When the rock band R.E.M. introduced its 1987 album, "Document" to the world, one song stood out and quickly became, in my opinion, one of its most remarkable hits. The song, "It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)," is known for its quick-moving, stream-of-consciousness rant with a number of diverse political and historical references.

Interestingly, the song was not a tirade about the apocalypse, but about change, about the world moving in a different direction (if you're interested in reading the actual lyrics, go to bit.ly/EOTWAWKI).

While many people focus on the end of the world based on the Mayan calendar (abcn.ws/mayancal) and other doomsday predictions, R.E.M'’s up-tempo song focused on something we have to face each day of our lives: change. In the HVAC industry, nothing represents the many changes we face more than the International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo) which kicks off each new year in late January.

Returning to its roots in Chicago, the 2012 AHR Expo celebrates being the largest show in its history, with more than 2,000 exhibitors. Show management expects attendance of more than 59,000 industry professionals. Though the event itself is a constant, the educational sessions and product showcases represent all the changes that affect you, your business, and your customers.

Among those changes: new solar and sustainable technologies now experiencing strong growth. Also, electronic communications—whether it's onboard devices that allow pieces of equipment to communicate directly, or monitoring systems that enable facility engineers and building owners to keep tabs on important things such as energy use, indoor air quality, maintenance, and more. By itself, this isn't new, but when combined with the Internet and social-media constructs, the world of building automation and control continues to evolve and change.

Most manufacturers of products, equipment, and components have onboard electronics so products can talk with each other. Virtually all manufacturers have created or are creating smart-phone and/or tablet apps to access those electronics giving control capabilities to facilities people and diagnostics/operations data to building-management decision makers.

Yes, social media—Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others—have moved from being purely social communications media to useful tools for technology. Five years ago, who would have thought we'd be using words like tweeting or facebooking in everyday speech?

But these technical changes come at a time when economic upheavals and international political issues change how we work, where we work, and if we work. Despite this, a recent survey of the manufacturers exhibiting at this year's expo found solid optimism for 2012. The International Exposition Co. (which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year) surveyed 1,000 exhibitors and found that 59 percent of them believe that 2012 will be better than 2011, while an additional 13 percent think it will be much better.

It really is the end of the world as we know it. Some might say this is directly related to mankind's negative impact on the environment (bit.ly/vcrbwQ), others believe in the prophesies of Nostradamus (bit.ly/tpn2id) or the Mayans. I prefer to think of the end of the world as we know along the same lines as R.E.M.

With that in mind, we look forward to seeing you in Chicago's McCormick Place. Come visit us in Booth 5710.

Send comments and suggestions to mike.weil@penton.com.