Progress wouldn't be progress without the charred carcasses of charming antiquity left in its wake. Typists. Blacksmiths. Haberdashers. Blockbuster Video clerks. Each had their moment; each moment passed.
On Labor Day, as we look forward to a terrifying new American job market that rewards "networkability," "personal branding" and other abstract shards of claptrap over skill and craftsmanship, let's pause for a moment to appreciate some soon-to-expire professions in their last flailing death throes, crushed under the weight of progress, ignored by an indifferent world that no longer values their contributions.
Think on these nigh-extinct dinosaurs, wheezing to the finish line of relevance, praying their paychecks and meager savings and social security outlasts their mortal form. Think on them and be grateful your own existence continues to be justified by some barely quantifiable and utterly meaningless contribution to society. Think on them and know that while this powerful play goes on and we may all contribute a verse, there's no guarantee that anyone will read yours.
Happy Labor Day!
Death of a salesman
Door-to-door/street vendor salesman—As recently as 2003, more than 21,000 people in the U.S. sold things door to door or on the street. Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs that number at less than 6,000. In this age of targeted digital marketing campaigns and post-scarcity, the practice of knocking on doors is not just unseemly, it's unnecessary. What are you bringing to the transaction that Amazon can't? (By the way, here is the first invocation of what will be a theme throughout this list: the Internet as a villain.) In many affluent communities, local ordinances have outlawed door-to-door sales.
Open your own hole
NFL fullback—There was a time in the sepia-toned days of a bygone NFL era when every team had a bruising fullback whose sole job was to target a defender and decleat them. Modern NFL offenses no longer call for the big guys to create holes for speedy halfbacks. Today, coordinators use shifty formations to force mismatches, getting their best rushers out into space where they can create. Fullbacks, oftentimes, just get in the way. While teams still designate a "starting fullback" on their rosters, fullbacks only get on the field about 10-12 times per game. Usually, modern offenses sub the position for extra blocking on the line or an extra receiver. And talk about skills in school not relating to the job market: A vast majority of high schools and college teams still utilize them, despite virtually no hope of translating the position to the next level.
Second rate Fourth Estate
Journalist—Yeah, yeah, I get the irony. Very funny. People tell me there is a crisis in journalism and jobs are nearly impossible to find, with salaries nosediving since the turn of the century and many models drastically cutting their operations. I guess I'll have to take their word for it until the checks from Fusion stop clearing. The Internet has launched an assault on true, dyed-in-the-wool reporting by a.) decimating print's advertiser-based model, and b.) promoting the ascent of crappy listicle articles that review things like, uh, declining professions.
Wood if they could
Woodworkers—This specific facet of carpentry, while all the rage amongst Brooklyn hipsters and characters on TV shows about Brooklyn hipsters, is actually on the decline as a true industry. While we've been beating up on the Internet a lot in this list, you can actually blame Ikea and its ilk for the loss of master wood carvers. Automatization has replaced customization, and the preponderance of wood products we purchase likely rolled off a line somewhere in Sweden, China, or elsewhere in Asia. Further, many wooden staples of modern life previously deemed worth holding onto have been replaced by cheap facsimiles that are best thrown away rather than repaired or reclaimed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that woodworking will actually grow in step with overall job growth in the next 8 years, but that accounts for computer-controlled machine operators.
Lumberjacks—Times are hard all over for those in the wood game. With some 3,000 jobs projected to disappear in the coming decade, their workforce will have declined by some 43 percent from the turn of the century.
They'll take you there
Travel agents—The advent of online search-and-book tools has redefined the concept of traveling for most of the consumer market, thus making travel agents superfluous. But there remains some 50,000 travel agents (down from 112,000 in 2000) in the U.S., and while they don't service the wide swath of the population they once did, their corporate clientele and Internet-averse customers keep them afloat to the tune of about $18 billion in annual revenues. But for how long? Companies like Expedia and Orbitz have already built their own enterprise-level travel portals that purport to provide the same corporate services that travel agents have long claimed is their bailiwick. While their ranks have thinned, travel agents have seen a 50 percent increase in salary since 2000.
Television repairmen—-In 1992, more than 20,000 repair shops were listed in the Yellow Pages nationwide. Today, that number is fewer than 4,000. More telling, the professional association that compiled that 1992 list has disbanded. But consider: in 1998, the cost of a big-screen television was almost 40 percent more than it is today (adjusted for inflation and all factors being equal). And those TVs sucked! The tech has changed, as well. The evolution of the television has left its erstwhile caretakers behind. Fixing HD and plasma screens often requires a visit to the original dealer, such as Best Buy's Geek Squad, or shipping back to the manufacturer. The components in these modern sets are not as easily replaced or patched up.