It’s time for me to admit it: I hate conference swag. Hate hate hate hate hate conference swag. Hate the idea of it. Hate the fact of it. Hate the aftermath of it. Hate the logos on it. Hate the chintziness of it. Hate the presumed idea that I might actually enjoy it, or feel grateful to have received it. Hate the ultimate wastefulness of it.

“But ‘hate’ is such a strong word, nickd!” Thanks, your incorrect opinion has been noted. Now I’m going to write 658 more words on why I hate conference swag.

I Am a Horrible Person

This is probably my fault, at least a little. I’m the worst person to get gifts for, ever. I don’t need a whole lot; I’m an unapologetically fussy snob about what I own; and when I do need something, I just buy it. My Amazon wishlist would be a good option – I update it in more-or-less real time – but 1) it turns over quickly, and 2) if you buy me something off my wish list, then it isn’t a surprise.

Let’s explore that last point. The gift-as-surprise notion is for you, not me. Believe me, I’m surprised enough that anything ever disappears from my wishlist. I know I put it there! And now it’s gone. That is magic. But if you buy something off my wishlist, you don’t get to see my reaction – and besides, it’s not something you decided to get me, it’s something I decided to get. Hardly a surprise, right? And it just shows up in a big crappy box.

The gift goes both ways: you want to feel my appreciation, just as much as you want to get me something. And the gift is presumably a Venn diagram overlap between what you like and what you think I want. Trust me, I don’t. There is no overlap with me, because I am a horrible person whom you should never buy gifts for.

I have cut your your conference’s t-shirt to pieces and cleaned my bike chain with it.

It gets worse. If I do not actually want your gift, then I’m awful at gracefully feigning appreciation for it. Just totally awful. I’ve ruined friendships this way.

This is probably the worst thing about me ever. All of you have probably unsubscribed by now. I don’t blame you. Hell, I’ll even make it easy for you. How’s that for usability? Now let’s return to conference swag!

Conference Swag is Just Comically Wasteful

I hate conference swag because it’s a thousand little gifts that I never wanted. They’re tacky. They’re covered with sponsor logos. I generally respect most of these sponsors, but not enough to walk around sponsoring myself. I have recycled your tote bag, because I already have fifty tote bags. I assure you: civilization does not need more tote bags.

The least-bad conference swag is consumable. You know those weird cuboidal watermelons that they sell for hundreds of dollars in Japan? They’re meant as gifts. You give them because they are consumables, not meant to last long, in apartments too small to support ever-more physical goods. They’re also meant to demonstrate status; after all, only the wealthy can afford a ¥10,000 watermelon. Conference swag is a way to demonstrate status, too, in its own warped way. But here in the States, we just throw our crappy gifts away – or we buy storage lockers to hoard everything.

I live in a city. The space in my apartment and office is finite. I will probably eat your conference’s granola or drink your conference’s bottle of Glacéau Smartwater. But I do not need to rent a storage locker just to fill it with an endless avalanche of conference swag. Give it to someone else – or, better yet, don’t provide it in the first place.

I believe nothing is the best gift you can give me if I go to your conference. Second place is something I can eat or drink. There is no third place.

I once heard of a conference which had so much swag that it had to print a guide for all of it. A conference swag guide. On physical paper. That you could read. Swag about swag. Metaswag. We have come to the point in our society where metaswag is an actual thing that has happened.

Do you go to conferences? (You probably go to conferences.) Are you frustrated by this? Am I alone? Please tell me I’m not alone.

Thanks for reading,
Nick Disabato
nickd@nickd.org


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