Since the pandemic dominated our lives just over four months ago, life has often been measured by a series of disappointments – some big, some small, but otherwise very telling.
For me, the cancellation of most sports was the major sign COVID-19 was no ordinary hiccup. For virtually everyone we know, we work with, and live with, the pandemic has been the ultimate game-changer. That phrase had become overused, but not anymore.
I haven't been on an airplane since the pandemic started – a true lifestyle change for someone who's typically in airports three out of every four weeks without fail. And the cancellation of the conferences I routinely attend is a reminder the broadcast radio industry has been every bit as impacted as any other business category.
Earlier this week, Don Anthony threw in the towel, putting a hold on Morning Show Boot Camp in September. Slated for a return to Chicago (yes, I would have likely drove), MSBC has become one of my favorite events.
The conference will now go the virtual route – along with the Public Radio Program Directors event, the Christian Music Broadcasters' Momentum get-together, and other meet-ups that have been forced to adapt, innovate, and scramble.
But yesterday's announcement that CES 2021 will not be a live event next year in early January as it has been for more than half a century is an even bigger deal. CES is going virtual, digital – whatever you want to call it.
When the world's biggest electronics and technology show puts out the “no mas” sign, you know you're in the middle of a pandemic.
Yesterday, CTA's Gary Shapiro took to LinkedIn to give us the news in a short memo – “Why An All-Digital CES 2021 is the Right Thing to Do.” It explained what we've known all along: it's just not possible to bring more than 100,000 people from around the world to Las Vegas in a crowded environment in January.
So, like so many things during COVID, a change of plans. We won't be going to CES in early January, nor will Jerry Lee, or the scores of broadcasters we've been touring around the Las Vegas Convention Center the past few years.
Yes, I'll miss the buzz, the excitement, and the innovation of this over-the-top show. And I'll also miss the quirk and the nerdiness, especially in Eureka Park where more than a thousand inventors – OK, some are crackpots – show off their newest technologies.
Every year, some of their creations end up in our “Worst of Show” CES webinar. From smart umbrellas to smart toilets, sometimes tech for tech's sake is more laughable than functional.
But just imagine what we would have seen at CES 2021 that would be new, exciting, and different?
And not just N95 and other wearables that fall under the heading of PPE. But protective face wear that could only be called “mask couture” – fashion statements with technology baked in.
Tech-laden Facemasks would have no doubt been one of the more buzzworthy categories at CES next year, a trend the New York Times' Ben Dooley and Hisako Ueno recently picked up on in a timely story, “We'll Be Wearing Masks for a While. Why Not Make Them Nice?”
Only a global pandemic could have created an entirely new category of “wearables” that every American will be sporting this fall – and well beyond.
The Times quotes Yukiko Iida, a Tokyo-based mask expert who explains that COVID “has driven a rapid evolution in mask technology….When there's demand, the market reacts quickly.”
Of course, radio has gotten the message, too. More and more stations have added masks and face wear to their “merch stores.”
But these branded masks don't even scratch the service for what's already around the corner. Dooley and Ueno highlight a Japanese start-up, Donut Robotics, that would more than likely taken up space in Eureka Park this January.
Their smart mask has Swiss Army Knife-like features that mashes up tools like a walkie-talkie, a personal secretary, and a translator.
Masks that combine media and entertainment options, including ear buds or speakers connected via Bluetooth?
Perhaps the NAB and RAB could convince Sony to develop a WalkMask – yes, a mask that doubles as an AM/FM radio.
The chief exec of Donut Robotics, Taisuke Ono, reminds us “the pandemic made this possible.” And of course, he's right.
CES may not return to its usual frenetic format until 2022. But that won't stop innovators, inventors, and dreamers from coming up with that “next big thing” in test labs all over the world.
More and more, we'll be be hearing, “I love your mask. Where did you get it?”
Or better yet, “Can you turn up your mask?”
Special thanks to Scott Westerman for the inspiration.