DAVOS, Switzerland (FORTUNE) – The World Economic Forum, a gathering of leaders from the business world, media, academics, and assorted hollywood stars and do-gooders, is taking place this week. Fortune Magazine’s journalists will keep you apprised of developments.
Justin Fox reports: The lobbies and lounges of the Davos Congress Centre this week represent one of the great networking opportunities on the planet. There’s certainly a reasonable amount of that going on: Witness Google’s Sergey Brin, clad in t-shirt and jeans, holding court—with FORTUNE’s David Kirkpatrick, among others—from a sofa. And here comes New York Times supercolumnist Tom Friedman, shaking hands right and left. There goes John Bryant, the effervescent leader of L.A.-based non-profit Operation Hope, hatching plans with his new buddies Prince Haakon of Norway and Finnish philosopher Pekka Himanen.
But what is perhaps most remarkable as you wander through the warren of buildings where most of the World Economic Forum’s meetings are held is how many of the people here are interacting not with those around them but with people not in Davos—via cell phone, Blackberry, laptop, or one of the crash-prone "Davos Companion" iPAQs that conference participants are given use of for the week. The computer networks inside the building, both wifi and wired, seem overwhelmed by all all the frantic hypercommunication, making e-mail and Web surfing slow, frustrating and even more time-consuming than normal.
"I really ought to go meet him," I say to myself as Novartis CEO Daniel Vasellas—a man I’ve heard lots of interesting things about—walks by. But no, dammit, I’ve just pressed "send" on an e-mail to the office and I need to wait to see if it actually goes through. As I look around the room at all the heads bowed over laptops, I know I’m not the only one choosing faulty technology over human interaction.
The annual Davos meeting is often depicted as a closed gathering of the rulers of the planet. There’s certainly truth in that: A lot of really important people (along with not a few posers like me) are gathered here in a Swiss mountain resort, blocked off from the world by security forces and snow. But if this really bothers you, you should at least find reassurance in the fact that so many of the people here seem to be slaves to their jobs and lives back home, and to the technologies that connect them. Then again, you could also see this as disturbing evidence that even here among the lovely Swiss Alps, at an event that advertises itself as "committed to improving the state of the world," most of us are too caught up in our daily lives to look much beyond them.