Which Extinct Job Would You Be Best At?

600full-newsies-screenshot-4Typesetter. 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.


15 Comments / Post A Comment

yellowshoes (#4,954)

Hah! My first thought was book editor, which is my current job. But, like, I would be great at being a 1950s book editor, which is an extinct job now. Print media! You fickle beast.

@yellowshoes THIS a hundred times :)

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

@Ester Bloom I assume we’ve all heard the This American Life episode where Ira is all “if you were an assistant book editor in the 1950s, you would have been the person who discovered Catcher In The Rye and made it part of your portfolio. What does an assistant book editor do today? Change lightbulbs and order sandwiches.”

missvancity (#146)

@yellowshoes I’m a publishers’ rep, and I’m pretty sure my job is going to show up on this list in the next ten years or so :(

Allison (#4,509)

Travel Agent! I love planning vacations/helping friends with finding plane tickets/deal with weird cancellations etc. Of course, I like being able to do it all on the computer without having to speak to the airlines so maaaaaybe not.

snackspace (#5,835)

@Allison Oh I am with you 100% because that would also come with extinct perks! My aunt always had an in with the airlines and knew when to get tickets for herself at the cheapest rate. My mother worked for PamAm in the hey-day booking group flights and – using company offers, employee benefits, etc – would fly first class to Nepal, Brazil, Hong Kong, for next to nothing. I’m glad she lived it up, but, damn. What I would give!

Trilby (#191)

I’ll play! I could be an old-timey graphic designer who makes mechanicals by hand, using exacto knives, T-squares, rapidographs, overlays, rubber cement, etc.

cryptolect (#1,135)

I work next door to a travel agency, so travel agents are endangered but not extinct! They mostly handle fashion-industry travel. It seems like a really stressful, miserable job with lots of time on hold and constant emergencies.

NoName (#3,509)

I dunno – I know plenty of working-right-now tailors who make decent money.

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

I don’t know about you but I would have been a fantastic Lady Mary Crawley.

andnowlights (#2,902)

Oooh travel agent for me. That would be amazing. My parents use one, so they’re not TOTALLY extinct, but it’s certainly not a business you aim to get into now, I don’t think. Well, unless you want to be a travel agent that works for like, Russian billionaires, but that seems like it would suck.

I used to be a video store clerk, which is pretty close to being an extinct job. It was pretty fun – chatting with folks about movies all the time and watching movies for free. Nostalgie de la boue!

Runawaytwin (#2,693)

Seamstress if i had to get paid…. perhaps lace maker. Neither were well paying jobs.

Or rich lady embroidering in the window if money was of no interest to me. I really love to embroider/sew

Heather F G (#6,074)

I’ve been reading a lot of stuff about the Tudor era lately, and I being a lady-in-waiting has been sounding appallingly appealing. Get paid to travel around and hang out in the lap of luxury and be a partner-in-revelry? Sounds good! Only for fun royalty, though. Like a teenage queen. Mary Tudor, maybe. Not Katherine of Aragon, no offense to the poor lady.

eemusings (#6,021)

I would’ve been absolutely screwed in any other era. I mean, MAYBE working in print media, but digital is where I excel.

Comments are closed!