Can the Old Become New Again Online?

Last week, WSJ.com published a story on how the education system is facing a massive shift due to Image of a road sign indicating a new directionthe impact of the web. The fact that do-it-yourselfers can promote their own services online today (like the guitar teacher mentioned in the article who streams free video lessons to up to 1,500 people from his basement), coupled with the new ways that young people learn in a digital age, poses a potential threat to the number of teachers and educational institutions that will be needed in the future.

Yet, it appears that almost every major industry has been impacted by the web in some way – from music to publishing, banking and business, healthcare and education. But does this mean that there will be fewer jobs in the future? Or, will jobs simply change and adapt as a result of new technologies?

The CBC.ca recently posted a video from its 1960s archives which discusses automation and how computers could eventually wipe out millions of jobs in the future. But that’s not exactly what happened. Instead, many jobs that existed in the 1960s simply shifted and evolved as new technologies made way for different career paths. Thankfully, the “calamitous unemployment” crisis, as the video suggests would happen by 1970, was averted.

The publishing industry is an interesting example of how old jobs (like those of long-form feature writers that have disappeared to a certain extent) may simply be transformed as a result of new digital technologies. Over the past ten years, news publications were pressured to offer their web content for free because online advertising revenues were skyrocketing and the expectation was that digital ads would supplement a sharp decline in print subscriptions (because everyone was going online). As a result, online content shifted to a shorter, more blog-style format – partially due to the timeliness of the web, users’ attention spans and competition from people who were publishing their own blogs for free (using new self-publishing platforms like WordPress).

However, thanks to the introduction of social media and tablets, which played a role in the increase in readership of publications like The New Yorker, the demand for longer form content is growing online, as this PandoDaily story implies. Consequently, an entirely new generation of long-form feature writers may soon emerge to produce “New Yorker-style” content for publications that might soon be able to pay for it.

You see, because online advertising revenues have not kept pace with the needs of news publications to stay afloat, pay walls are about to go up on almost all of the major online Canadian news publications (TheStar.com is the most recent publication to announce that it will follow suit). And if these publications see a turn-around in subscription revenues, as the New York Times has recently achieved, people may finally be forced to pay to access content on the web – as they did in the past with newspapers. Although, I believe that the way that people pay for online content could still evolve.

So, it seems that the more some things change because of the Internet, the more they may return to the same as before – just slightly altered or enhanced for a digital audience. Do you agree? Will the Internet wipe out jobs or just create new demands for skills that have been temporarily lost? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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