The theme of this month’s Roofing Contractor is Game Changers: new and emerging technologies. My job as an observer of the roofing industry has always been about what’s new. As a participant in the business, I also have to maintain a focus on the old technology that’s disappearing.

Over the years, I’ve at times found myself on the leading edge of new technologies and have been able to make good on their execution. Other times I’ve been left at the station, allowing others to take advantage of the next great thing. Luckily for me, there’s always been another train to come along.

The secrets to success in emerging technologies include keeping an eye on what’s coming up and launching at the right time. And never, ever holding on too tightly to any one thing, believing it’s irreplaceable. The mindset that there’s not a better idea out there is not to be trusted.

All of this leaves me with a love-hate relationship with technology.

What I love about it is how it makes things better. My definition of better is simply making things easier and more elegant. I leave out “cheaper,” though bringing better value for less money is always a good thing. A new, great technology is one that should not only work well, but not be difficult to understand or implement.

I also love technology that increases productivity and reduces waste. We’ve seen many come and go in the roofing industry. Year after year, we see new products that are more sustainable, easier to install and increase the efficiency of the entire building envelope.

Innovative technologies such as garden roofs and building-integrated solar power systems continue to ramp up as roof-system costs continue to move in the direction of parity. I believe we’ll see a celebration of these systems breaking into the mainstream sooner rather than later.

This is exciting to me, as a few years ago I couldn’t imagine this happening in my lifetime. I love that emerging technologies can be so surprising.

At the same time, I don’t love technology that infringes upon our humanity. I wonder how far things will go. And I feel a sense of loss when technologies go away; especially the ones I witnessed the birth of not all that long ago.

It was, for instance, difficult for me to see the demise of “mechanized roofing.” There are still many machines designed for roofing application and material handling, but I’m referring to the golden days of built-up roofing. Big, expensive machines that we simply don’t need anymore. Arguably a good thing, but I still miss those days. 

And what happened to the ubiquitous office? The office has gone so portable now that it’s impossible to escape it. To me, that is the most unfortunate consequence of portable computing. And I don’t know how or if we’ll ever get that genie back into the bottle.

But there is hope. The next great discovery may be a way for contractors and business people to break the bonds of the smartphone. Until that discovery is made we must remember to rely on one of the earliest inventions from the world of mechanical technology: the ‘off’ switch.