"I don't want to survive, I want to live!"
In 2008, Disney Pixar released the movie “WALL-E” in theatres and, much like all of the Disney Pixar movies, adults in the room could find quite a bit of humor, sarcasm and meaning in the movie’s themes that young children didn’t always grasp. In “WALL-E” (short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth Class), the little robot was left to clean up all the garbage on earth and it wasn’t until nearly halfway through the movie that the viewer is introduced to a human. And where were the humans? On a spaceship in a virtual reality world comfortably enjoying their existence while oblivious to their surroundings.
Fortunately, we’re not there (at least not yet). But the last 18 months has certainly shown that many people are comfortable—for that matter, far more comfortable—telecommuting and working from home. The beauty of technology is that we’ve been able to perform our jobs due to the technological advancements over the last 15-20 years—something that didn’t seem probable in the 1980’s and even into the 1990’s.
That said, there is much to be said for in-person, interpersonal communication. The ability to walk down the hall and soundboard ideas off a colleague, gather at the bubbler and share a joke, or play armchair quarterback every Monday morning with your co-workers is something that cannot always be achieved in a virtual world. So much is missed in a virtual world that can be observed while in person—a person’s body language, facial expressions, nervousness or joy, irritation or elation—that one doesn’t get when the Zoom camera is shut off and distractions abound (cat jumping on your lap, toddler needing attention, or teenager zoning out during a virtual calculus class).
Which is why I am pleased that this year’s Fall Conference will be held in person at the Four Points by Sheraton in Brown Deer, Wisconsin (a Milwaukee County suburb). Rest assured, for those who cannot attend the in-person conference or who still feel more comfortable not attending in-person events, we do have a virtual option for you. For both types of attendees, we are back to a triple-track event for most of our education sessions. In addition to our education sessions, there will be three general sessions that focus on funding infrastructure, the state of our infrastructure in Wisconsin and ethics.
For those attending in person, there are some really neat things planned, including an open house and demonstration hosted by Wisconsin Salt Wise (invite your public works staff to this event), the golf outing at Brown Deer Park, a technical tour of both TAPCO and Badger Meter, the Get Acquainted Party at Bavarian Bierhaus, and the scholarship awards banquet and bowling (some friendly competition) on Thursday night. Additionally, donations to the conference fundraiser will benefit GiGi’s Playhouse, which provides programming and support for people with Down Syndrome and their families.
Back to “WALL-E” and one of the meanings I took from the movie: those in the virtual world realized how much they were missing and, as the ship’s captain commented: “I don’t want to survive, I want to live.” Hopefully, many of you are able to attend the Fall Conference because it is our goal to give you a great time. See you there.
Scott Brandmeier, President