The Internet was the last revolutionary technology of the 20th century. It rapidly changed the way people across the world do business, and while many jobs were not impacted, some were brushed aside as the Internet muscled its way in.
Some of these jobs were ones already having trouble. Others were doing fine. Now? Not so much. Change is hard when you’re on the wrong side of the revolution. Let’s see what professions are getting taken to the cleaners (which, of course, now offer free Wi-Fi).
These fine folks are responsible for many of the printed materials that you see in your daily life. Brochures, fliers and posters don’t just magically look good, no matter how important or appealing the information is on them. Artistry is required.
Or at least that’s how it used to be. The proliferation of easy-to-use desktop publishing tools has brought significant pain to people working in this field. Many employers are simply asking other employees to take up these responsibilities and assuming that any tech-savvy young individual can do a decent job. The Internet is also making it easier for the common user to find photos, fonts and other material for use in desktop publishing.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics says this job will lose 15% of its already small workforce over the coming decade. Due to population growth all occupations need to gain workers to have the same share of the workforce, so a 15% decline is a nasty tumble. And I’d wager that even this number is optimistic.
Ah, the editor. All publications worth their salt have one, but unfortunately the editor has come under hard times. Part of the problem is the decline of print media, which is shedding jobs in almost all categories.
That probably isn’t the only issue, however. The rise of the Internet has made fact-checking easier than ever before. Spell checkers now can automate some editing tasks. And some of the topic selection and layout decisions that editors used to influence are now being made by SEO experts and web designers. Editors are more productive than ever before, but because only so much editing is needed, jobs in this field are harder to hold on to.
At least editors tend to be paid well on average, and those who do find employment probably won’t find their wages declining.
Now here’s a controversial one. You don’t have to spend much time on the Internet before you find a blog or forum post about how real journalism is dead and every news source is biased. Such rants are usually inspired by a specific article.
Unfortunately, these rants have some basis. Journalism wasn’t perfect before the Internet, but the rise of the web really struck a blow to the profession. Making data easier to access has generated less need to employ people who actively search for a story (i.e. the classic investigative journalist). In addition, many people employed as journalists now spend most of their time writing opinion posts or regurgitating news stories. It’s much easier and less expensive to employ people who look up information online instead of journalists who go into the field and attempt to verify a story.
Even the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics seems confused. They lump the profession under the name “reporters, correspondents and broadcast news analysts”. Do journalists even exist anymore? This seems to be open to interpretation.
Most people likely are not surprised to hear that the postal workers are in trouble. The real surprise is the fact that it’s taken so long for them to be impacted. Some predictions said that postal workers would be doomed just a few years after e-mail became available to the masses.
Such proclamations were, um, optimistic. But there’s no denying that postal workers are in a tight spot. While large packages will always need to be carried from one place to another, letters and written correspondence is much easier and cheaper to handle online. Most businesses now offer customers a paperless option that throws out physical bills, statements and notifications in favor of email.
Some postal workers will always be needed because there will always be something to carry, but this industry is expected to see declines in employment over the next decade with no end in sight. Postal retail clerks and mail sorters will be facing a tight job market and lay-offs as well. Jobs lost here are unlikely to ever come back.
It wasn’t long ago that major retail stores had a dedicated photography department. Turning film into photos wasn’t something that a person could do in their own home – at least, not easily – so professionals were required to pick up the slack for people not keen on adding a dark room to their home.
Now these workers are being replaced by Internet-capable kiosks that can download your photos off your Facebook or Flickr account and print them out for you. No need for human interaction. No need to come back in one hour. Just press some buttons, pay your fee, and you’re done. Assisting customers with these kiosks is usually the responsibility of the retail sales clerk staffing the electronics area.
As with the postal worker, there’s little chance any job lost in this area will ever come back regardless of future technology. To make matters worse, workers in this field were never paid well and training was often minimal. Developing film may be soon become a lost art.
Office automation has consistently caused trouble for the common office worker. Copy boys? Gone. Typists? Almost extinct and rapidly declining. Operators? Spiraling down with no end in sight. Now the clerk is on the chopping block.
Office clerks file documents, process paperwork and organize information in the office environment. The rise of digital files has made this job far less labor intensive and has allowed for some automation of file organization. More and more office clerks find themselves in trouble as technology continues to improve. All of these problems apply to every level of office communication. Twenty years ago, pulling a file might mean taking a trip three stories upstairs and then finding a clerk to locate it for you. Now the same information can be found with just a few clicks. Moving a load of files between offices used to require several beefy dudes and a big truck. Now the same task can be accomplished with an Ethernet cord and an Internet connection.
Some of these workers are being shuffled into other fields like data entry and office administration, but those are also in decline. It’s possible that, as document storage and automation becomes more advanced, nearly all of the work in this field will become the responsibility of corporate IT departments.
These are far from the only jobs that are becoming extinct by technological change, but these particular jobs are the ones that I think have been most directly hurt by the Internet specifically rather than technological advancement in general. What do you think? Is there a career on its way out that you’re sad to see go?