GSX 2021: An Outsider’s Perspective

I’ve been the senior editor for Campus Security & Life Safety for a little under eight months. I don’t have much (read: any) previous security experience; my background is in journalism. GSX 2021 is my first security conference, my first trade show and — if I’m being honest — my first business trip ever. Unlike the vast majority of my fellow attendees, I had very little idea what to expect arriving at the Orange County Convention Center on Monday morning.

My first impression was of the sheer vastness of the facility, given the half-mile indoor walk from where our Uber dropped us off, through the health screening line, through the registration line, and onto the show floor itself. That impression was solidified as I navigated the entire length of the floor from the entrance to the Security Today booth at the far end. The walk took a good 15 minutes as I marveled and got my bearings. Flashes of smoke machines and laser lights, presentation screens, full-scale product demonstrations, black velvet curtains, complimentary coffee stations, multiple stages with seating for at least a hundred, a brand-new car waiting for its new owner to be chosen via raffle, and the chatter of thousands asking and telling about the wares on display swirled around me.

And yet, everyone I talked to offered some variation of the same sentiment: how scaled-back things were this year. The limited attendance. The smaller-than-usual vendor presence. How short the lines were, whether at booths or at the food court or even for the bathroom.

Meanwhile, having spent the last year and a half confined largely to a two-bedroom apartment, I felt a little like Dorothy leaving the sepia tinge of her Kansas farm for the sprawling technicolor wonderland of Oz. It was overwhelming at first. Even after the shock wore off, a sense of awe remained at the scale of it. The sense of glimpsing a larger world for the first time.

And if this year’s show was considered “scaled back,” I can’t even imagine what’s in store for me this time next year. GSX 2022 might be a little fuller, pandemic withstanding. But it’s only been a day, and I already suspect my experience at GSX 2021 will stick with me for some time to come. After all, you never forget your first trade show.

About the Author

Matt Jones is senior editor of Spaces4Learning and Campus Security and Life Safety. He can be reached at

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