Reflections on CeBIT 2019; or, WTF is an electric H-D good for?

Harley-Davidson LiveWire. Um, no thanks! 

Seeing an electric H-D LiveWire in the flesh at CeBIT today really set me off. WTF is that about? 

The first time I went to CeBIT the event was huge. This year, it was significantly smaller. The original CeBIT in Hanover, Germany, ended last year but Australia decided to push on with the branded local event. I'm not sure if I will go again.

Steve Wozniak was a keynote speaker. This year the keynote speakers in the sideshows provided an open-plan version of the restricted audience by using headphones for those with paid tickets.

There was an interesting budget hologram display at the British Industry stand and lots of virtual reality and AI displays. But it was clear the major exhibitors have moved on.

Some displays reminded me of Expo '88 in Brisbane where what was then the latest technology is now somewhat laughable in the manner of watching early aviation enthusiasts.

The saddest display was Harley-Davidson's e-bike, the LiveWire. A review in the AFR in June suggested the bike had some positives but two weeks ago H-D "pulled the plug" on sales and production due to some problems with the bike.

There is something just not right about an electric H-D. Sure, times are changing. But the "progress" thesis is running out of steam in my view.

The idea of human progress as a linear, inevitable improvement in the lot of humans has some validity, but it also tends to be uneven if you are starving in sub-Saharan Africa. And whether the Middle Ages were an improvement on the glory days of the Roman Empire is arguable.

What I saw at CeBIT was the tired leftovers of earlier technological advances. Much like the Millennium Falcon, things are looking a bit shabby chic. Not that the technology hasn't improved or that things haven't advanced, but to what end?

The H-D LiveWire had me thinking, "what's the point?" Granted, it is better for the environment and die hard H-D fans are no longer turning a profit for the company that is over 100 years old. But a H-D that makes that annoying Formula E zing zing sound? Progress, really?

It would seem that when we talk about the future of work, there is less and less work to be done. And when speakers talk about technology and leadership, what's so new about it all?

Two key things emerged for me at CeBIT. First, technology is replacing humans in everyday life. Who needs to speak to wait-staff or a cashier when you can order and pay for food on your phone? I used me&u for the first time today.

Second, the other technologies that featured heavily at CeBIT were meeting and corroboration tools. But meeting and collaborating to do what, exactly?  With production and manual labour roles now taken care of by technology, what exactly are people discussing in all these meetings?

It is becoming obvious that  it is all a con-job. Meetings are about saying, "see, I'm here!" and ticking off the attendance box. Skype is the same thing except it's, "see, even though I'm not there, I'm still working!"

The use of tech in healthcare and for first responders is important, but it made we wonder: Just how important is all this other work that we do?

I fear that, like the electric H-D, we've lost the point. We are meeting about things that we don't produce, to lead people who don't produce anything. If this is the case, why are there so many meetings?

Cal Newport has shown the way for the future of work. In the meantime, the noise of the H-D has been replaced by the noise of bureaucrats meeting. My key lesson from CeBIT? Don't believe the hype.