Who are the next victims of creative destruction?

Do you think there has been a lot of yelling and screaming as digital technology has transformed the world of photography (and more recently video?) You are right! But, in the eyes of some, the worst is yet to come. The next victim(s) of creative destruction are going to put up a huge stink as they go sadly into technological oblivion. Their yelling and screaming will make the ruckus that photographers raised pale by comparison.

By way of background, creative destruction is a term popularized by the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter in his book “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy” to denote a “…process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.”

If you read much of the latest business and technology news you know that the technology for speech recognition and automated editing, spell checking and grammar checking are rapidly improving. Creative destruction’s next victim, spurred by these new technologies, will be the world of writing.

I say this because soon the upward arc of that technology will “intersect” with the downward arc of our declining demand for quality writing. When techno-authoring intersects with “dumbing down” of the media, professional writers will start to become a thing of the past.

Much like in photography, the high-end practitioners in the writing world will survive. But the mass market of writers doing public relations work, creating simple ads, producing basic newspaper journalism, etc., they are largely doomed. The new technology will rapidly remove the barriers that have kept most people, who love to talk, from becoming writers. Those “barriers to entry” are the fact that writers need to type out their ramblings (like me) and in particular, they need to revise/edit their work (like me.) Once the technology reduces or eliminates those two challenges for aspiring writers, watch out!

Though it seems today as if everyone and their mother blogs (and writes books) those writers still have to actually write out (type) their musings. The creation of technologies that eliminate the need for that typing as well as the editing will surely unleash a tsunami of new writing. Will that writing be good or bad? Probably mostly bad! Will new talents be discovered? Undoubtedly! Will younger upstarts displace established masters? Without question! Will the displaced older generation complain about how the new stars lack the skill, grace and artistry that they built their careers upon? Of course! Will the next generation pay appropriate homage to those who preceded them? Not a chance. Will the experiences of writers bear a shocking resemblance to that of photographers? I would put money on that!

If history is any guide, I doubt that writers will deign to heed any lessons learned by photographers. I base this on extensive experience in the publication world, one cultural sphere where photographers and writers directly interact. I have (and still do) work with some excellent writers who respect photography. But they are the exception to the rule. In the world of publications, there is generally a hierarchy and photographers are almost never at the top of that pyramid. Photographers are generally held in such low regard that most writers would not condescend to take serious advice from photographers.

Not that I am sure photographers can offer any real advice. I would simply say that such change is inevitable and the survivors (in any field) are the ones who embrace and adapt to the change rather than fighting it. That is certainly what happened in photography, from where I sit.

Yes, improving technology will soon reach the point where it will start displacing people who make their living organizing information in general and their thoughts in particular. I am not writing about this to gloat, but rather to point out how the recent changes in photography fit within a larger context of creative destruction and it’s accompanying rapid (and relentless) change.

Maybe, some of the many folks who are pouring into the overly diluted pool of photographers will instead turn their creative urges to writing. That might be a good thing for them (and for those of us who are photographers.) On the other hand photographers have been asking to be left alone for decades. Back in 1897, Alfred Stieglitz, wrote, “Photography as a fad is well-nigh on its last legs, thanks principally to the bicycle craze.”

One response to “Who are the next victims of creative destruction?”

  1. the internet is a big content machine that keeps demanding more and more new content.

    In my humble opinion, content, content content + creative destruction of the quality of that content = bread and circuses

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