Branded backpacks are a thing at the massive Dreamforce convention that draws 175,000 people to Moscone Center in San Francisco to celebrate the Salesforce cloud-computing platform in all its glory. Dreamforce 2017, taking place November 6-9, was well underway at the time of writing.
The San Francisco Chronicle reviewed the 2015 backpack calling it "understated" and "contemporary." This year's backpack is a squared khaki affair that makes it look like all the Dreamforce attendees will be parachuting out over Normandy to liberate Europe with Salesforce's full suite of customer relationship management tools that track every transaction.
I start to wonder if I should get the backpack. They're giving them away for free after all, and maybe I'll blend in better if I just wear the thing like everyone else. As a reporter, you're always looking for icebreakers. Nobody wants to talk to you if they're all wearing identical backpacks and you're going around backpack-free.
The power of the backpack to crush empires is borne out when I stumble into a legion of Darth Vaders and stormtroopers in the courtyard of Yerba Buena Gardens, another facility drawn into the Dreamforce orbit. The Imperial troops and their Sith Lords are gathered around a Salesforce events director. He is wearing the backpack, and he's the one giving the orders.
"Now hold the signs up high," he commanded. "Wave your hands."
The Vaders and troopers comply, but they hold aloft the cardboard placards announcing a chance to meet Mark Hamill as if the signs are chiseled from solid granite. The stormtroopers only manage a couple of whoops as they march past a field of beanbag chairs toward Howard Street while "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves plays in the background. The subjugation of the Galactic Empire by the Salesforce Success Cloud has been complete.
Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff doesn't wear the backpack during his keynote. His custom Louis Vuitton suit with a cloud pattern sewn into his blue coat's lining is enough to convey his power.
"Elevators are talking to us," he said. "Did you know elevators could talk? That's amazing!
"It's amazing what's happening to tires," he continued, pacing around the stage in the center of the massive conference hall in Moscone North.
Our tires will also soon be talking to us as well, and refrigerators are already talking to the Coca-Cola Company. It's all part of Benioff's fourth industrial revolution where we will never have to be stuck in an elevator again.
The keynote lets out, and I find a sign directing me to where I can get the backpack. I cross Mission Street to Jesse Square where the backpacks are being handed out. There isn't even a line to get the things. A Dreamforce worker waves me over, beckoning me to take my backpack. I walk toward her but stop. It all feels wrong somehow. I'm a reporter after all, so I beg off and turn away.
Heading back to Moscone, I pass by a row of water coolers. I'm really thirsty, but I can't find a cup anywhere. It dawns on me that the backpack comes with a water bottle.
I should've taken the backpack.
Every month in “Shattering Conventions,” author Bob Calhoun crashes a new tradeshow, convention or conference looking for a way to fit in—even when he doesn't always belong. Calhoun is the author of "Shattering Conventions: Commerce, Cosplay and Conflict on the Expo Floor." You can follow him on Twitter at @bob_calhoun.