I first met Jim Barry about 25 years ago. “I’m the spokesperson for the Consumer Electronics Association (now the Consumer Technology Association),” said Barry by way of telephone introduction, “and I’ll be in Florida in March and would like to show you some of the new products introduced in January at the Consumer Electronics Show.”
And each springtime thereafter, Jim would roll through Lakeland, and dozens of other cities across the nation, visiting with tech reporters for newspapers, television and radio stations. If the Detroit Tigers were in town, we’d go see a baseball game after Barry’s presentation of intriguing new gadgets. If he was lucky, the Boston Red Sox would be playing. Barry was a huge Red Sox fan — and a season ticketholder at Fenway Park.
Barry, 71, died Oct. 20. He had been either writing or talking about electronics nearly all his adult life. The Consumer Electronics Show celebrated its 50th anniversary with the annual Las Vegas show in January. Barry had been a part of the large majority of them, either as an editor for an electronics magazine covering the industry, or as the industry’s spokesperson. He was, said the president of the Consumer Technology Association, “The Digital Answer Man.”
“Jim was a remarkable person who was dedicated to and passionate about our industry,” said Gary Shapiro, CTA’s president and CEO. “As a tireless media spokesperson, he helped introduce millions of consumers to the latest tech innovations. Jim was respected by everyone he worked with, including manufacturers, retailers and the media and made many friends along the way. Jim also was a respected journalist who covered our industry in a thoughtful and insightful style. Along the way, he helped mentor many of our staff, educating them and igniting their passion for our industry. The entire CTA family will miss him dearly.”
Barry had been involved with electronics far longer than some of the CEOs of start-up companies had been alive. “You say ‘Betamax’ to some of them and you get a blank stare,” Barry once told me, referencing Sony’s cassette-tape video format introduced in 1975 that lost the video battle to the Video Home System developed by JVC about that same time. “They might have a vague idea of what you’re talking about.”
Back when he started covering the Consumer Electronics Show, it fit into a hotel’s convention center. Now, it spills out of the massive Las Vegas Convention Center into several hotels. It takes 20 days to set up and would need 43 football fields to hold it all.
“When I started covering CES, the ‘automotive electronics section’ consisted of car stereos and speakers,” Barry said in January as we walked among self-driving cars, trucks equipped with all sorts of cameras and sensors, and — yes — a few displays of stereos. “Now, CES looks like an automotive showroom.” This year, a dozen companies made major announcements at CES — half of which were car companies.
He added that the advancements in automotive electronics are being underestimated. “The self-driving vehicles are making gains faster than people realize,” he said. “It’s building upon itself.” Indeed, we were more comfortable walking among some self-driving cars being demonstrated than we were crossing Las Vegas Boulevard.
To see the progress made in the last two decades in electronics, one only had to see him walk through the front door of The Ledger year after year. In the early ’90s, Barry came in with a steamer trunk in tow. Ten years later, he’s bringing in a large duffel bag.
During his last visit in 2016, all the gadgets easily fit into a shoulder bag not much larger than a bread box.
No matter what the size of the container, the gadgets were always fascinating. He had roamed those 43 football fields of things and found the best — and most practical — items to catch the attention of consumers: basketballs and bats that recorded all manner of statistics; audio players; digital cameras; virtual-reality devices that were so realistic you’d have to reach for a nearby table or chair for stability when you were immersed in that world.
Barry also had a knack for steering reporters away from the exotic things and focus their attention on something that deserved more attention than it was getting.
For instance: About a year ago, “wearable technology” was all the talk, mostly centered around Google Glass (think of a pair of eyeglasses that allowed the wearer to have a computer screen floating in front of them) and Samsung Gear (a wristwatch that could display information from an Android smartphone). Barry was asked about them at all his media stops. He would tell reporters:
“Everybody focuses on two things. They focus on the Samsung Gear and on Google Glass. Both of those are very cool and do a lot of neat things. But the place where people are already using lots of wearable technology is the health and fitness space. The monitors and all the rest. We’re going to see a lot more of that.”
He was exactly right. Today, smartphones not only track all sorts of physical activity and serve up exercise programs, but they also have turned into diagnostic tools for doctors.
The consumer-technology industry, Barry would tell you, supports 15 million jobs the United States and represents about $321 billion of the country’s economy.
Even so, a little poorer with Jim’s passing.
Contact Lonnie Brown at ledgerdatabase@ aol.com.