Until a few weeks ago, I would pay a student worker in a kiosk adjacent to the parking ramp where I have a meeting each Friday and have a ticket validated before returning to my car and exiting the garage. The facility changed to an automated system earlier this year and as I passed the empty kiosk with its venetian blind pulled down behind the cash-handling window, I thought about who might now be out of a job because of this latest “advance.” Perhaps it was on my mind because of a snippet of a story I heard this morning on NPR about all of the telephone operators that were fired in the 1930s as AT&T switched over to an automated system.
Technology has steadily displaced human workers, moving workers from manufacturing to service industries. This is a form of progress and for the most part is positive. But if we don’t need the parking lot attendant, or the delivery driver (because of automated drone-executed deliveries), if we don’t need the service sector jobs, what sector will the human move to next?
The arts are not as easily automated as a parking garage. This “inefficiency,” of course, is at the root of “cost disease,” which, in a nutshell refers to the fact that in certain fields (think symphony orchestras) as labor costs rise there is not – nor can there be -a concomitant increase in labor efficiency; technology won’t reduce the number of musicians it takes to perform Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony live. But it isn’t Baumol’s cost disease that I was thinking about as I considered the displacement of the garage attendant – it was the spiritual dimension of art itself.
Let’s put economics aside for a few minutes. If art is a way of knowing and understanding the world, it is because it connects with humanity at its essence. An artist connects with her/his audience intuitively, emotionally. As hard as the economics of art-making may be [damn! I couldn’t leave it alone], artists cannot be automated out of their work. The bar is raised, however, on creating the authentic connections between people and their world so that that world understands the true value of the arts.
(image: Draper Station parking payment kiosk by An Errant Knight, Creative Commons license (this is a wikimedia commons image and not a picture of the ramp referenced above))