At least in our sweet beach town, I’ve never seen an actual bicycle riding paperboy. It appears that this rise-at-dawn, you’ll-get-a-ton-of-exercise task is now being done by middle aged adults in sensible vans, probably because they’re struggling to make ends meet since living wages are becoming as rare as an affordable house. The same seems to be true for pulling weeds and pushing lawnmowers. And thanks to automation, I also haven’t noticed any teen pinsetters in any bowling alleys I’ve visited in the last decade.
Still, there was one young person gig I couldn’t imagine ever going away.
That was the pizza delivery guy (or gal).
Usually a local high school senior or a community college student, usually driving an okay car still able to toot its way around the hood, the hours are flexible, and the tips make it a pretty good deal. In fact, delivering pies was one of the first jobs a neighbor’s son scored, and he liked it okay. During one four-hour shift, he told me he’d once pocketed $92.
But now, Domino’s—the second largest pizza business in the United States, its annual gross sales are $8 billion—wants to take even this job away.
Yup, as I write this, the cheesy pepperoni giant is in the midst of a six week experiment—delivering pizzas without drivers to customers in Ann Arbor, Michigan, home of its corporate headquarters.
Here’s how it works.
For selected pizza lovers, their round meal arrives in a special gussied up Ford Fusion equipped with radar and a camera, but no one gets out of the car. (For now, a Ford engineer is behind the wheel, but the front windows are blacked out to guarantee zero interaction.) When their pizza is ready, customers must instead leave their couches and TV remotes behind, go out the door, and meet the car at curbside.
Once at the special black and white car, they next type a four-digit code into an exterior car keypad. After that’s done, a magic rear window opens and allows customers to pick up their order from a specially-heated compartment. Customers are chosen randomly, and receive a phone call if they want to participate. If they decide to try it out, they’ll then get a text letting them know the car is about to pull up.
There’s more: in the years ahead, not even a four-wheeled vehicle may be needed. That’s because the company is also testing delivery using—wait for it—drones.
These kind of no-humans-involved transactions seem pretty odd to this Girl Clown.
Then I remember that the future has always included leaving jobs behind.
Indeed, a quick Google search of once important jobs that are now obsolete—and yikes, some were around when I was well into adulthood—yielded more than a few examples.
There was the lector, a person hired to read out loud to cigar makers while the latter did their repetitive work. Paid via the pooled wages of the workers, he would sit in a chair on a raised platform so that most of the laborers could hear him read whatever requests were offered up to him. And if you’ve seen any movies about the old timey newspaper business, you’ll for sure have seen someone playing a copy boy—essentially, an errand runner in charge of delivering news and press releases to reporters and editors on deadline, usually ripped from clattering wire news services machines.
Other non-existent jobs of yesterday include lamplighters, persons who manually lit the gas lamps that used to line
city streets, and ice men, who delivered blocks of ice to homes with ice boxes (also known as the first refrigerators).
There were also Dictaphone operators, most often secretaries who would transcribe memos and letters that had
been dictated into a machine by her boss. About the size of a bulky shoe box, it was a device, in fact, that I had
to master in the mid-1980s.
And while we’re at it, let’s get into the iPhone.
Seemingly single handedly, these can’t-leave-home-without-it devices haven’t just replaced switchboard operators. They’ve also superseded folks who used to manufacture and sell alarm clocks, timers, flashlights, calculators, photo albums, address books, day planners, video cameras, maps and a lot more stuff that I can’t think of right now. Sooner than later, I’m expecting a Zippo lighter, fly swatter and luxe Swiss army knife to be part of the package, too.
But it’s not all that bleak.
That’s because for every job that isn’t around anymore, another and often better job slides into its place.
So, if the Dominos experiment works, there could potentially be tens of thousands of test vehicles on the road, and that will take more designers and engineers, not to mention state-of-the-art mechanics, radar and camera technicians who need to be on hand to service all of those cars.
And while there aren’t any more lectors, there are certainly a lot of stand-up comedians doing their shtick out loud at clubs (whose owners hire managers, food preparers, bouncers, servers, busboys and bartenders) around the world.
Moving on to the extinct copy boy, the Internet has instead exploded with all sorts of jobs that have everything to do with writing, editing and managing news sites, blogs and other information driven web site addresses. And there are some well-paying careers that are completely brand new, such as those in renewable energy; advanced robotics, and all manner of computer coding, support and development. (The latter could be exactly where today’s teenager might be happiest anyway.)
It’s a brave and sometimes scary new world out there, for sure.
There’s one more thing.
I want to take part in at least some of this—because once I stop learning, I’ll stop living.
Have you, or a friend or family member, ever had a job that’s now obsolete? I look forward to your comments