Typesetter. Lamplighter. Milkman / iceman / postman? (Soon.) Courtesan. Switchboard operator. Pinboy. Newsie. Telegraph Operator. Travel agent.
Extinct jobs are fascinating. Try here, and here, and here for lists, if you don’t mind a little redundancy and enjoy black-and-white pictures. And this article from the New York Times in 1994, which already seems like a historical relic:
During the last era of job shedding, in the 1980’s, Rust Belt factories, mostly in the Midwest, were closed or modernized, so the same quantities of cars, steel, appliances, machinery and many other products could be made with a fraction of the old work force. American factories, in effect, became as efficient as those in Japan and Europe. Now the process is sweeping well beyond factories, into almost every sector of the economy, into the ranks of white-collar workers as well as those on the assembly lines. Sears, Roebuck; BankAmerica; A.T.& T., and Aetna have joined General Electric, Xerox, Procter & Gamble and other manufacturers in shedding jobs. “We are finally finding many new ways to use computers, and they are replacing people in many industries,” said Peter L. Bernstein, an economist and consultant.
Efficiency is good! Computers are great. And many of those now-extinct jobs were filthy, boring, unsafe, and, for all of those reasons, done by exploited members of the underclass. Still, let’s not be practical for a moment and instead indulge in a little wishful thinking.
Which do you think you’d be best at? Do you, between games of Candy Crush, kind of long for a pre-high-technology age and kind of opportunities you could or would have had? When I became obsessed with Mists of Avalon as a tween, it was largely because I felt like I would have fit in so well as a magickal proto-feminist islander in Arthurian times. Failing that, I’d have been a good typist. Sometimes I look at my dude, Ben, and think of how, a hundred and some years ago, he would have been a tailor, the kind who made people’s clothes by hand. He probably would have gotten a lot of satisfaction from that, at least until he died of typhus or from a pogrom at 43.