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Robots Will Kill Music! (1930)

Illustration for article titled Robots Will Kill Music! (1930)

With every important technological innovation a vocal group of people become alarmed that their industry will be adversely effected by it. People are understandably terrified when it seems like a new technology will put them out of a job. However, throughout the twentieth century, we've seen that the people who succeed in times of transition are those able to adapt to technology rather than fight against it.


Techno-reactionaries of the 1930s complained that automation and "robots" were going to put people out of work, and we hear identical cries today. But what is the "robot" of 2010? The Internet, of course!

Writer Andrew Keen claims that websites like YouTube have "infiltrated and infected" America, putting hardworking people out of jobs by giving a voice to the amateurs rather than those who have been the traditional media gatekeepers. In Keen's 2007 book, The Cult of the Amateur, he accuses the Internet and Web 2.0 culture of crippling the entire media industry; from newspapers to recorded music. What really gets me about Keen is his moral outrage over technology and the fearmongering that goes along with it, but I'll save that for another post.


Below is an ad from the Music Defense League that appeared in the November 24, 1930 Jefferson City Post-Tribune (Jefferson City, MO). The advertisement uses a robotic villian; a physical representation of the recorded or "canned" music that was starting to be used in theatres of the era. From the vantage point of 2010 it's a rather hilarious idea, because what is the institution of today being "destroyed" by new technology? Recorded music!

Efficiencies in distribution brought about by the Internet mean that moving recorded music around the world is simple and inexpensive. Any scarcity in newly recorded music is artificial because you no longer have to go to a store and pay for plastic discs to enjoy the music you like. As has always been the case, the innovators will thrive and those who try to put up artificial barriers will become irrelevant and die off.

Viva la technologie, etc.

Illustration for article titled Robots Will Kill Music! (1930)

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