Photographic Emoticons

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LAS VEGAS -- The more time I spent wandering the great halls of the convention center, the more I grew obsessed with how conference booths were designed. From the choice of floor covering to the arrangement of products, every company was trying to say something, even if it wasn't always clear what.

The oddest manifestation of this newfound interest is the gallery you see above. It's a bunch of (mostly) stock photos that different companies used to illustrate their products. Stock photos like this tell you nothing about a product, obviously. They could be used to sell salad or cell phones. Stock photos are photographic emoticons. They tell you how a product will make you feel.

I found all these particular specimens in South Hall, but they were scattered pretty evenly throughout the thousands of booths. I'd say one in four booths made heavy use of them, though not all stock photos are quite as ridiculous as these.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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