It’s simply amazing how important new technologies have become in our lives, and how rapidly those technologies are changing and evolving. At this rate, it is safe to say that there are many industries that may become completely obsolete within the next decade, because of new opportunities and possibilities becoming realized through emerging technologies. In fact, we can already see this happening before our eyes. This sample informal essay will start by providing some historical context, and then it will proceed to consider some examples of industries that may become obsolete. Finally, the essay will consider the potential future of such industries.
Industries that will be obsolete in a decade due to technology
How many people still remember what a floppy disk is? At its time, this was an innovative way to transfer digital data. With the rise of CDs and other devices, the floppy disk would seem to have been consigned to the dustbin of history. And now, with cloud storage and fast Internet connections having become widely available, many newer computers don’t even come with CD drives anymore (or cars for that matter).
The music industry
Or perhaps, one could consider the music industry. People used to buy vinyl records, and this was the only way they could listen to music and not wait on the radio to play a particular song. Then came cassettes, and then came CDs. But by now, how many people actual buy CDs? Or for that matter, how many people even actually buy music at all, in the sense of paying a fixed price for an individual album? With the rise of streaming services, most music consumption these days is done through subscriptions that give the customer access to a whole vast library of music, for one flat and affordable monthly rate.
These are examples of how new technologies tend to push out old ones—and how new technologies could even push out entire industries that were dependent on the dominance of the old technologies.
The publishing industry
Publishing is another example of this. With all the information that’s available through the Internet for free, there are relatively few people these days who find it worthwhile to pay for news at all, let alone pay for a perishable copy of a physical newspaper. This is why many media outlets, such as The Atlantic, have switched their business models more toward online subscriptions (White, paragraph 8).
Even then, the question remains: how many people still really believe that news is worth paying for? Granted, subscriptions for many media outlets have spiked in the aftermath of the 2016 American presidential election; but there is no reason to think that this is reflective of a long-term trend. The fact is that given how easily information can be found on the Internet in these times, the newspaper industry may have difficult times coming out ahead. Many outlets need to turn to offering content for free, and making money solely through advertising.
Staying on the subject of publishing, we could also discuss what may be the fate of the book—as in, a physical book, with ink printed on pages and bound with a cover. More and more people would seem to prefer reading things through e-reader devices, such as the Nook or the Kindle (that is, if they even bother reading at all). Many people would seem to find this to be more convenient than having to carry around a physical book, and it probably also seems more familiar to them. Even more so today, given how much time the average person today spends in front of one screen or another.
The profit margin for publishers may also be a draw, given that transmitting a digital file to the customer does not entail any production cost. If these trends keep up, then old-fashioned publishing may well be on its way out. There will, of course, always be people who write things, and there will be others whose work is to make those writings accessible to the public. Currently, any random person could conceivably publish anything if wants on his own in digital format: there would be no production cost, and the Internet is democratic like that. This could signal the end of publishing as we’ve known it.
And while we’re on the subject of books, how about libraries? Even professional researchers and writers seldom go to an actual physical library anymore. After all, why would they? Almost all the information they could find at a library is more readily accessible to them through the Internet. When writing a research paper, for example, the student can simply access online databases to retrieve journal or magazine articles, as opposed to going to the physical library and digging up an actual physical copy of the publication.
This is extremely convenient. Likewise, companies such as Amazon tend to offer many books at such affordable prices (especially in e-reader format) that many people may decide that they’d be better off just buying the books they need, as opposed to going through the trouble of visiting the library and attempting to find the books using the library’s admittedly often archaic filing systems.
Transportation industry changed by technology
In transportation, we have already seen how technology has helped completely disrupt the traditional taxi cab industry. Really, who right now, living in a metropolitan area, can even remember life before Lyft and Uber? The ridesharing software was pioneering, something that no one had seen before; and the taxi cab industry was clearly not equipped to deal with the change. Of course, the argument could be made that this was the taxi cab industry’s own fault.
It would seem that they had been offering terrible service for a long time, out of a complacent sense of security, having no real competitors in the market place (Edwards, paragraph 2). Nevertheless, it is clear enough that without the new technology, the disruption staged by the ridesharing companies would have never been possible. And now there is clearly no going back.
Phasing out the film industry
Let’s turn our attention to the film industry. When is the last time you saw a movie in an actual theater? If it was recently, then you may be part of what is emerging as a minority. It seems that in this day and age, many people—especially younger people—would greatly prefer to just watch movies and tv in the comforts of their homes through streaming/subscription services or whatnot, as opposed to going through all the trouble to go out to the theater.
Some stakeholders in the movie industry have also recently been toying with the concept of enabling customers to stream new movies on the same day that the movies are released in theaters—which would clearly cut the theaters out of the economic picture altogether. The theaters probably wouldn’t accept such a situation without a fight. Nevertheless, if current trends continue, then it is very much possible that the movie industry will figure out a way to give customers what they want, and many movie theaters may be forced to call it quits.
Does all this mean that we’re looking at a future where there will be no more printed books and no more physical movie theaters? Well, not necessarily. The case of vinyl records should comfort anyone who feels afraid of this emerging brave new world. It is true that the vast majority of music consumers no longer listen to music through gramophones. But nevertheless, it is also true that record shops still exist, and that there are dedicated customers who make a point of patronizing such shops. It is easy to see how the same may eventually become true of books.
Perhaps most people will movie onto the purely digital format; but there will clearly be a substantial number of purist customers who would refuse to go along with this game, and who would insist on buying old-fashioned, printed books. And shops that could serve that customer base would surely continue to exist. The disruptions we are talking about in this essay are at the macro level, or at the scale of the dominant trends within society in general. Within that context, however, a free economy almost guarantees that niches will continue to persist, as long as there are still customers who wish to inhabit them.
Edwards, Jim. “Uber Has Changed My Life, and As God Is My Witness I Will Never Take a Taxi Again.” Business Insider. 22 Jan. 2014. Web. 4 Aug. 2017. .
White, Gillian B. “Emerson Collective Acquires Majority Stake in The Atlantic.” The Atlantic. 28 Jul. 2017. Web. 4 Aug. 2017. .