Voices from the on-demand economy


Over the last year, my colleagues at Institute for the Future's Workable Futures Initiative conducted ethnographic interviews with more than 30 people across the country who use on-demand work platforms to make ends meet. There's Seda, who runs her own small business selling women’s clothing and accessories, but makes ends meet as a professional “lab rat” who participates, sometimes illegally, in clinical trial studies all over the country; Nichelle, a Ph.D. who crafts communications courses on an online learning platform while she takes it easy as an expat in Costa Rica; Jan, a homeless veteran who is using the Rover.com pet-sitting site to make a little money while she works with Swords to Plowshares to find a place to live and earn a degree; and many other fascinating people.

These ethnographic interviews informed IFTF's synthesis of "7 new archetypes of workers” whose input will be critical to creating better policies, technology platforms, and systems for people to have sustainable and successful livelihoods in the future, instead of just maximizing revenue for the platform companies. The research is presented in a new report, Voices of Workable Futures.

From a Fortune magazine article about the research:

The overarching goal of the Institute’s report is to help create what it calls “positive platforms”—ones that “not only return profits to investors but also . . . provide dignified and sustainable livelihoods for those who use them.”

To that end, Gorbis says she’d like to see more support mechanisms—paid for by the platform companies—through which gig workers could access tax and financial assistance, physical gathering spaces for “social connectedness,” and a rating service capturing the employee experience on a range of sites.

Read the rest

Designing the future of work


Over at Democracy Journal, my Institute for the Future colleagues Marina Gorbis and Devin Fidler explore the "digital coordination economy" (aka the on-demand economy) and how "it may take deliberate design choices in platform architecture, business models, new civic services, and public policy to prevent this increasingly seamless “coordination economy” from becoming highly inequitable as well." From Democracy Journal:

As software takes an increasing role on both sides of transactions—ordering and producing—it promises to bring vastly more efficient coordination to these kinds of basic economic functions. This emerging digital coordination economy, with its efficient matching and fulfillment of both human and nonhuman needs, has the potential to generate tremendous economic growth.

However, as software engineers essentially author a growing segment of our economic operating system, it may take deliberate design choices in platform architecture, business models, new civic services, and public policy to prevent this increasingly seamless “coordination economy” from becoming highly inequitable as well. Already the growth of on-demand work has allowed investors and owners in some industrialized regions to reap substantial financial returns while many of the people using platforms to generate income streams are struggling to maintain their standard of living. Uber drivers, for example, have seen a drop in earnings in the United States over the last couple of years, even as the company continues to grow at a dramatic pace.

It is clear that the fundamental technologies driving the coordination economy are neither “good” nor “bad,” but rather offer a heady combination of opportunities and challenges.

Read the rest

The most common job in every state


Most states being large and empty, the most frequent answer to the question "what is the most common job in your state?" is "truck driver." For everywhere else, teachers and software developers prevail. And where even roads are rare, farmers. Hawaii, though...

NPR's map is fascinating, though, in that you can jump back to earlier days. In 1978s, what did we all do before software development was the day job of millions?

What's with all the truck drivers? Truck drivers dominate the map for a few reasons.

Driving a truck has been immune to two of the biggest trends affecting U.S. jobs: globalization and automation. A worker in China can't drive a truck in Ohio, and machines can't drive cars (yet).

Let's see about that in a decade. Read the rest

Why we need a new kind of design discipline for on-demand platforms

Over at Medium's WTF? Future of Work publication, our pal Marina Gorbis, exec director of Institute for the Future, and IFTF's Devin Fidler write about why we need new design principles for on-demand work platforms.

Their creators have mastered the discipline of interaction design and brought it to new heights… when it comes to consumer experience. Uber, Munchery, Postmates, and many apps are exquisitely designed, sometimes even addictive for users. They make previously laborious processes effortless and seamless. No hassles with paying, calling, talking. Swipe your phone with a finger and voila: your ride, your meal, your handyman magically appear.

But the apps are not only platforms for consumption. They are quickly becoming our entry points for work, gateways to people’s livelihoods. In this sense, whether or not platform creators realize it, they are engaging in another kind of design, socioeconomic design, the design of systems that people will rely on to structure their work, earnings, daily schedules. And here we find ourselves in the same phase as interaction design was decades ago — the inmates are running the asylum. The stakes, however, are much higher; instead of just convenience, we are talking about people’s livelihoods.

"Design It Like Our Livelihoods Depend on It: 8 Principles for creating on-demand platforms for better work futures" Read the rest

What happens when you write 11,000 blog posts?


Author John Biggs, who cranked 'em out for Techcrunch and Gizmodo, is quitting blogging. He writes about the things he's learned and earned generating 11,000 posts.

The first thing, of course, was the complete ruination of his health: he now "looks like a nervous beluga." But there are other perils—ambiguous ones, professional tradeoffs in the 3,300,000-word accumulation of mastery at something. You learn how to write fast and with dense precision, but it wrecks your ability to work long-form, to let a story unfold. You gain an uncanny awareness for what people want to read, but you can't remember what you want to read. You realize that while you're not really being read, authenticity works.

And you won't believe what happens next…

You learn that you can help people. In 2005 I wrote this post. It was about a WD-40 straw holder. It was a throwaway. A few months later I got a call. A nice lady was on the phone. She was trying to track me down. She said that the WD-40 straw holder post saved her company. She was able to sell hundreds of them and stay in business. I felt good for a minute and then wrote 16 more posts that day.
Read the rest

In $31m award, Jury finds that Walmart retaliated against worker


A pharmacist fired by Walmart after reporting safety problems was awarded $31m in damages by a jury Friday. Read the rest

Fantastic 1970 short film about a hyperkinetic short-order cook named Spider


Look at Spider go! In this short movie from 1970, we see an energetic short order cook experiencing full-blown Csikszentmihalyi flow state as he prepares dishes for a late-night pre-hangover crowd at a small diner in New Hampshire. Spider's movements are unpredictably explosive and accompanied by bursts of discordant whistling. He reminds me of Tex Avery's cartoons and Raymond Scott's music.

Kenneth S. "Spider" Osgood died in 2012. Here's his obituary.

In his youth, Mr. Osgood was a Golden Glove boxer. He was an amazing short order cook who got his nickname of "Spider" from his ability to multi-task while working at the Shore Diner and Paul's Diner. He was an antique clock repairman for several years and was owner of Osgood's Clock Repair.

[via] Read the rest

A bouncer wore a GoPro to show the drunk jerks he has to deal with


On New Year's Eve, a patient bouncer wore a GoPro at a nightclub to show how hard he works dealing with drunk people who plead, lie, and threaten to let them in. Read the rest

Help wanted: Professional Christmas light untangler


UK retailer Tesco is hiring "Christmas Light Untanglers" so they can provide this new service at their stores.

Ideal candidates are "able to untangle 3 meters of Christmas lights in under three minutes" and "passionate about Christmas."

From the job description at Tesco Careers:

Your roles and responsiblities will include: • Man and managing the Christmas Lights Untangling stand • Taking time to listen and help out wherever you can: Every little helps • Check lights and bulbs for signs of breakage / broken bulbs and report findings to the customer • Handle customers Christmas lights carefully to keep everything in tip-top condition • Talking to colleagues, sharing your enthusiasm and helping to create team spirit • Getting to know your customers, greet them with a smile and serve them with pride. • Give a brilliant customer experience, making sure you deliver only the best service and put a smile on customers faces • Successfully untangle customers Christmas lights neatly, quickly and efficiently and in an orderly fashion • Abide by our Health and Safety policies • Always be there on time and properly presented • Be passionate and knowledgeable about the service you are offering

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Sit down already: standing desks aren't healthier than seated ones


For half a decade, studies have been demonstrating a link between sitting and dying, prompting many of us (including me) to try out standing desks. Read the rest

Office work destroys your body


Max Plenke has a nice roundup of the things that are destroying your body at this very moment, crushing the husk of your corporeal form even as your soul is stapled firmly to it with each mind-sapping click.

You don't have to be on your feet all day to avoid turning into a puddle of office-casual mulch — but you do need to be proactive.

"Those exercise fads of the week don't work," Taylor told Mic. "Get on a cardiovascular program that doesn't cause you pain, and do 30 minutes four to five times a week."

Get up and out of your seat. Take a walk. Go pick up lunch instead of ordering in.

Read the rest

Productivity slumps after 40-50 hours of work a week


It's the historically-emergent standard for good reasons, because the quality of work simply goes to shit when people work too much. Burning out workers "destroys their personal lives and gets nothing in return," writes Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz.

Many people believe that weekends and the 40-hour workweek are some sort of great compromise between capitalism and hedonism, but that's not historically accurate. They are actually the carefully considered outcome of profit-maximizing research by Henry Ford in the early part of the 20th century. He discovered that you could actually get more output out of people by having them work fewer days and fewer hours. Since then, other researchers have continued to study this phenomenon, including in more modern industries like game development.

The research is clear: beyond ~40—50 hours per week, the marginal returns from additional work decrease rapidly and quickly become negative.

Read the rest

How neurotech will transform the way we work

Over at Backchannel, I wrote about how brain tech could transform how we work in the future, from displays that react to our mental state to offices that respond to our brainwaves.

Stanford and University of California neuroscientist Melina Uncapher is currently leading a pilot study with a large technology company to use mobile EEG tracking to study how the office environment — from lighting to natural views to noise levels — impacts the brain, cognition, productivity, and wellness of workers. Prepping a room for a big brainstorm? Maybe it’s time to change the light color.

“If you want to encourage abstract thinking and creative ideas, do you pump in more oxygen or less?” says Uncapher, a fellow at Institute for the Future. “Do you raise the ceiling height? Do you make sure you have a view of the natural environment, simulated or real? And if you want people to be more heads-down, is it better for them to be in a room with a lower ceiling?”

The goal, she explains, would be to develop a “quantified environment” that you could precisely tune to different types of working modes.

"Our Highest Selves?" (Backchannel)

(Illustration by Anna Vignet) Read the rest

The last of India's street ear-cleaners


India's traditional roadside ear de-waxers, called kaan saaf wallahs, are known by the red handkerchiefs on their heads. They charge around 15 cents per ear, and one ear cleaner interviewed by the LA Times says he gets about 12 customers per day. He lives in a room shared by 15 men.

The deluxe treatment can include daubs of lotion, coconut oil and a dark liquid that Mehboob described as an ayurvedic tonic, and costs 50 rupees, or 80 cents.

"That's if the ear is inflamed, or if it's really red," [Sayed Mehboob] says. "The lotions provide a soothing effect."

His method is to dip the cotton-tipped pin in hydrogen peroxide and scrape the outer ear canal before proceeding to the inner canal. An old pair of tweezers helps pick out stubborn bits of dirt and wax.

Malcolm Chapman / Shutterstock.com Read the rest

Do we really need this call?

Jessamyn West is a freelancer, and that means that she has to talk on the phone to earn her crust. This sucks. Read the rest

Diary by erotica editor who sells her services on Fiverr

Over at On-Demand, journalist and arts critic Kaite Welsh writes about how she uses Fiverr to supplement her income by editing amateur erotica, and shares her most common editorial notes, starting with "That's not where the clitoris is." Read the rest

VISUALIZE: Daily routines of accomplished creative people

This chart summarizes data from Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, providing that rarest of treasures: an infographic that actually improves the legibility of information. Read the rest

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