Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will kick off The International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas tonight.

Once upon a time, Comdex was the trade show of the year, specifically for high tech. However, Comdex was also the largest annual trade show in North America. That's when enterprise hardware was king. It tried to make the transition. But somehow it became all about the gadgets, whether it be hardware, software, webware, or otherwise.

Last year, even CES was hurting. Vendors pulled out or scaled back in droves. So did the attendees. It was the economy, of course.

This year is already better and it hasn't even opened yet.

Longtime technology writer, Jim Goldman makes a very good point about all of this:

"Attendance here isn't mandatory...The buzz here last night is that the show itself is fighting for relevance, attendance continues to decline, and three and four day visits by attendees are more like overnights now."

It's a trend that concerns me.

I can well understand the temptation to blow off CES and other industry trade shows. After all, information is rock-bottom cheap these days and easy to come by. Who needs to travel or pay through the nose to get it. Right?

Not so right?

We are living in an increasingly fragmented world and it's showing.

Do any of us really need to drop everything and spend three to four days in Vegas buzzing over new technologies we can live without? When you put it that way; no!

(Although, I'll never say "no" to four days away from home in Vegas!)

Do we collectively need to have "collective" moments of being focused and reacting to the same things? Absolutely, yes! It's called "having a conversation" and we don't have enough of them.

The tech/consumer electronics industry is letting us know its about to spin off on the following areas for the rest of the year:

- Netbooks
- eBooks
- Smartphones
- 3D Television

Head's up: This is going to get pushed at you hard in the months to come and it starts this week in Vegas.

Trade shows are the place to immerse yourself into these technologies, have discussions, compare notes and get an idea if they have any meaning to your world.

Trade shows are the place to press the flesh and figure out the human side of it; for example, you like the product, but the vendor runs their booth like amateur hour and you know it will never make it. You won't get that holistic impression from following them on Twitter.

Trade shows are the place to view, not just a product or service that interests you, but catch a view at 30,000 feet of an entire industry. Where's it going? Who are the real players? Which versions and upgrades are worth it and which ones are worth sitting out and waiting for the next one?

Don't be fooled by the word "consumer" in this trade show name. For the smaller business, especially, it is always a good thing when you can save a bundle getting by with the consumer alternative to enterprise level products and services.

One last thing; how much of your capitol budget is spent on IT?

I rest my case.