Jobs of Yesteryear

NPR did a report on the Jobs of Yesteryear– jobs that have basically become extinct, almost all because of technological advances. Some are things we are obviously better off without, like pinsetters at bowling alleys (a game must have taken forever) and lamplighters (what happens if he gets hit by lightning and doesn’t finish lighting the lamps?). But others are things that seem to actually be better with a human face- elevator operators, milkmen, typesetters, and switchboard operators. Who doesn’t secretly long for the days when you just picked up the phone and told Barb at the phone company who you needed to speak to and then had Ernie take you down in the elevator on your way to work?

The job that I think we would benefit the most from still having around, and the job that I would covet: lector. These were people, usually men, who would read to cigar makers. This practice originated in Cuba, where it continues today. The lectors would often read the news or political tracts. This was well before radios were available and most of the workers were illiterate, so the lectors’ job was quite important and prestigious (at least among the workers).

Old Cuban postcard showing lector reading to workers

I think this would be a wonderful job to have. I could read all day long without anyone thinking poorly of me (I still don’t understand how someone can think spending a whole day reading is a waste of a day). I would be doing a valuable service by keeping people informed and also sharing the joy of novels with them. Ah, bliss!


3 thoughts on “Jobs of Yesteryear

  1. A few comments I wanted to mention, and I understand the power of reading. I love to read as well as gather as much info as I can about subjects that interest me the most. Personally I fell out of love with dead tree books, but still need them for most of my subject matter.

    Have you consider getting a Kindle?

    When I tell people that I am a Coppersmith, they lean over and say huh? Many trades have been replaced by machines, and trades continue to die as technology, machines and math combine together. However in many countries the trades we here in the western world are losing, they continue to teach and pass the trade on.

  2. I’ve seriously considered an e-reader, especially the Kindle. When I was traveling a lot, it would have been a godsend. But for various reasons, I just can’t make the switch yet.

    One of those is purely selfish: I love the physicality of books. I love their weight and their smell and how they look piled precariously on my nightstand. I love being able to walk through a cafe and see the covers of books that people are reading. I love to peruse bookstores for new books. I love the excitement of used bookstore discoveries.

    The others are more general: I like supporting bookstores and not Amazon (although sometimes Amazon is a necessary evil). I don’t like relying on technology to work in order to read a book- I am notorious for finding ways to destroy electronic gadgets. I like borrowing books from the library.

    Most importantly though, I can’t spend $300+ on an e-reader without having nightmares about all the books (or even chicken feed) I could have bought with that money!

  3. I’ve been lucky to meet a lot of people in undeveloped countries who are still working in many of our “forgotten trades.” Metalworking especially. I just love to watch people work at it. If you ever get the chance, go to Africa or India and just hang out around metal shops. They are doing some amazing things with recycled metal (like from car hoods).

    One of my good friends is a glassblower. She does amazing stuff. I love things that are practical AND artistic.

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