While this is undoubtedly a popular notion, it’s really problematic. Certain industries are undeniably killed by innovation. Few apprentice as typesetters any more, and with few exceptions, you would be smart not to consider doing so.
But the arts rarely lose out from innovation in the long term. His example is telling. While yes, you can now order a pizza by phone or app, the innovation of pizza by delivery did not put gourmet restaurants and chefs who serve artisanal pizzas out of work. To the contrary, the popularization of pizza by delivery gave rise to a thriving industry in which there is a sustainable and profitable niche for “pizza artists.”
The issue I have with the letter overall is that only certain skills can be commoditized. You might as well decry the rise of photoshop for putting a legion of skilled artisans out of work, their actual physical airbrushes and paper knives and drafting tables forever relegated to the dustbin of industries now dead. But you don’t, because you and many other graphic and visual artists adopted this new technology, and many more gained access to the craft who could never have afforded to participate in it before. This drove more consumers to an understanding of the industry’s potential, and that, in turn, doubtless contributes to the fact that you’re a paid artist today.
I studied music composition in university. Perhaps that was silly, but I remember once complaining to a professor and mentor of mine that it’s a shame that classical music isn’t valued the way it was “back in the day,” of Mozart and Beethoven.
“Well, you’re completely wrong,” said my teacher: “there are more people making a decent living as classical composers today than at any time in history.” Bach couldn’t make royalties on CDs. He couldn’t write for film. He couldn’t be a tenured professor or get a grant from the state. None of that existed in his time. He was one of a very few who could make enough money from the very small segment of consumers his industry had.
We look at history, and the history of work, as if it has endpoints where certain eras start and others end. But that isn’t the real world. Skills and experience, in anything, can find people to value them in any era. And those that are of truly no lasting worth, are often replaced by something much better, not just for consumers, but for artists as well.