Monday, December 19, 2011

The Death Of Clerks (And Civilization As We Know It)

How does the demise of the clerk (video store, bookstore, record store, etc.) lead to the end of civilization? Salon has a really interesting article on the subject, casting the clerk as a vital mediator and disseminator of culture currently endangered by automated systems and the Internet:

"The years following the 2008 market crash have been hard on many people. But due to other transitions in the economy and culture – the continued trickling-up of wealth to the very top, the “storm of innovation” unleashed by the Internet, a growing faux-populist disregard for expertise — certain sectors have been hit harder than others. Shop clerks, however erudite, don’t fit into the most influential definition of “the creative class” – urban scholar Richard Florida considers these folks members of the service class, about which he is not optimistic. But they’ve been, over the decades, important conduits between consumers and culture — and a training ground and meeting spot for some of our best writers, filmmakers and bands."
Bookstores and video rental shops were also places that creative people, in-between jobs and/or trying to find themselves, would flock to. Yeah, it was sort of like a service-job...in an awesome place filled with culture! I worked at a video store my first years in college, and the constant flow of movies -- many of them indie/experimental/foreign -- provided a sort of inspiration/distraction from my more mundane duties. Best of all were the lively discussions me and my co-workers would have with the regular customers, recommending our favorite films and learning about new ones.

Now that many of these types of stores are just about history or struggling to survive, the people who thrived in these jobs turn to the very avenue that has made their occupations irrelevant -- the Internet. The unpaid blogger replaces the culture-savvy clerk, once again becoming Culture Nexus. Only this time, unless they monetize their site in a significant way or a paid gig -- they aren't making their income doing so. Big difference:

"In a world of rapid technological advance, where even some highly trained lawyers and medical pathologists are in trouble, the humble clerk doesn’t stand a chance. The out-of-work video store clerk, blogging in his bedroom for free, may be a kind of canary in the cultural coal mine. We don’t always get warnings before our livelihood – or our lives – suddenly change. But the signs today, of a new kind of creative destruction, are getting harder and harder to ignore."

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