April 2020 Vol. 75 No. 4

Editor's Log

Waiting for The World to Reboot

Editor's Log

By Robert Carpenter, Editor-in-Chief

The news comes in waves, rarely good news but generally gripping. “Pandemic” has become the trending terror word of our decade. These are indeed strange days with prospects for even stranger tomorrows. 

The coronavirus became real for me at the tri-annual trade show ConExpo, held March 10–14 in Las Vegas. It’s a massive, overwhelming, primarily “big iron,” five-day event produced by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM). There were roughly 130,000 people pre-registered. Of course, that was pre-virus mania. 

As the time approached for me to travel, the virus was just beginning to demonstrate its worldly impact. I still attended, as did thousands, but a few exhibitors did drop out before the show began. 

The best efforts of AEM and the Vegas Convention Center to keep facilities sterilized and encourage people to avoid direct contact, such as handshakes (I opted for the raised hand “Live Long and Prosper” Vulcan greeting of Mr. Spock from Star Trek), couldn’t fully qualm growing fears. It was no surprise that foreign travelers avoided the show, but domestic numbers were clearly weaker than normal. 

By the third afternoon, news about the coronavirus just kept getting worse, and more and more people were staying away. AEM opted to cancel the final day of the show (a hard, but correct decision). I left Vegas without issue on a Friday, but by Monday, the city was closing casinos. And by the end of the week, the world officially had a pandemic. 

Other cancellations followed quickly; the economic impacts across the world are enormous. Our company is fortunate, as most of our work can take place from home via computers. It has forced me to become more technically adept as I’ve learned to use Zoom and Microsoft Teams somewhat proficiently (something I had avoided,  
but now I kind of like it). 

For the underground infrastructure construction industry, an article in this issue by market expert Daniel Shumate of FMI provided an encouraging perspective. 

“With all of the current challenges, we do expect underground contractors to remain relatively busy throughout this time [during the coronavirus]. Most of the work for 2020 is already contracted and much of the work is for regulated improvements of existing infrastructure. Additionally, if there is a prolonged ‘stay-at-home’ environment, the need for additional communication bandwidth will become quite clear and the backbone of those networks is fiber placement. We would also expect spending associated with both power and gas distribution networks to remain relatively steady, as utilities are some of the safest investments and should remain so throughout this period.” 

Still, one thing is certain; our lives have been changed forever. We’ve already seen forms of social distancing develop among millennials and GenZers, who often prefer to communicate with social media rather than direct contact. The fast food proliferation has always been geared for picking up food rather than sitting down in a dining room. Now we’re taking that to an extreme. Restaurants, particularly chains, had already aggressively pursued the curbside pickup mode. Their survival may just depend upon that trend. 

The essence of business itself has changed for so many. Work from home has been a growing trend ever since computers and the internet became part of our daily lives. But it’s no longer just a trend of convenience; it is a matter of business survival. Modern gadgets and software programs are making that much easier and effective. Person-to-person contact, via a computer monitor, is becoming the norm – at least for the time being. Conducting business from our homes has taken on a new significance as ease and effectiveness is further evolved. 

For those sick with ailments other than Covid-19, teledocs are picking up the slack. Already being pushed by insurance companies, teledoc methods and procedures are becoming more accurate and effective. I have no doubt that as technology related to this type of remote medicine improves, we’ll find ourselves going to the teledoc much more often, even after the current pandemic fades away. 

The world has survived many horrific pandemics for thousands of years. No doubt we’ll survive this latest attack on the human race by the merciless microscopic coronavirus army, and we all pray the toll in lives will not continue to climb. What it will do to the long-term, worldwide economy and our way of life remains to be seen. 

Human contact and interaction were already on the decline before the first case of the coronavirus struck. When the government declares all is well, how quickly will people emerge from their homes and shelters? Will handshakes and hugs be permanently abandoned in lieu of a new social distancing protocol? Will machines replace our face-to-face contact? 

Or will we allow ourselves to be human again? Only time will tell how our frazzled nerves and temperaments will heal. I still find myself yearning for human interaction. • 

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