HOW HAS TECHNOLOGY IMPACTED YOU AS A JEWELRY DESIGNER?
The impact of technology on work and jobs was the focus of a recent opinion piece in the New York Times by David H. Autor and David Dorn. And, as jewelry designers, we are living through and with all the positives and negatives that arise through this technological change.
How has technology affected what we do as designers?
How has it affected what we do to survive and thrive as designers?
Have we mechanized and computerized the jewelry design business into obsolescence?
How have you had to organize your jewelry designer lives differently?
given the rise of
-Ebay, Etsy and Amazon.com
-blogs, facebook, twitter, pinterest, instagram
-new technologies and materials like precious metal clay, polymer clay, crystal clay, 3-D printing
What has happened to your local bead stores?
What has happened to bead magazines?
If you teach classes for pay, or sell kits and instructions, how do you compete against the literally millions of online tutorials, classes, instructions and kits offered for free? How does this affect what you teach or design to sell as kits?
If you sell jewelry, how do you compete against the 60,000,000 other people who sell jewelry online? How does this affect your marketing, your pricing, your designs?
If you make part of your living doing a arts and crafts show circuit, will there still be a need for this in the future?
The authors in this NYT article pose the questions raised by several prominent authors and scholars:
Are we in danger of losing the “race against the machine?” (M.I.T. scholars Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee)
Are we becoming enslaved to our “robot overlords,?” (journalist Kevin Drum warned in Mother Jones)
Do “smart machines” threaten us with “long-term misery?” (economists Jeffrey D. Sachs and Laurence J. Kotlikoff)
Have we reached “the end of labor?” (Noah Smith in The Atlantic)
Let me paraphrase these a bit in terms more specific to jewelry design and beadwork.
Does the reach of technology, through such vehicles as the Internet, make things so productive and efficient, that we no longer need so many people making jewelry, or teaching jewelry making, or marketing businesses / products or selling the parts to make jewelry?
If we do not need so many people to design / teach / market / or sell, and there happen to be a lot of people doing this anyway, does this necessarily make the relative worth and price for any of these activities “$zero”?
Does all this technological efficiency diminish the act of “creativity”? Now so many things can be standardized that everything – even the manufacture of complex pieces of jewelry through 3-D technology – can be reduced to a set of how-to instructions – mere recipes?
Has this technology reduced the need for bead magazines, and bead stores, and traditional classes?
On the other hand, technology has made jewelry design, and good jewelry design, more and more accessible to more and more people.
It has opened up a myriad of possibilities for people to explore their creative selves.
It has let jewelry designers reach a broader audience with their wares, their knowledge and their endeavors.
With new materials and technologies have come many new possibilities for creating jewelry.
It has made it easier for more people to get into the various jewelry design-related businesses.
It has made it easier to stay current and learn.
It has made it easier to meet and learn with fellow jewelry designers.
It has made it easier to mine big data, identify the most relevant target customers, and to market to them in very specific, cost-effective ways.
It has made it easier for retail outlets to find the merchandise they need to sell.
Some quick observations from my own professional life:
– We have an elaborate curriculum of classes that we teach. However, many of the beginning classes are becoming obsolete, in the sense that students can find similar classes on YouTube, in bead magazines, and throughout the internet, now for free. The issue for us is how to adapt, given that one of our goals is still to charge money for these classes, and make money. And a concurrent goal is to offer the student a learning opportunity worth the price paid.
– Each year, we used to have 1 or 2 national level instructors do workshops at our store. But it has become difficult to attract students. There are so many projects easily available – including from these national-level instructors – that students started to indicate that their interests in these workshops had diminished. They could do these same or similar projects on their own.
– When we opened our store in 1991, there were few places for people to acquire what we sell. Now there are almost 100 million places for people to go. It is obvious that most of our in-store customers purchase more of their supplies online or through catalogs than they do in the store.
– We used to do craft shows a long time ago. But the cost of travel got very expensive, and, with the internet, people had more opportunity to find what we sold without going to the craft shows.
– It used to be that the crux of our advertising dollars were spent with bead magazines. No longer. Bead magazines get a very small part of our advertising dollars. I can remember when all our customers read the bead magazines to get all their information. Now very few do. Most have organized themselves into small groups in various social media sites. To get your marketing message across, you have to spend a lot of time doing this online, and you can no longer market with a “broad brush”. That is, it has become ever-more-difficult to reach people.
– Our online business – Land of Odds – has been in existence since 1995. It has gone through 6 technology upgrades/re-designs since then. The e-commerce and website design technology moves and evolves so incredibly fast. Personally this constant updating has been grueling. The site needs more re-design, but my motivation to learn and cope with yet another computer language and new sets of tasks has diminished. Land of Odds was a pioneering online business. But the very large bead companies have gotten their acts together online, and are much better capitalized to expand their operations.
Technology has been a dauntingly mixed bag for us. On the negative side, the rapid advance and spread of technology has overwhelmed the various activities we do. On the positive side, it has forced us to become ever more creative and ever more efficient in what we do. It forces us to constantly re-define who we are and what we want to do. And it forces us to constantly re-define how we do things.
What do you think?