Will Your Job Become Extinct?


by Tim Moran

Readers in senior IT and corporate management positions have jobs that, once upon a time, were thought to be golden.

Perhaps, for some of you, they still are. If so, be thankful, for those of us who toiled in the editorial trenches for decades had jobs that turned out to be more lead than gold.

Interesting element, lead, and interesting how it weighs on our industry.

According to Wikipedia lead is "a poisonous metal that can damage nervous connections and cause blood and brain disorders."

Poison. Nerve damage. Brain disorder. Many leaders in the media business in the 21st century think of editors in those terms--have for a long time. But that's a matter for another day.

Lead was also among the subjects in a recent post of mine about the early days of publishing and the modern problems of data storage -- hot-lead typesetting was the order of the day only 30 years ago. Needless to say, it no longer is.

All of which brings us neatly back to jobs--and lead. There's a great slideshow presentation on the NPR site titled, "The Jobs of Yesteryear: Obsolete Occupations." The introductory blurb states: "As computers and automated systems increasingly take the jobs humans once held, entire professions are now extinct." It then invites the reader to click through the gallery to see examples of endangered professions. One of those jobs, of course, is "typesetter":

When manual printing presses were the norm in newspaper offices and publishing houses, typesetters placed individual pieces of lead type into wooden frames to create the layout of each page. Entire rooms were filled with trays full of letters organized by font size and type style.

This is a description of manual typesetters, not the linotype operators I referred to, but it matters not. Neither exists as a profession today.

A century or less ago one could make a good living as an elevator operator, pinsetter (bowling alley), iceman (goeth), lamplighter, milkman, switchboard operator, typist (in a pool), or telegraph operator.

Another of the extinct jobs noted by NPR is "copy boy," yet again associated with printing and publishing: After a reporter finished typing up a story, he would shout "Copy!" and a copy boy would arrive to shuttle his story to the desk of the next editor in the editorial process.

Is it out of the question to think that in, say, 20 or 30 years, various combinations of technological advancement and economic whimsy could find IT and corporate jobs on the extinct list? I mean, the copy boy has been gone for a long time. One day soon, perhaps, there might be no more copy and no more editors. But no more IT jobs? I guess that's a matter for another day, too.