s children and grandchildren.

A blonde teen with his hair in a ponytail tells me they’ve flown in from all different places: California, Colorado, New York. Most of the teens’ parents put them on planes alone to make it out here, with the two youngest accompanied by their mother (one of Wayman’s daughters).

“This might be the first time we’ve all been together like this,” the blond boy says.

There’s an analogy to be made between Wayman’s growing, intergenerational brood and the massive CES show.

CES is the result of more and more additions being welcomed into the consumer electronics family. It’s a chance for people across all industries to connect with each other, strike ad deals and buy products to resell, to show off, and build brands.

It’s a lot like a big family gathering on a holiday: That one time of year when we’re all together. It’s chaos, celebrations, and meltdowns. It’s productive and unproductive, useless and necessary. Whether you love it or hate it, it’s hard to miss.

In the afternoon on the very last day, far from the trade floor in an empty press room, Wayman’s phone rang. The person on the other end presumably asked how the grandkids were doing and Wayman assessed his flock, who were munching on food. “They’re young so they’re not keeping up with me so well,” Wayman says, smiling.

[Image via Dealerscope]