Can you imagine a robot taking your place at work someday? The rise of technology is quickly spreading like wildfire across regions worldwide. The jobs that were seen everywhere some centuries or decades ago may not actually exist today.
Many processes today are automated, reducing the need for human workers to perform these manual tasks. While the extinction of some of these jobs could have put people out of work, it may also be seen as a good thing, as a number of these jobs were often dangerous and some even made use of child labor.
What are some of the jobs that have gradually phased out over the last century?
Today, the term pinsetter is used to refer to the mechanical apparatus that clears fallen bowling pins, resets the pins back to their original position and returns bowling balls to the front of the alley. Originally, a pinsetter was a person who performed this job manually. Since this job was low-paying and a menial task, the people who worked in this job were usually teenage boys, hence the name “pin boy”. The bowler would roll their ball, and the pin boy would jump into the pit, clear the fallen pins, and roll the ball back to the bowler. Pin boys would often get splattered by errant pins from adjacent lanes. Some bowlers asked for a certain pin boy which they believed brought them luck.
Very few bowling alleys still employ pin boys today. Modern mechanical pinsetters usually feature scorekeeping among other features, and are generally desirable over pin boys. However, some bowling alleys employ “pinchasers”, which are people stationed near the equipment to ensure it is working properly and to clear jams if necessary.
When street lights still ran on kerosene or gasoline, a lamplighter was someone who would light the street lamps using a wick on a long pole in the evening. In the morning, they would return to put out the lamps using a small hook on a similar long pole. Lamplighters would often have a set number on lamps along a route that they had to light and extinguish each day. While some lamplighters in certain communities also acted as town watchmen, the wages of a lamplighter were generally low.
Gas lights started to be used in the 19th century. Early gas lamps still required lamplighters, but later on, automated systems were developed, thus eliminating the need for lamplighters. Most street lights today are electrical, automated and even make use of light sensors to detect when the surroundings are dark enough to warrant a light. As such, lamplighting is very rarely practiced in modern times, mostly only for tourism or heritage purposes.
Before mechanical refrigerators were commonplace, people used to keep their food refrigerated in boxes in their home which made use of ice blocks to keep the food cold. Most people did not cut the ice themselves, either – they purchased it from an ice cutter who did the task as a profession. Ice cutters harvested their ice from frozen rivers or lakes with the aid of horse-drawn equipment, and then cut the pieces of ice by hand. The blocks of ice were floated down to a place where they could be easily retrieved and distributed.
Ice cutting could turn into a dangerous job as the workers ran the risk of themselves or their horses falling into the icy water. With the spread of mechanical refrigeration, almost every urban home has a refrigerator now. Thus, very few regions still practice ice cutting today.
Alarm clocks were largely unreliable in the past. Before personal alarm clocks became a commodity, a knocker-up, or a human alarm clock, was a professional in Britain and Ireland who was hired by people to wake them up for work. The knocker-up would use a baton to knock on their clients’ windows or doors to rouse them, and would not leave until they were sure the client had woken up. In return, the knocker-up was paid a few pence per week. Some knocker-ups were police on early morning patrols who wanted to earn a bit of extra income. These days, however, we are all familiar with using alarm clocks or setting the alarm on a watch or phone to wake ourselves up early.
Some hundred years ago, before electronic calculators became available, a “computer” was actually a job title used to refer to a person who performed mathematical calculations as a profession. For very complex or long calculations, a team of people was normally assigned to undertake them, and the work would be delegated across the people so they could work in parallel. Often, there would even be multiple independent teams working on the same calculation, for the purpose of cross-checking answers to make sure no mistakes were made.
Human computers were used extensively in World War II in the United States, with the majority of computers being women since most of the men had gone off to war. Over time as electronic calculators became more available, human computers worked on computer programming instead. Today, calculators are available anywhere worldwide, with most people having calculator applications on their computers or mobile phones, and also being able to access online calculators through search engines.
A recurring concern for some people is their job security as technology continues to advance and modern solutions are being created to automate an increasing number of tasks. For example, driverless car technology has been developing and improving as of late, and some are hopeful that we will begin to see such driverless cars as a daily commodity in the coming decade. If driverless cars become an accessible reality, this could potentially put cab drivers, chauffeurs, and bus drivers out of work.
While some people nowadays still employ home cleaning services or clean their homes manually, this line of work could also soon make way for home cleaning robots. These small devices designed to sweep or vacuum one’s floor can be programmed to perform their tasks at a set time daily, reducing the need for a human to oversee the cleaning process or do the cleaning themselves.
However, we still seem to have time to relish our current selection of jobs, as technological advances such as these are still in a developing state. For instance, in the case of driverless cars, people are concerned that the computer lacks human discretion and could fail to arrive at the correct choice in a life-threatening situation. As for home cleaning robots, though they are largely affordable these days and come with few complications, the robots can still be ineffective at detecting obstacles or walls, and the cleaning process often produces a lot of noise.
Although technology such as driverless cars and home cleaning robots are currently still problematic and error-prone, it could only be a matter of time before technology catches up and these inventions become mainstream. We will just have to wait and see what changes in the working world in the future.
Nov 11, 2019