To the Point

What’s Old Is New

In our fast-paced, high-tech world, your attendees may crave some of the comforts of the past.

A hotel staffed almost entirely by robots. Hackers taking control of a smart car from a remote location. No, these aren’t the plots of science-fiction movies. They’re recent, true stories — the first, the five-star Henn-na Hotel in Nagasaki, Japan, and the second, a Jeep Cherokee driven by a Wired reporter near St. Louis in a “friendly” hack.

While it may be difficult to imagine something as over-the-top as robots replacing the majority of hotel staff, there’s no doubt we all appreciate the everyday conveniences that technology offers, both personally and professionally. For me, I don’t think I’d be able to do without my iPad, my Fitbit, or the ability to schedule a group meeting with the touch of a few buttons.

But there’s a price to pay for our 24/7/365 technological society — and I don’t mean the literal cost of all these new gadgets. It’s hard to recharge our batteries when we’re digitally tethered to work all the time. (For more on the importance of mental “white space,” read the PCMA Convening Leaders Preview interview with Juliet Funt, on p. 75.) It can be difficult to cut through the clutter and engage with key audiences. And data security has emerged as one of the top challenges of our time.

So I find it interesting that people increasingly are seeking activities or items from the past. There’s a “what’s old is new again” sensibility that seems to be suffusing everything from fashion to advertising to leisure activities., for example, reports that “things are feeling positively 19th century” on fashion runways, with fall looks featuring many Victorian-era styles such as high collars, ruffles, and lace. In a nod to the more recent past, many consumer brands are bringing back old icons, including the Maytag Man, 9Lives’s Morris the Cat, and KFC’s Colonel Sanders. And when it comes to leisure time, coloring books are making a fascinating comeback for adults who are interested in relaxing, reflecting, and disconnecting from technology. (Don’t believe it? Check out this recent article from The New Yorker: Indeed, grownups are returning to many different arenas previously reserved for kids, such as summer camps and camp-like retreats complete with arts and crafts, Capture the Flag, and other classic games.

What does this mean for meetings? I’m a strong believer in the importance of incorporating technology into our meetings and pushing ourselves to reinvent the face-to-face experience. But as we do, that doesn’t mean it should be so out there that it fails to resonate with our attendees. What are some old-school activities or themes that may invigorate your audience? Better yet, how can you update a popular idea or activity of the past to meet the current wants and needs of today’s attendees?

I’d love to be part of those brainstorming sessions. Don’t forget the coloring books!

Deborah Sexton

Deborah Sexton is president and CEO of PCMA.