Online shopping – for books, movies, music – makes everything available. But why you want particular things is changing, and not for the better…
“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.
“These places speak to people outside urban bohemians. Poet and critic Dana Gioia, the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, grew up in the ’50s, in the rough Southern California town of Hawthorne, with parents who lacked college degrees. “When I was a little kid, there was a used bookstore every 10 blocks,” he recalls. “There would be some grumpy old man running it: If you came in a couple of times he’d comment on your books — not in a charming way that you’d put in a movie. But it showed you that other people read and had opinions; it was a socialization. So much of culture is chance encounters between human beings.”
“There’s a bigger, more tangible dimension to all of this: The death of the clerk as cultural curator is part of a larger move by which computers are putting educated “knowledge workers” out of jobs. It’s not just the guy on the assembly line, now – it’s the autodidact at the bookstore. Next, they’re coming for librarians – many of whom are dreaded “public employees.”
“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.”