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The Final Day of the Conference

Elmore Collins

The Final Day of the Conference

Session One—9:00AM to 11:00AM—Expert Panel Discussion on How Blockchain Will Change Everything—Main Hall

Idiot-speak, I think, looking around the room at the sea of fools who are lapping it up. Not one word of substance, only platitudes, meaningless drivel. The moderator steers the conversation, dividing his half-baked questions among the supposedly diverse selection of panellists, fellating each of them before getting to the point. “And Kathryn,” he says, turning his head like a laughing clown at the Royal Show, “with your extensive experience in the valuation space, do you foresee there are processes ripe for Web3 disruption?” Kathryn is typically vague, answering the question with whatever words come into her mind—words barely relevant to a question that didn’t make sense in the first place. Vanity, I think, that’s the driving force of our culture. You see it on LinkedIn just as you see it on Instagram. You see it in the restaurants, on the beaches, and in these banal conference halls inside hotels. Vanity and envy, I think, acknowledging the nasty streak I have towards people more successful than me, like those on stage. That’s what is behind our culture.


Lunch Break—11AM to 1PM—Coffee, Food, and Networking—Dining Hall

“What did you think of the panel?” my colleague Patrick says, waiting in line together for coffee.

“Pretty good,” I tell him. Patrick is so stupid, there’s simply no point in being honest. Honesty rarely has a place in professional life, and if ever there was someone with whom to share a moment of honesty, it was not Patrick. Patrick is not a bad person, but he is a moron. Were I to suddenly open up to him—that is, to say I didn’t think any of the panellists knew what they were talking about, at least not in any depth—then I’m certain it would change our relationship forever. He would not be prepared to hear my belief that this whole conference is a farce, that we are all fooling ourselves trying to find richness in the mundane—a mundanity borne out of economic necessity. It’s understandable, practical even, to do this, but it is still false. No one is genuinely interested in selling software, no matter the adrenaline rush of executing a deal. It’s impossible. Instead, we must trick ourselves into caring about our jobs, or else be condemned to annihilation. That’s why we attend these conferences under the pretence of learning, of improving ourselves, of networking. There was a time when I could trick myself into believing these conferences were productive, but increasingly, I tend towards annihilation.

“These chicken caesar wraps are actually really good,” Patrick says sitting down at one of the tables.


There are six others sitting with us, all wearing nametags. They look patently ridiculous, like desperate puppy dogs. Inevitably, one of the strangers contributes his own opinion on the food. I feel sick.


Session Two—1PM to 3PM—Keynote Speaker on Artificial Intelligence (plus Q&A)—Main Hall

This guy is talking about large language models, as if that combination of words didn’t just appear in his lexicon a few months ago, I think, fidgeting in my seat. He’s saying AI is going to change everything. Will it replace keynote speakers? I wonder, which is clearly this guy’s full-time gig. Will there be AI charlatans?

The Q&A rolls round, and the members of the audience are only too willing to participate in the charade. They all start by thanking the keynote speaker, acknowledging the amount they’ve supposedly just learnt. Then in a longwinded, self-centred, attention-seeking manner, they each vomit out their excuse for a question. The keynote speaker begins all his responses by saying, “That’s a good question,” then never quite answers anything. The world is complex, I think, crossing my legs, trying to get comfortable. It is too complex to be addressed in keynote speeches. There was a time when I would listen to podcasts, watch documentaries, and read non-fiction in an effort to self-improve. But the information was rarely actionable—it would usually only raise more questions—and so eventually, I did the rational thing. I gave up.

“That was excellent,” Patrick says after the show has finished.


“Yeah,” I say.


Closing Party—5PM to 9PM—Canapes, Cocktails, and Networking—Dining Hall

Before the piss-up begins, I go back to my hotel room to freshen up. I open a miniature bottle of champagne, pour it into a wine glass above the minibar, and bring them both with me into the shower. As the hot water falls off my back, I recall a time when I took my career seriously, then try to pinpoint the moment when the illusion broke. There was no single moment, I think. There rarely is in life. But there was a period, and strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, that period coincided with my greatest career achievement. I had finally been promoted to regional sales director—the highest I could possibly rise given the company’s flat management structure—and the founder/CEO offered me a handsome raise, along with some equity in the company. I had made it, or so I thought, because before long I fell into a deep depression. The brass ring I’d been chasing had not made me happy, and the only coherent thing left to do was to treat my career as a cruel joke, though one necessary for survival.

I eventually make my way down to the dining hall. There, I take a spring roll and a glass of sparkling wine from the waitstaff, and go find Patrick.

“How good are these canapes?” Patrick says when he sees me, stuffing his face with arancini like a moron.

I agree with him, of course, on account of there being no use in disagreeing. We keep to ourselves for a while, then some numbskull with a nametag approaches us. He starts by talking about the panel and the keynote—about AI, Blockchain, and Web3. He doesn’t mention NFTs, though had this conference been held only six months earlier, he almost certainly would have. But he does go on to mention machine learning, IoT, and brain-computer interfaces. Eventually, I politely ask him whether he is an engineer. He is not. He works in sales at a cybersecurity startup.

The evening carries on and the conversations loosen up slightly. Still, nothing anyone says interests me, and at some point, I shamelessly open an escort website on my phone. No one is looking over my shoulder, I think, and if they were, I’m not sure I would even care. She looks nice, I think, clicking on a blonde. Her name is Anna Karenina; her age is 24, height 168cm, dress size 6. She is clearly well-read, I think, and though I’ve not read Anna Karenina—my attention span would never allow me to read a book of that size—I could chat with her about the couple of Tolstoy novellas I have read. I make contact with her, then say goodbye to Patrick, the moron, and return to my room.


Close—9PM to Midnight—Hotel Room

Anna Karenina arrives, looking largely like she does in her photos, and I offer her a glass of champagne from a new miniature bottle stocked in the minibar. She makes herself comfortable, calls me names like hun and babe, not in a patronising way, in a sincere effort to make me feel comfortable too. I tell her I’ve read The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and then she looks at me all confused. “Tolstoy,” I tell her.

“Oh, my name,” she says. “My mother is a quarter Russian, and I guess I look the part. That’s how I chose it. I guess it was a marketing strategy—a way to find handsome, educated, businessmen like yourself!” she laughs, charmingly. “But no, I haven’t read that one, sorry. Is it any good?”

“It’s pretty good,” I tell her. “It’s about dying.”

“Well, that’s not any fun. How about I take these panties off and we get those thoughts about death out of your head?”

She takes them off, and though that does cheer me, it doesn’t stop me from thinking about death, nor does it provoke any activity beneath my underwear. Instead, I start talking to her about my ex-wife, nervously stroking her naked body as I speak. I tell Anna Karenina that after my big promotion—after the big nothing that it turned out to be—I decided to propose to my ex-wife. If money and career couldn’t make me happy, then perhaps family could, I supposed, perhaps family could fill the hole in my heart. The gratification of my wedding day lasted about the duration of our honeymoon, but not long after, my ex-wife fell pregnant, I explain to Anna Karenina, as she sits naked on the edge of the bed. Then my son was born, which had its unique glory, but the reality of childrearing soon kicked in, and what remained was the hole in my heart. Even a child wasn’t the great source of meaning and fulfilment that I craved. My ex-wife couldn’t tolerate me any longer, I recount to Anna Karenina, caressing her naked body. She had to get out for the sake of herself and my son.

Then abruptly, interrupting the deepest conversation I’ve had in some time, I hear the terrifying sound of a knock on the door. I haven’t ordered room service, I think, so perhaps I was talking too loudly, perhaps someone from a room on my floor has complained. It’s a shameful feeling to acknowledge that you could’ve been speaking louder than you had intended. It’s a dreadful thought, I think, to be so out of control. But when I open the door, slowly and slightly, it’s not a member of the hotel staff waiting for me on the other side, but Patrick.

“What are ya up to, ya bastard?” he says, like a moron, though only now he is drunk and has transformed into a kind of super-moron. “Thought you could smoke-bomb without having one more drink with your colleague, did ya?”

“Patrick,” I say. “I’m going to bed.” Then I close the door quickly so he does not see Anna Karenina.

Anna Karenina is professional in her handling of this interruption—she is professional in her handling of everything—and I sit down on the edge of the bed with her to talk a little longer. At some point, in my manic and self-exculpatory ramblings, I try to make a deep point to her. It is something I hijacked from some author on Twitter, though it’s something he probably hijacked from the Bible. I say, “The only thing worse than repressing your desires is fulfilling them.” With that truism, I tell Anna Karenina that we shouldn’t have sex, because even if I perform the act—though I probably can’t anyway—it will only make things worse. Anna Karenina is understanding, I think, and she is happy as long as she is paid. Eventually, my time runs out, and she asks me if I’d like to extend, to which I decline. I pay her what I owe her—the full amount—and she leaves.

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