In last week's coverage of Macworld Expo in New York, I ran out of space to discuss one of the more subtle differences between this year's Macworld Expo and previous ones: the banning of children 12 years of age and younger from the exhibit floor. Subtle it might have been for those who didn't plan to attend with a child in tow, but for those who unwittingly did, it meant a ruined day for both adult and child. As the subject of TidBITS reader Evan Blonder's email complaint to me read, "I got kicked out of CreativePro." Another TidBITS reader was denied entrance because he had his seven-week-old daughter asleep in a front carrier.
When I saw the big sign at the door saying, "Children 12 years of age and under will not be permitted on the exhibit floor," I thanked my lucky stars that Tonya decided to stay home with Tristan again this year, rather than bringing him to meet all our friends and colleagues from the industry and see just what it is I do on my trips. But I was also caught off guard. I paid far more attention to the details of Macworld Expo than most people, thanks to our coverage of the Apple/IDG World Expo soap opera that preceded this year's show, and the sign was the first I'd heard of this age policy.
When I asked Beth Wickenhiser, IDG World Expo's Senior PR Coordinator, about it, she admitted that the first piece of marketing collateral included the previous, totally reasonable, age policy: children under 16 needed to be accompanied by a registered adult, children under 5 were free, and strollers and baby carriages weren't permitted for safety reasons. However, she claimed that "every subsequent marketing piece, our Web site and email blasts sent to registered attendees clearly indicated the new age policy. Also, the online registration form required all attendees to accept the event's terms and conditions, which clearly stated this new policy."
When I went back to check my email (this is why I never empty Eudora's Trash), I was able to find one mention of the new age policy at the very bottom of an offer that I, as a speaker, was allowed to send to friends and colleagues. But eight other messages to another of my email addresses, trying to entice me to attend, failed to mention it entirely. The Web site may have mentioned the new age policy, but it certainly wasn't sufficiently called out as being a change from previous years that I, or many other people, noticed.
Do you have an opinion about this age policy you'd like to share with the conference organizers? You can send them via email to <email@example.com> or you can call 800-645-EXPO.
What's the Point? That was the main question I asked Beth, since I couldn't imagine why IDG World Expo would care that someone was walking around the show floor with a sleeping infant. Her answer surprised me: "Macworld CreativePro Conference & Expo was designed as an educational event for creative professionals. As such, our exhibitors expected to see qualified, professional attendees with buying power. While many children under the age of 12 are indeed proficient at using Macs and related applications, they are not the professional users our exhibitors sought."
Wow, talk about missing the point! No one expects a seven-week-old infant to be asking intelligent questions about high-end printers or seriously considering the purchase of 3-D modeling software. But her father, who matches IDG's description of a "qualified, professional attendee with buying power" would have been asking such questions if he had been allowed inside. And what if the parent in question had been a graphic designer who just happened to be a breast-feeding mother who couldn't leave the infant for an entire day? Plus, most children are out of school during Macworld New York's July dates, and with many creative professionals working as freelancers or with flexible hours, taking care of children is often a fact of life in the summer. The practical implication of this policy is that parents who manage to maintain a career while simultaneously caring for their children are somehow unqualified to attend Macworld Expo. These people deserve medals and public acclaim, not officious harassment.
As Evan Blonder wrote, "IDG World Expo has to understand that many of us 'creative professionals' take the day off to attend the show, and some of us have children. We are fathers and mothers as well as CEOs, designers, and artists. Sure, I could have left my eight-year-old daughter home, but she was looking forward to going. She had a great time last year, and wanted to go again. Being turned away at the door left a bad feeling." I had to convince Evan that he shouldn't cancel his Macworld Magazine subscription, since Macworld Magazine merely licenses the name to IDG World Expo and has no other input or control over the show.
There's no question that Macworld Expo is primarily for adults, and particularly without a gaming pavilion this year, there wasn't much reason why kids under 13 would be specifically interested in most of the exhibitors. I was confused as to why the arbitrary cut-off was 13, even so, but Beth stuck to her story. "While every child is different, teenagers are generally more likely to buy products and derive value from visiting the exhibit floor. Also, our exhibitors recognize that teenagers are just a few years away from being professional customers and thus are more willing to meet with them on the expo floor." If IDG World Expo was so concerned about limiting attendance to qualified attendees who were ready to spend money, they could have raised the entry cost significantly instead.
In fact, there's a larger criticism here. Involving our children in our professional lives should be encouraged whenever reasonable, since it helps build positive role models and deepen the parent-child relationship. How can we expect your children to understand who we are and what makes us tick if they never see us in a professional situation? The gold standard here is MacHack, where numerous students - who are almost universally bright, interested, and well-behaved - get to work with some of the best programmers in the Macintosh world. It's not that MacHack itself has that great an effect; it's that's well-known developers like Jim Matthews (Fetch), Jon Gotow (Default Folder), and others have made their kids enough a part of their professional lives that they can attend a conference like MacHack for real. And you just have to assume that's going to give the kids a leg up later in life, thanks to the experience and confidence they receive from interacting with adults.
I'm not saying that IDG World Expo needs to have "Bring Your Child to Macworld Expo Day" (though it's not a bad idea), just that they shouldn't go out of their way to prevent parents from doing so as happened this year in New York.
Future Shows -- The good news is that Macworld Expo in San Francisco doesn't have Macworld New York's focus on the creative professional, and Beth confirmed that the old age policy would be in place for San Francisco. So those of you who bring children to the show, either for their benefit or yours, can rest easy that you'll be allowed in the door, assuming of course that nothing changes in the interim.
Beth said it was too early to comment on what the age policy would be for other upcoming events, so I would encourage everyone who might be affected by such a policy to read Macworld's registration fine print carefully, just in case it turns into headline sized text on a sign by the security guards, as it did in New York. And of course, I'll be keeping an eye out for similar policy changes in the future. No one would complain if kids were kept out of a suit-and-tie show, or if they were barred after bands of rowdy teenagers disrupted booth presentations. But this is Macworld, and this is the Macintosh community, and in all the years I've attended Macworld Expos, I've never seen any abuses that would justify banning kids of any age. Let's hope this year's experience will be the last such attempt.
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