Why we need a new operating system for work

Marina Gorbis, executive director at Institute for the Future where I'm a researcher, is in Washington DC at a U.S. Department of Labor Symposium where they're talking about the on-demand economy and digital platforms for work. As Marina says, "the battles between Uber and taxi companies and the 1099 vs. W-2 debate are just the first signs of the upheaval." Whether it all goes to hell depends on the decisions we make today. In an essay on Medium, Marina talks about how we need to design "a new operating system for work:"

Wage labor is only about 300 years old, a blink of an eye in our human history. Before wage labor, we produced, traded, and invented things, but it was mostly localized and on a small scale. Then through the rise of connective technologies — from railroads, cars, telegraph, telephones, and, eventually, the Internet — we rapidly scaled up production. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Ronald Coase pointed out in his seminal 1937 paper "The Nature of the Firm," large organizations came to dominate our production landscape because they're highly efficient mechanisms for producing at scale while minimizing the transaction costs of planning and coordinating activities beyond local geographies and small markets.

So in that sense, large organizations are a kind of technology for scaling up economic activities. You could think of it as an operating system for work that's been running for a century. And now we're creating a new operating system, based on always-on Internet, mobile devices, and social media. But this new operating system for coordinating human activities and creating new kinds of value could also be riddled with catastrophic bugs, pushing large swaths of the population to labor at subsistence levels, with no benefits and little predictability over their earning streams. And we need to address those challenges before this operating system become so ingrained in our way of working that the mistakes we make become societal-scale problems.

"Designing a New Operating System for Work" (Medium)