They call it the “gig” economy, as in “Cool, man. I got a gig at the jazz club tonight.” But it isn’t cool, except in Kool-Aide. As in, drinking it.
Diane Mulcahy, who wrote “The Gig Economy,” is one of those who is thrilled about the rise of this kind of work. She’s a university professor and author who wrote a book about it. Her book blurb says:
Today, more than a third of Americans are working in the gig economy—mixing together short-term jobs, contract work, and freelance assignments. For those who’ve figured out the formula, life has never been better!
The formula, apparently, is knowing how to answer your email and teleconference while you’re in bed with your husband, or caring for a sick child.
Mulcahy exults about traveling the world while doing your gigs. No longer anchored to a desk, you can climb mountains or skydive while still earning a living. Fine, if that’s what floats your boat. But what about the worker who can’t or doesn’t want to be free? What about the kid who doesn’t want to build a website and worry about SEO and visibility while trolling for gigs? What if you’re not entrepreneurial?
Of course, our corporate overlords love the idea. Humans become even more disposable. Concerned about your workers’ need for maternity leave or health insurance? Easy: make ’em contractors! Here’s how journalist Llewellyn King puts it:
The gig economy knows and cares nothing about health care, sick leave, Social Security payments, tax collections, vacations and working conditions.
And how are these gig economy workers supposed to retire? I don’t want to have to hustle gigs when I’m eighty.
I’m not a Luddite. I love technology. My first laptop was a DOS PC! There’s so much reason to celebrate what technology can do for us. And I’m not opposed to the idea of working without being tethered to a desk. I have done it for years (in my retirement, as a side gig). For some folks, having a virtual business means they can make a living from remote outposts.
But it can go too far. Take away the cool buzzwords and all the chortling about freedom. Recognize what we lose when humans are no longer attached to a workplace. Some of us enjoy daily contact with coworkers, and the social advantage of shared challenge and daily life.
Mulcahy says “no problem!” because now, all the independents can work at shared offices, renting space in buildings designed specifically for freelancers. Instead of going to work in an office provided by your employer, the employer can shift that responsibility to you.
YOU provide the office, brave little freelancer. You pay for the desk, the light, and the heat. Bravo, free thinker!
The people who will be getting rich will be the ones who have buildings to rent out, or the ones doing seminars and coaching us on how to maintain work/life balance. Teaching you how to schedule your time, when you not only go to work every day but have to hustle to find the work in the first place.
Sorry about the birthday party, little one. Daddy has to hustle gigs!
One of the beautiful things about getting old is we’re less afraid of speaking the truth. This is my truth: I’m afraid we’re going too far in our expectations of the gig economy. I see our grandkids not just working hard in one job, but hustling hard to find jobs, month in and month out. Regardless of their nature, disposition, or dreams, they’ll have to cobble together one gig after another. Or as Llewellyn said to Mulcahy in a recent interview, “I can’t help but visualize downtown Ho Chi Minh city.”
The American economy is changing, affected by world economics. That’s not inherently bad, but let’s not go backwards in some Darwinian pursuit of efficiency and self-sufficiency.
What do you think? Is the gig economy going too far, in your opinion? Or am I reading it wrong?