Technology, Work, and The Future II: “Where The Jobs Go”: The View From Galaxy Science Fiction in 1966

Over five decades ago, multiple Hugo and Nebula Award winner Frederick Pohl wrote an editorial entitled “Where the Jobs Go”, which appeared in the April, 1966 edition of of Galaxy Science Fiction.  The impetus for his essay was the New York City Transit Strike of January, 1966 (1).  That event created an intellectual springboard for musings about the relationship between automation, information technology and employment, particularly in terms of the diminution – if not outright elimination – of existing occupations.  Writing in the midst of the strike – with the cancellation of bus and subway transportation affecting millions of New Yorkers – the issues Pohl raised are even more pressing today than in 1966.

Pohl presented a specific example of the effects of technological change on employment, through his discussion about the future of publishing, with representatives of the Philadelphia-based Institute for Scientific Information (a.k.a. “ISI”) (2), and, Simon and Schuster.  He clearly foresaw what today would be termed “on demand” publishing.  Though he didn’t specifically estimate when this would occur, he understood that for the replication of printed information, the central dependence on and necessity for human activity, and in turn specific job categories, could in time be eliminated.  In the mid-1960s, this was in the areas of linotype operation, printing, binding, storage, and sales.  Bypassing and eventually supplanting the these steps – and the human role in them – could enable a customer; a user; a consumer; to produce a book, “on order, anywhere in the world”.

Which is where we’re at today. 

Another notable aspect of Pohl’s editorial was the realization that there is a natural and perhaps inevitable tendency to perceive the uses, effects, and implications of any new technology through the context of the past.  Pohl’s “twelfth-century armaments expert” has appeared throughout history in all venues of human endeavor: technological, military, economic, educational, and political.   

Pohl’s other examples included bank tellers, retail clerks, and accounts.  he realized that the commonality among these occupations was their general predictability and codification.  His prediction: Technological advances in electronics (“black boxes”) would eventually supplant established work activities, let alone categories of employment.

Pohl didn’t really address issues that would in time (our time) be wrought by these changes.  Instead, he concluded by simply suggesting – simplistically and optimistically; resignedly and pragmatically – their acceptance:  “Postponing this revolution or slowing it down isn’t going to make us very well indeed; let’s swallow it and get it over!” 

Perhaps he couldn’t have foreseen – could anyone? – the magnitude to which the issues he discussed – in terms of both physical and intellectual activity; in terms of social cohesion; in terms of geopolitical stability; in terms of ethnics and morality – would rise to prominence only a few decades later.

His editorial follows below…

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WHERE THE JOBS GO

As this is written, the city of New York is tying itself in knots because of a strike in the Transport Workers Union.  All of the city subways, and nearly all of its buses, are idle.  Workers can’t get to their jobs; shoppers can’t get to stores; salesmen can’t call on their customers; theatergoers can’t reach the plays for which they have bought tickets months in advance – in a word, the normal operations of the city have stopped.

All of this costs money.  The current guess is that the paralysis of the city is costing it something like $100,000,000 a day or substantially more than the combined expense of the space program, the war in Vietnam and Medicare put together.

It is our opinion that this is only a beginning, because it begins to look clear to us that the real squeeze brought about by automation is going to express itself – has already begun to express itself – in a wave of strikes such as we’ve never seen before. 

True, automation is not technically an issue in this strike.  The TWU had its confrontation with the machines – the “Headless Horseman”, as Mike Quill called it – when the subways installed the first automated tracks a few years ago.  At union insistence the Transit Authority provided a standby motorman on the train, whose principal efforts consisted of walking from one end of the train to the other each time it came to the end of its run.  The automated was destroyed accidentally in a fire after a year’s trial – apparently to the unspoken relief of all parties.  There has been no announcement of any plan to build another, but we would judge that its ghost haunts the negotiating tables.

Nearly all of the subway jobs involved are relatively unskilled – changemakers, conductors, station guards, motormen – with only a comparatively small number involved in maintenance, repair, construction and other more technically demanding jobs.  And this is the edge that cuts.  The subway workers have not been through the automation shakeout, when a large number of repetitive jobs are obsoleted and the jobs that are left require more training and more skill.

In other words, their productive capacity has not yet been multiplied by the machine factor.  This produces two opposed points of view, both of them unarguable.  Say the subway administrators and the public at large: These jobs just don’t call for that kind of money, and besides it would make the expense of running the subways ridiculously high.  Say the subway workers:  Other people putting in the same hours earn much more; we have to live in the same world with them, we have to compete with them to buy what we want in the stores, and we can’t do it unless we make as much money as they do.

This is the classical formula for the hardest-fought wars: both sides are right.

Is there any way to avoid more and even worse strikes than this one in the transition to the Cybernetic Age?

We doubt it very much.  Certainly what is happening now is not the final struggle; in fact, the issues haven’t even been joined.  The present subway strike is only a taste of what will come when “Headless Horsemen” are beginning to come out of the shops for all the major routes – and that day cannot be far off.  Remember the newspaper strike of a couple years ago.  That one was indeed fought on the issue of automation; but we have it on the word of the man who designed the systems that triggered the strike, Eugene Leonard, that it was the wrong fight at the wrong time over the wrong issues – because the systems that caused the strike were already obsolete at the time.

Not long ago we took part in a radio program with the aforementioned Gene Leonard, along with Arthur Elias of the Institute for Scientific Information and Henry Simon of Simon & Schuster, talking about the future of the publishing business in the Cybernetic Age.  We started by discussing automated typesetting, and it took exactly twelve minutes by the studio clock before we had reached a proposal for high-speed facsimile machines which would produce a book to your order, anywhere in the world.  In twelve minutes we not only got rid of the human linotype operator, but abolished the linotype itself and went on to obsolete the printing press, the binderies, the warehouses and the publishing house’s road salesmen.

Is such a new kind of publishing technologically feasible right now?  Certainly.  Is it likely to come into being in the next few years?  Certainly – cultural lag doesn’t permit us to move that fast – but it, or something like it, is surely the shape of the publishing business some time in the future.

We tend to think of automation’s effect on our own jobs in terms of a wilier, cheaper competitor to do the same things we’re doing right now.  In the event it isn’t going to be like that at all.  An analogy: Suppose we resurrected some twelfth-century armaments expert and asked him how he thought we should employ the resources of modern technology to build weapons.  No doubt he would be delighted; at once he would proceed to the fabrication of sharper lances, springier bows, truer shafts; and just how far would his troops get against H-bombs or napalm grenades?

Unfortunately, our own outlook on our own jobs is largely medieval.  The long lines of girls who used to assemble radio components don’t get replaced by speedier machine assemblies; they get put out of business entirely by printed circuits.  The stockbreeders who used to export power to the cities in the form of draft animals weren’t hurt by competition from more efficient breeders.  They simply ceased to have a market when the cities began exporting power to the farms, in the form of tractors and trucks.

Just so, in the long run (which may be measured in years or even months, these days), the bank tellers and retail clerks and accounting departments are not as likely to be replaced by whirring black boxes which accept ten-dollars bills and return change as they are to be retired completely by new electronic credit systems.  The machines don’t confine themselves to doing our jobs faster and more reliably – and cheaper.  They make it unnecessary for a great many of our jobs to be done at all.

Meanwhile, we have the strikes.  More and more of them, we would bet; worse and worse strikes, costing us more and more money.  (Each day’s loss to New York under the current subway strike would build a couple dozen handsome new schools.)

As long as Smith, operating at a job with only his own decision-making power, lives next door to Jones, whose decision-making power and consequent productivity is multiplied by the machine factor, they’ll go on; because Smith eats as many pork chops in a year as Jones, his children wear out as many clothes, his car uses as much gas – and he wants as much money.  Postponing this revolution or slowing it down isn’t going to make us very well indeed; let’s swallow it and get it over! – THE EDITOR

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Akin to my prior post “The Past As Prologue: Technology, Work, and The Future – The View From 1947” (which was based on a New Republic article “Communications Revolution” from 1947) “this” post includes – below – links to a variety of articles, essays, and a video or two.  They cover topics such as the effect of the Internet and technological change upon employment, and, social stability (both domestically and internationally); the return – with a searing vengeance – of the question of “class” in contemporary America (it never really went away), whereby social status has become a zero-sum-game conferred through thought, belief, pose, and moral intent; the impact of automation and robotics on employment; the economic and social corrosiveness of an informational oligopoly; the cognitive and cultural effects of “social” media.  And, in an age of ostensible meritocracy, the not uncommon lacuna between intelligence and wisdom. 

The commonality among these writings is that most (not all) have been published since February of this year (2017), when I created that “first” post covering the 1947 essay from The New Republic

For future blog posts concerning technology, economics, employment, and society, I hope to present links to similar writings, as they become available.

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Thoughts of Note

Uncertainty Without Principles

Rod Dreher Economic Insecurity
(The American Conservative – February 20, 2017)

Nicholas N. Eberstadt Our Miserable 21st Century
(Commentary – February 15, 2017)

Esther Kaplan (Photography by David M. Barreda) – Losing Sparta: The Bitter Truth Behind the Gospel of Productivity
(Virginia Quarterly Review – Summer, 2014)

Michael Lind – The New Class War
(American Affairs – Summer, 2017)

David Ramli Jack Ma Sees Decades of Pain as Internet Upends Older Economy
(Bloomberg.com – April 23, 2017)

Walter Scheidel The Only Thing, Historically, That’s Curbed Inequality: Catastrophe

(The Atlantic – February 21, 2017)

Yves SmithHow Financialization and the “New Economy” Hurt Science and Engineering Grads
(Naked Capitalism.com – May 12, 2017)

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The New Zero Sum Game: Social Status in America* in the 21st Century (The Aristocracy Reborn?)

Matt Stoller On Mocking Dying Working Class White People
(Medium.com – March 24, 2017)
Twitter: https://twitter.com/matthewstoller

Lambert Strether Frank Rich, the Trump Voter, and Liberal Eliminationist Rhetoric
(Naked Capitalism.com – March 27, 2017)
*And beyond.

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Avarice In the Guise of Altruism

Kevin D. WilliamsonWhy Corporate Leaders Became Progressive Activists
(National Review – March 13, 2017)

Michael Hobbes Saving the World, One Meaningless Buzzword at a Time
(Foreign Policy – February 21, 2017)

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Robotics and Jobs: The Unknown Future

Nicholas CarrThe Digital Industrial Complex
(Rough Type – May 12, 2017)

Nicholas Carr The Robot Paradox
(Rough Type – May 16, 2017)

Tyler CowenIndustrial Revolution Comparisons Aren’t Comforting
(Bloomberg.com – February 16, 2017)

Jack MaWorld Leaders Must Make ‘Hard Choices’ or the Next 30 Years Will be Painful (CNBC.com – June 21, 2017)

Cade Metz The AI Threat Isn’t Skynet, It’s the End of the Middle Class
(Wired – February 20, 2017)

Claire C. Miller The Long Term Jobs Killer is not China.  It’s Automation
(The New York Times – December 21, 2016)

Claire C. Miller Why Are We Doing This to Ourselves
(The New York Times – December 28, 2016)

Claire C. Miller How to Prepare for an Automated Future
(The New York Times – May 3, 2017)

Rick MoranThe Huge Economic Issue That Washington Isn’t Talking About
(Pajamas Media – February 12, 2017)

Clive Thompson The Next Big Blue-Collar Job Is Coding
(Wired – February 8, 2017)

Victoria TurkDon’t Fear the Robots Taking Your Job, Fear the Monopolies Behind Them
(Motherboard.com – June 19, 2014)

Marcus WohlsenWhen Robots Take All the Work, What’ll Be Left for Us to Do?
(Wired – August 8, 2014)

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From Prose to Power.  And, More Power.

Franklin FoerAmazon Must Be Stopped: It’s too big.  It’s cannibalizing the economy.  It’s time for a radical plan.
(The New Republic – October 9, 2014

George PackerCheap Words: Amazon is Good for Customers.  But Is It Good for Books?
(The New Yorker – February 17 and 24, 2014)

Matt StollerWhy We Need to Break Up Amazon… And How to Do It
(Medium.com – October 16, 2014)

Twitter: https://twitter.com/matthewstoller

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“Social” Media

Nicholas Carr Zuckerberg’s World
(Rough Type – February 28, 2017)

Nicholas CarrHow Technology Created A Global Village and Put Us at Each Other’s Throats
(The Boston Globe – April 21, 2017)

David FosterMark Zuckerberg as Political and Social Philosopher
(ChicagoBoyz.net – March 7, 2017)

Annalee Newitz Mark Zuckerberg’s Manifesto is a Political Trainwreck
(Arstechnica.com – February 18, 2017)

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Intelligence Or Wisdom

Andy BeckettAccelerationism – How a Fringe Philosophy Predicted the Future We Live In
(The Guardian – June 5, 2017)

Gregory Ferenstein The Disrupters: Silicon Valley elites’ vision of the future
(City Journal – Winter, 2017)

E.M. OblomovIntelligentsia Elegy: American Intellectuals are at Odds with the Workings of Democracy
(City Journal – February 3, 2017)

Paul G. RavenWe’re Reading Up on Transhumanism
(Arcfinity.com – 2014)

Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel Hail the Maintainers: Capitalism Excels at Innovation But is Failing at  Maintenance, and For Most Lives It Is Maintenance That Matters More
(Aeon.com – April 7, 2016)

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On a hopefully lighter (!) note, this post ends with two illustrations that graced the interior of the April 1966 issue of Galaxy, both of which complemented Jack Vance’s remarkable Hugo and Nebula Award winning novella, “The Last Castle”.  They’re by science-fiction artist Jack Gaughan.  They show a Phane and a Mek. 

To learn more, you can read about “The Last Castle” at Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, & Creased.

(For more literary illustrations, particularly from the “Golden Age” of science-fiction, you might want to visit: http://wordsenvisioned.com/.) [Shameless plug.]

Notes

(1) From Wikipedia:  New York City’s Transport Workers Union, and, Amalgamated Transit Union, called a strike against the city’s Transit Authority on January 1.  The strike was resolved by the 13th, through a package comprising, “wages increases from $3.18 to $4.14 an hour, an additional paid holiday, increased pension benefits, and other gains.”  The strike also resulted in the passage of the Taylor Law, which defined, “rights and limitations of unions for public employees in New York.”

(2) Also known as “ISI”; later “Thomson-ISI”, then the Intellectual Property & Science business of Thomson Reuters; now “Clarivate Analytics”.  The title of the enterprise’s next iteration – should one occur – is unknown.

References

New York City 1966 Transit Strike, at
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1966_New_York_City_transit_strike

Frederick Pohl (biography), at:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederik_Pohl

“The Last Castle” (by Jack Vance), at:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Castle_(novella)

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PHANE

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MEK

The Age of Advertising: Data Entry in 1943 – The National Cash Register Bookkeeping Machine

Before NCR was “NCR”, the company was appropriately known as the National Cash Register Corporation. After having been acquired by ATT in 1991, a 1996 restructuring of that firm led to the spin-off Lucent Technologies and NCR, with the firm being the only “spun-off” company that has retained its name.

This advertisement, from August 9, 1943, illustrates the company’s National Class 3000 Bookkeeping Machine.

The advertisement is quite simple in style and design.  A sketch of a model using an NC 3000 is repeated four times in the same illustration, giving an impression of “depth” and activity as in – well, quite appropriately! – an office setting.  An example of a neatly completed bill appears in the background.  

The full text of the advertisement appears at bottom.  Note the use of alpha-numeric telephone number prefixes (“CIrcle”, “MOtt”, and “CAnal”).

Here’s an illustration of an NC 3000 from the Office Museum website:

These two images – showing the front and rear of an NC 3000, on its stand – are from the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History website.  This example was manufactured in 1938 or 1939. 

Without machines to help them do this job, hundreds upon thousands of new bookkeepers would be needed to keep our records, and millions of man-hours would be stolen from our war effort.

National Typewriting-Bookkeeping Machines in industry, in business and in government are speeding record making and record keeping for the nation because they are simple and easy to operate…for they alone combine the standard adding machine and typewriter keyboards with full visibility of forms in the machines…  Any typist with a knowledge of an adding machine becomes a proficient operator with a few hours’ practice.

Nationals are flexible…for they can be changed to do all sorts of bookkeeping…like the statement you receive from the department store or the wholesaler…or for purchase records…payroll writing…posting general ledgers…and numerous other applications.

National Typewriting-Bookkeeping Machines, as well as all other National products and systems, save man-hours and provide protection over money and records for the bookkeeping of the nation.

National Accounting-Bookkeeping Machines may be secured by essential industries through priorities…  A stock of modern used National Cash Registers is also available for business needs.

The National Cash Register Company

CASH REGISTERS * ACCOUNTING – BOOKKEEPING MACHINES

40 ROCKEFELLER PLAZA, CIrcle 5-6300

321 EAST 149TH STREET, MOtt Haven 9-3323

138 BOWERY, CAnal 6-4906

References

Early Office Museum – Antique Special Purpose Typewriters, at http://www.officemuseum.com/typewriters_office_special.htm

Mathematical Treasure: National Class 3000 Bookkeeping Machine on Stand, at http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_694189

NCR Corporation, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NCR_Corporation

National Museum of American History – Bookkeeping Machines, at http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/object-groups/bookkeeping-machines/national

 

The Age of Advertising: General Electric and Television

On March 14, 1945, a few months prior to their advertisement promoting “Plastic” in both military and civilian contexts, GE ran an advertisement – with a similar 6-section graphic and textual design – presenting and explaining the economic, technical, and cultural aspects of “Television” for the postwar world.

In light of the world of 2017, there’s something almost quaint about the the content of and mindset behind this advertisement, exemplified by the description of the kind of programming that was expected to be available: studio stage shows; movies; sports events; news.  This was a natural reflection of the entertainment and informational “material” then available to the public, much already extant on radio.  Understandably, the ad’s writers could not have foreseen the technological, cultural, and economic changes that – acting in synergy – would sweep the world in the ensuing decades, and continue to do so now.  In their lack of knowledge about the future of entertainment, perhaps the copy-writers were fortunate.       

An example, perhaps, of the way that the manifestation and anticipated use of any new technology, is – at the time of the introduction of that technology – seen in the immediate intellectual context of that time itself. 

Q. What will sets cost after the war?
A. It is expected that set prices will begin around $200, unless there are unforeseen changes in manufacturing costs.  Higher priced models will also receive regular radio programs, and in addition FM and international shortwave programs.  Perhaps larger and more expensive sets will include built-in phonographs with automatic record changers.

Q. How big will television pictures be?
A. Even small television sets will probably have screen about 8 by 10 inches.  (That’s as big as the finest of pre-war sets.)  In more expensive television sets, screens will be as large as 18 by 24 inches.  Some sets may project pictures on the wall like home movies.  Naturally, pictures will be even clearer than those produced by pre-war sets.

Q. What kind of shows will we see?
A. All kinds.  For example:  (1) Studio stage shows – dancers, vaudeville, plays, opera, musicians, famous people.  (2) Movies – any moving picture can be broadcast to you by television.  (3) On-the-spot pick-up of sports events, parades, news happenings.  G.E. has already produced over 900 television shows over its station, WRGB, in Schenectady.

Q. Where can television be seen now?
A. Nine television stations are operating today – in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and Schenectady.  Twenty-two million people – about one-fifth of all who enjoy electric service – live in areas served by these stations.  Applications for more than 80 new television stations have been filed with the Federal Communications Commission.

Q. Will there be television networks?
A. Because television waves are practically limited by the horizon, networks will be accomplished by relay stations connecting large cities.  General Electric set up the first network five years ago, and has developed new tubes that make relaying practical.  G-E stations WRGB, since 1939, has been a laboratory for engineering and programming.

Q. What is G.E.’s part in television?
A. Back in 1923, a General Electric engineer, Dr. E.F.W. Alexanderson, gave the first public demonstration.  Before the war, G.E. was manufacturing both television transmitters and home receivers.  It will again build both after Victory.  Should you visit Schenectady, you are invited to WRGB’s studio to see a television show put on the air.

TELEVISION, another example of G-E research
Developments by General Electric scientists and engineers, working for our armed forces on land and sea and in the air, are helping to bring Victory sooner.  Their work in such new fields as electronics, of which television is an example, will help to bring you new products and services in peacetime years to follow.  General Electric Company, Schenectady, N.Y.

Hear the General Electric radio program:  “The G-E All-girl Orchestra,” Sunday 10 p.m. EWT, NBC – “The World Today” news, every weekday 6:45 p.m. EWT, CBS.

Technology, Work, and The Future I: The View From The New Republic, 1947 – The Past As Prologue

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” –

 – “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Akin to my earlier post about discovering photographs of the ditching of Julius Brownstein’s F4F Wildcat, the following article – from 1947 – was also found by chance:  While randomly perusing – on 35mm microfilm – issues of The New Republic from the 1940s.

Written almost seventy years ago, the article by Thomas Whiteside – covering the introduction and effect of what were then “new”, if not revolutionary, technological changes – FM radio, advances in typesetting and television broadcasting, and even a remarkable intimation of fax and email – upon long-existing methods for the production, communication, and distribution of information, is as relevant today as when it appeared in December of 1947.

The article is transcribed verbatim, and appears below, including reproductions of two cartoons in the original item.  One depicts a farmer leisurely riding a tractor, on which is mounted a video monitor via which he can view live entertainment – 1947 style wifi?  The other is an allegory on technological displacement, showing a fully autonomous linotype machine (1947 style AI?) perched atop a forlorn trio of businessman / typesetter / beret-wearing, black-clad, bongo-less “beatnik” musician.

Though he provides a very clear; very lucid account of the technological nature and effects – potential, and very real – of advances in information technology, Whiteside only devotes his three final paragraphs to possible solutions for the “human” effects of this technology on those whose lives were long-dependent on the creation, production, and distribution of text and music:  Technological and vocational obsolescence; collaboration between government and the private sector, in a search for solutions to the effects of such changes; retraining.

Perhaps this brevity should be respected, for the solutions to such issues were, and perhaps have always been, far more easily addressed in words and proposals; plans and ideas, than concrete solutions.

There was something quaint and fascinating about this article on first reading.  Then, something more was apparent, eerily and movingly relevant to its “core” idea: How can man (“man” as an individual; “man” as a community or nation; “man” as an abstract concept) adjust to and keep pace with the inevitability of technological change, in a world where he very much defines himself by his dependence on, use of, and adaptation to that technology?

The fundamental and underlying topic of this article – What is to become of people? – is as relevant now, in 2017, as it was some seven decades ago.  (Well, it has always been relevant.) 

If not more.

For if technological change is a given, two other aspects of that “change – possibly unforeseen in 1947 – are the accelerating pace of that change, and, the realization that technological change can be generated and perpetuated by that technology itself, in the form of artificial intelligence.  Though it as impossible as it is naive to draw a “straight line” – a historically straight, deterministic, line of inevitability, that is – from the present to the future, or, let alone congruently “map” the present onto the events of the past, it would seem that our world has been undergoing a revolution – a cognitive and social revolution, at least – that has the potential to be as wrenching, in its own quiet way, as was the “first” industrial revolution. 

Perhaps it is well that we do not know the outcome – if there is to be an outcome.

And so; and then; on second reading, I was reminded of notable articles and essays, and some academic papers about this topic, that have appeared in the past few years.  The authors and titles of these items (44 items by 38 authors, all with links) are listed following Whiteside’s article.  You may heartily agree with some of these items, vehemently disagree with others, and ponder more than a few.  (On occasion, one can find gem-like insights – here and there – in the talk-back strings to some of these writings.) 

Regardless, they’re all provocative.

– Michael G. Moskow

Communications Revolution

Thomas Whiteside

The New Republic
December 15, 1947

Petrillo’s record ban and the Typographer’s strike fit into the pattern of an industry facing job-shaking changes.

FOR A NICKEL, the American juke-box not only plays music, but also glows, bubbles and changes color.  At the present time, the crowned heads of the jukebox industry are undergoing not dissimilar facial transformations.  The cause of their chafer is the decision of James C. Petrillo’s American Federation of Musicians (AFL) to stop making recordings after December 31, when Petrillo’s present contracts with the recording companies expire.  Without new records, the country’s 600,000 jukeboxes gradually will be silenced – a severe blow not only to the high schools of America but to me whole complex jukebox economy, from Wurlitzer Hall to Joe’s Diner.

But important though it be, the dislocation of this jumping $500 million business is symptomatic of a technological crisis now spreading through the entire communications industry, from music and radio to photoengraving and typesetting.  For the public, the revolutionary new techniques will open an era in which, for instance, newspapers will be circulated by radio and in which common mail may be carried electronically by a special television process.  But for the 500,000 people now employed in the mass-communications industry, these same techniques will mean widespread unemployment and the need to turn to entirely new skills.

Perhaps the most widely heralded indication of this looming crisis, and one which will be used here as the first of several examples, has been the dire predicament of James C. Petrillo.

In the current American language, the very word Petrillo has become so enriched with connotations as to be used to frighten small children.  Petrillo himself is comparatively oblivious to the catalogue of abuse which has been compiled by the press to describe his motivations.  He sees only one problem, overwhelming and immediate: the job protection of his 225,000 union members.  He sees no reason why he should encourage the development of a system whereby a musician is replaced by a lump of wax.

This stern philosophy has previously led him to prohibit – in the absence of what he considered proper pay – the services of his musicians over two efficient and rapidly expanding media of communication, FM and television.  His decision to ban the making of new recordings by members of his union will cost him dearly.  In the first place, his 6,000 recording artists stand to lose $5 million annually in wages.  Second, Petrillo’s union will lose a considerable part of record royalties previously paid into his $2 million annual welfare fund.  (The latter loss, however, is directly due to the Taft-Hartley Act, which prohibits employer contributions to union welfare funds except under conditions unacceptable to most self-respecting unions.)  Petrillo’s long-range risk is more serious, for the sale of records in America has had much to do with the growing American appetite for music, good and otherwise.

Such over-all considerations, however, have little effect on Petrillo, or many another union leader in a similar spot.  Petrillo intends to maintain full, profitable employment for what he fondly calls “my boys,” even if the process involves a fight against new technology.  Under present conditions, there are simply too many musicians for available jobs.  Petrillo himself recently predicted that unless a halt were called on recordings, the phonograph needle would gouge many thousands of musicians out of the industry within a few months.

But the ups and downs of the man with the fiddle in the worn black case affect a whole industrial complex which he can hardly oversee.  In point of fact, Petrillo’s decision to stop recordings may save the jobs of many musicians, but it will also probably affect the livelihood of some thousands of people in the recording and related companies, many of them war-born.  A shortage of recordings could cut into the radio-phonograph industry, the 12,000 record shops now existing in the country and, to some extent, the plastics industry.

Petrillo and FM.

In view of Petrillo’s insistence on “live” performances by his musicians, his recent decision to prohibit the duplication of network programs on FM stations is looked on by many FM broadcasters as a technique of cutting off his nose to spite his face.  The more forward-looking of the FM broadcasters, who realize that they have a medium ideally suited for operation by the small businessman, argue that if Petrillo helped FM, he would also help break up the quasi-monopoly now enjoyed by the major conventional radio networks.  They point out that the development of FM – there are currently about 350 FM stations on the air – will also mean the employment of more musicians.

At present, the structure of AM, or conventional radio, with its imperial system of high-powered, unobstructed, clear-channel stations, makes the creation of further national AM networks, and thus the employment of additional staffs, a virtual impossibility.  The introduction of FM, the wonder medium of staticless, high-fidelity radio transmission, opens the door for the building of as many as 3,000 new radio stations in the country, and possibly 20 new networks employing some 50,000 people.  More important, it gives the listener new opportunities to hear kinds of programs seldom broadcast by the conventional networks.

The opportunity for employment of many hundreds by promoting classical music over FM is a good example.  The grand vizier of conventional radio, Hooper, to whom all account executives bow low, so far has given the big networks a discouraging report on classical music.  Beethoven’s Hooper is not generally high enough to warrant serious consideration by such determinants of popular culture as the makers of Ex-Lax, Kix or Serutan, even were his name to be spelled backwards.  Numerically, however, the audience for good music is large.  Within two or three years it would be economically quite feasible for an enterprising group to establish an FM network specializing in classical-music broadcasts.

FM broadcasters point out that there are many other minority interests which can be reached, to the profit of public and musicians alike, by the new medium.  But the entire development of FM is now being retarded by the fight between Petrillo and the networks.  Apparently Petrillo feels that too many FM frequencies have been grabbed up by conventional radio interests and that to allow his musicians to broadcast over FM would in effect strengthen the power of his network enemies.  Unfortunately, the FM groups to suffer will not be the wealthy entrenched interests but the groups of veterans who have ventured into FM with high hopes and slim purses.  According to the Frequency Modulation Association, 95 percent of all FM stations are losing money.  Well established AM stations can afford to operate their FM outlets at a loss.  The small, independent operators, on the other hand, who find themselves completely at the mercy of “the natural flow of economic forces,” are bitter at what they consider Petrillo’s shortsightedness in failing to consider their problems and, in the long haul, his own.

Old versus new.

But the Petrillo affair is only the beginning of the kind of strife into which the entire communications industry is likely to be forced as a technological revolution sweeps in.  Every industry in America, of course, faces dislocations of employment and of skills as new labor-saving machinery is invented and produced.  But the communications industry has a status and importance peculiarly its own in that it carries or produces not mere goods but the words and symbols on which a democratic people heavily relies for its social and political decisions.

If an iceman discourages trade in refrigerators, the housewife along his route will suffer, at worst, inconvenience.  But if a printers’ union blocks a new system of printing without linotype machines, it may deprive hundreds of small towns of a cheap, efficient and hitherto unavailable news service.

Almost every facet of the communications industry is facing just this kind of problem.  An inkling of developments around the corner came to the public eve in the recent strike of the Chicago Typographical Union against six Chicago newspapers over conditions of employment.  A few years ago a similar strike would have completely crippled the newspapers.  Actually, as the strike progressed, newspaper circulation in Chicago was scarcely affected.  The newspapers called in batteries of office girls who typed out the news columns on ordinary paper.  The typed sheets were pasted together and photo-engraved without need of linotype operators.

A similar system has been employed for several months by John. H. Perry (see the NR, November 17) to produce some of the newspapers in his Florida chain.  Perry by-passes the linotyping and stereotyping processes by photo-engraving and the use of self-justifying typewriters which space out an even, full line.  Perry also uses girl typists rather than linotype operators.  The finished photo-engraved newspaper differs little in appearance from the standard product.  There is not the slightest doubt that the extension of this new, cheap and efficient printing system would cause widespread unemployment among linotype operators.

Teletype and facsimile.

The lino-typists face considerable trouble, too, in the introduction of the teletypesetting machine, which automatically sets type by remote control from a master machine many miles away.  In a newspaper chain, for example, every tele-typesetting machine installed will tend to replace a linotype operator.  Another threat to the typographical unions comes from the rapid development of facsimile reproduction, familiar to all newspaper readers in the form of wirephotos.  The potential achievements of facsimile were dramatically shown in the spring of 1945, when the New York Times facsimiled special editions by wire to the West Coast during the San Francisco Conference.  Again the basic process was photoengraving.  The typographical unions are expected to fight hard against the spreading of the facsimile system.

As a hedge against unemployment, the International Typographical Union recently appropriated a rumored $300,000 to found and operate its own newspapers, thereby providing work for linotype operators displaced by new processes.  Meanwhile, it evidently intends to right development of the facsimile system.  Many employers are jittery about using facsimile for fear of offending the powerful printing unions.

An example of this nervousness can be seen in the printing of stock-market reports in three Eastern newspapers.  Normally, these stock-market reports arrive in the form of tape, which has to be retyped by girls before being sent to the composing room.  This retyping process involves incredibly tedious work and a high percentage of error.  To reduce errors, an organization specializing in facsimile suggested that the original texts be facsimiled into the newspaper office by coaxial cable.  The facsimile text, it proposed, could then be photo-engraved for insertion in the newspaper without passing through the intermediary stages of copying and linotyping.  The companies involved refused even to consider the possibility on the grounds of possible hostility from the unions.

Understandable though the union position is in a situation like this, the fact remains that retarding the development of facsimile will also retard new kinds of employment.  Wired facsimile, for instance, is likely to be followed by radio-borne facsimile.  Then the owner of a facsimile set could receive printed spot news and features in his own home merely by tuning in to his local radio station.  Commercial facsimile is already due to start by the beginning of the year, when 15 of the country’s leading papers will begin transmitting newspapers by radio.  Within a few fears, the number of participating stations may run into the hundreds, with appropriate increase in demand for news staffs and skilled groups to handle the self-justifying typewriters on which facsimile news copy will be set.

Television boom.

An even greater promise of new employment is offered by television, now entering a boom period.  One television official estimates that within five years the television industry will provide jobs for 300,000 people.  Assuming a total use of five million television sets in that period, he estimates that television maintenance, installation and service would bring work to some 85,000 – or three times the number of radio service workers employed today, white at the end of the first full television year the dollar volume of replacement parts would reach fin annual figure of $220 million.”

Another television executive predicted that television will be doing a business involving $6 billion in capital investments, or more than double the total capital invested today in the motion-picture industry.  Whether or not these estimates are over-optimistic, they give a good indication of extremely rapid television expansion.  Television officials expect immediate demand for new skills.  There are very firm indications, for example, that the wire services, such as the Associated Press and the United Press, will barge into the field of television news coverage.  The AP already has begun a television newsreel service for broadcast over Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York television stations.  There are also indications that major papers will take steps to begin their own newspaper television networks.

Video networks.

Opening of microwave relay stations between New York and Boston to carry television programs marks the start of a nationwide microwave network.  Such a network will throw wide the radio spectrum to almost every conceivable type of communication.  The invention of a new technique of broadcasting, known as Pulse-Time Modulation, will allow dozens of programs to he carried on the same radio frequency simultaneously.  It will mean that perhaps within 15 years an Iowa farmer may tune in his radio to choose not one, but any of 20 AM, FM or television programs relayed simultaneously over his local radio station. Yet within the same period, Pulse-Time Modulation may also reduce almost to obsolescence the standard land-line telephone system used today, and thus dislocate thousands of conventional telephone workers.

The development of another new device for radio transmission, known as Ultrafax and combining the principles of television and motion-picture photography, brings possibilities for the transmission of written material at the extraordinary rate of a million words a minute.  Should Ultrafax live up to its potentialities as shown in laboratory tests, it could revolutionize the whole post-office system by making possible a vast electronic V-mail Service.

Promise and threat.

Such is the promise – and to unions, the threat – of new means of mass communication in the coming era.  The transition will be hard, perhaps chaotic.  Realization of the revolutionary nature of the devices involved is causing a good deal of speculation by labor specialists in the industry as to the manner in which orderly progress into the new technological age will be made.  Some of them feel that it is time for the formation of an over-all commission composed of every segment of the communications industry and of government.

Such a commission, they believe, should provide the facilities to teach workers thrown out of jobs by one machine to use another, to provider proper unemployment relief for those no longer employable and to steer young workers into the most rapidly, expanding fields of employment within the industry.

“A man is apt to get pretty mad when he sees a mechanical man moving in alongside him in a shop,” remarked a communications unionist.  “If government and industry can sit down with us and look at the problem as a long-range one, then particularize and help us straighten this thing out in an orderly way, the workers, the industry and the public are going to be a lot better off, and a lot sooner.”

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Man, Technology and the Future

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