In the course of reading various articles today I’ve heard about a magazine editor losing her job and the shrinking professional photography industry. For many people, especially those of us who write, shoot, and publish frequently (and perhaps for money), this is not new news. But the fact that these issues are coming up more and more frequently (and all on the same day) makes you wonder about where these industries are going.
In speaking with my roommate’s father, a Seattle-based commercial photographer in the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s, it seems that the work that was once split up between about 20 people is now split between over 200. Yes, there are definitely more people and more things to take pictures of, but the internet has allowed for more people to be accessed than phonebooks previously did, and the current affordability of publishing tools has allowed for more people to become photographers (or editors/writers/take your pick). I don’t necessarily regard this as a bad thing, but then again, I’m only 20 and still sheltered by being in school.
I very much value the way that people think with, through and about media and mediated interactions. I enjoy how more people (in and out of my generation) are taking to digital space and allowing for interactions to happen there. We are sharing our lives online via words and images. The main opportunity (“because there are no such things as problems…”) that this presents is for a flattening of traditional top-down media hierarchies and the rise of things like citizen journalism and the blending of the amateur and professional class (at least in appearance). While this has severe consequences on the lives of many in a number of industries, it should also be looked at as a chance for us to evaluate how and where we get our information and what jobs are essential as we move forward into this increasingly digital era. What are the skills that we expect of all people, versus the skills that are still specialized?
With the increase of media literacy in younger and younger generations, as well as forums and “free” lessons about things like photography online, a person with a computer and internet access can essentially teach themselves (with practice) to be very good at a number of skills that used to be quite specialized. I’m not saying that the value of these skills has become less, or that people can become professionals overnight, but learning how to use a camera or make a video is not as out of our reach as it once was. It is now becoming expected of us, and as we learn these skills, we are less willing to pay others to use them, even if they can do so to a much greater extent than we can.
None of this is to say that people are losing jobs because they are incompetent. In fact it is quite the opposite. Society is just gaining more skills, and access to cheaper services, that is causing these issues. Perhaps we were charging too much before, or perhaps we are becoming too thrifty now, but either way, times are definitely changing.