Slate has an interesting article up about the demise of film projectionists. The piece describes the process by which traditional films are projected at movie theatres and some of the technology involved (I didn’t realize that film reels had to be turned into “platters” by individual projectionists at the theatre). The bottom line, though, is that digital films (following platters and better bulbs) will kill off the projectionist occupation.
Sounds like an ordinary story about innovative and superior technology replacing expensive labor, making the world more efficient one step at a time – and in the process making all of us better off as a result. But the odd thing about the piece is the tone of the article which seems to suggest that this is a bad thing. For example, here is one line that seems a bit over the top: “With projectionists gone, another part of our lives will lose the human touch.” My guess is that most of us haven’t and won’t feel any loss at all – except maybe the loss of annoying breaks in movies due to projectionist error!
Of course, it is a bad thing for the small group of individuals in that particular occupation today. But this limited negative effect of innovation and efficiency is swamped by the benefits of these changes – what Joseph Schumpeter called creative destruction. There are numerous examples of this occurring. Here is a neat slide show by Sven’s favorite government entity describing some of them. For example, people who used to work as lamplighters were replaced by the automatically lighting gas lamp and then the electric streetlight we all know and love.* This has freed up this pool of labor for other activities – so for the rest of time, would-be lamplighters are working in other occupations or professions. And we are all better off.
So why the negative tone? Long live creative destruction – except in my field, of course 😉
* I actually bemoan the overuse of outdoor lighting. I’m not against it in all cases. However, the assumed positive effects of streetlights in deterring crime are very much overstated. And all of this light comes at a huge loss in terms of energy and the creation of light pollution/loss of dark skies. My HOA covenant actually has a short section in it dealing with this issue. Perhaps a longer blog post on the politics of outdoor lighting might be of some value down the line.