Tagprecarity

On the State of “Careers”

Is digital journalism a viable career? Financial journalist and media pundit Felix Salmon says no.

His lengthy and dismal assessment of the future of journalism as a career path — ie, a job where your salary increases over time and you make enough money to support a family — was, shall we say, widely panned by other journalists who think he’s being a negative nancy and discouraging young people from entering the field. Personally, I think things are even worse than Salmon says.

Now, Salmon and I are in pretty good posiitons. Him more so than I, but neither of us is cranking out Examiner.com articles for $0 a pop just to build a portfolio in hopes of landing a staff writer job at a community newspaper that pays less than an entry level job at Home Depot. Neither of us is cranking out 10+ “stories” a day for a clickbait site just to make rent. Neither one of us just got laid off from a major urban daily after 20 years. We’re part of the lucky few that get paid a living wage, or better, to produce journalism.

But it’s not just journalism. The entire economy is now geared towards turning humans into fungible commodities. And it’s hard to build a career in an environment where there’s no point in asking for a raise because there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who would do your job for even less than you do.

This is nothing new to billions of manual laborers who are used to being treated like cogs in a machine. But once upon a time unions were able to help workers actually band together to demand things like predictable hours and livable working conditions. That has changed. but the do what you love mantra managed to turn those few jobs that robots can’t yet do into sub-minimum wage gigs that require graduate degrees.

You might think you can escape this fate by becoming a programmer. But code bootcamps are cranking out hundreds of people who can crank out CRUD apps all day. And when you start to go grey, the tech industry will toss you out like an 8-track tape.

I don’t mean to imply that all precariat — from the middle class white guy with a PhD to Rwandan woman who came to the U.S. with nothing — are equally affected by this mechanization of humanity. But we are all affected.

The answer isn’t in picking the right career for the machine age. It’s changing the system.

Chronic Fatigue Century

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a blanket term for a number of debilitating medical conditions that leave people exhausted all the time for no apparent reason. It’s not tied to any particular exertion. Rest doesn’t make it better. Patients are just left crushingly tired, often unable to get out of bed, and we don’t really know why.

Science is finally making some progress towards diagnosing and understanding at least some forms of the syndrome as an immune system disorder. But because it has historically been so hard to properly diagnose — and because people are dicks — it’s been dismissed as a purely psychological issue, as if that would make it any less serious. According to Wikipedia “many patients and advocacy groups, as well as some experts, believe the name trivializes the medical condition and they promote a name change.”

A new name would be clarifying. Then perhaps we can repurpose the term, because “chronic fatigue” seems to perfectly describe our epoch.

Unlike medical chronic fatigue syndrome, our societal fatigue does stem from exertion. But we can’t get the rest that we need. About 73 percent of Americans sleep less than eight hours a night. Not only do we take fewer vacations than the rest of the industrialized world, but we are taking fewer and fewer as the years grind on. It’s not much better if you’re un or underemployed. Poverty is exhausting. We’re willing to work but too tired to hustle.

To compensate, we’ve gone from coffee to Red Bull to Five Hour Energy to modafinil. As soon as DARPA perfects its sleepless serum we’ll move on to that.

We’ve got Kickstarter fatigue, social media stream fatigue, outrage fatigue, crisis fatigue, donor fatigue, future fatigue… fuck, I think I’ve probably got fatigue fatigue at this point.

Maybe it started with 9/11. Maybe it was the financial crisis. Or maybe it was earlier, with Y2K. All I know is that I’m bone tired, and I don’t see any rest on the horizon and that just about everyone I know feels the same way.

But maybe that’s how we start to get better. First we admit that we have a problem. Then maybe we can find a way to collectively pull the plug on this treadmill.

Mindful Cyborgs: The End of the Firm as We Know It

In the latest episode of Mindful Cyborgs Chris Dancy and I journeyed to the belly of the beast at Defrag and interviewed investor Chris DeVore from Founders Co-Op on “industrial entropy”:

KF: Yeah, one of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is that in the 80s there was dystopian sci-fi people would talk about the mega corporation and you would see these big conglomerates but now what seems to actually be taking over or becoming more prevalent or mega networks . . . so, Y Combinator is one example though. Maybe the founders [00:04:06] would be as well but Paul Graham has explicitly said that part of the point of Y Combinator is to be a distributed peer to peer replacement for the traditional company to give the members of it the benefits of being part of a large company without having to be part of the structure of a large company. Do you have any thoughts on that? Do you think that’s actually happening?

CDV: I definitely do and I think this is where the pattern that I think is interesting and there’s a dark [00:04:31] that we’ll get to in a minute is, when everyone is responsible for their own career pathing, like no man is an island, right? We all need different mixes of skills and abilities and kind of promotional states to build an organization that’s capable of things that more than one human can do but this idea of going from hierarchies of organizations with organization design and managers and leadership into networks where you essentially have these flat as Paul says peer-to-peer networks of people that they collaborate in more dynamically as they come together around a project and then they disassembled and reassembled different products. I think that’s fundamentally true about the nature of work today.

Even an enterprise work you might have a project manager but they’re going to hire this sort of coalition of vendors to come together to build a software or to ship certain kind of product and then when that’s over and they then ships over they’re going to disassemble and they’re going to reassemble very organically and I think it’s again very empowering for people who have the skills and ability to navigate and set their own career path and build their own digital identity and kind of how work come to them and be called in to these dynamic networks.

The thing that I worry about is from a skilling standpoint who’s being left behind, who doesn’t have the ability to surf on this very organic dynamic networked economy and how do you make that economy as open or as porous as it can be so that people who are coming out of school right now it used to be they go to a career fair and they get a job. If those jobs don’t exist, what does exist and what are the gateways and points of access for people into the network at this point?

Download and Full Transcript: Mindful Cyborgs: Episode 15 – Industrial Entropy and the Turks! The Turks! The Mechanical Turks!

Zero Hours: Precariat Design Fiction

Tim Maughan uses design fiction to sketch a vision of our precarious future:

Nicki is awake even before her mum calls her from the other side of the door. She’s sat up in bed, crackly FM radio ebbing from tiny supermarket grade speakers, her fingers flicking across her charity shop grade tablet’s touchscreen. She’s close to shutting down two auctions when a third pushes itself across her screen with it’s familiar white and green branded arrogance. Starbucks. Oxford Circus. 4 hour shift from 1415.

She sighs, dismisses it. She’s not even sure why she still keeps that notification running. Starbucks, the holy fucking grail. But she can’t go there, can’t even try, without that elusive Barista badge.

Which is why she’s been betting like mad on this Pret a Manger auction, dropping her hourly down to near pointless levels. It says it’s in back of house food prep, but she’s seen the forum stories, the other z-contractors who always say take any job where they serve coffee, just in case. That’s how I did it, they say, forced my way in, all bright faces and make up and flirting and ‘this coffee machine looks AMAZING how does it work?’ and then pow, Barista badge.

Full Story: Medium: Zero Hours

Bram E. Gieben’s “Search Engine” is sort of a journalist/blogger’s version of this scenario.

See also:

Homeless, Unemployed, and Surviving on Bitcoins

Willing to Work But Too Tired to Hussle

Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman Talks About the Precariat

Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman Talks About the Precariat

Zygmunt Bauman interviewed on the subject of the “precariat”:

The notion of precariat seems quite general and vague to many people. Who are therefore the precarians?

The “general” and “vague” character of the notion of precariat bothers people accustomed to the division of society into “classes” and, in particular, to the phenomenon of “proletariat” or its idea, which the concept of “precariat” should, in my conviction (but not only mine), replace in the analysis of social divisions. In comparison to its successor, proletariat appears indeed almost as an emblem of the “specific” and “concrete”…

How easy it was, when compared to precariat, to determine its content and limits… But the fluidity of composition is one of the features defining the phenomenon of precarity; one cannot get rid of that fluidity without making the notion of “precariat” analytically useless. […]

What issues do, in your opinion, differentiate precariat most distinctly from proletariat? To what extent can one connect the two notions? And finally: is precariat a social class?

Well, I have serious doubts about that. I would prefer to call precariat a social category. The mere similarity of situation is not enough to transform an aggregate of individuals bearing similar characteristics into a “class” – that is, into an integrated group willing to pursue common interests as well as proceeding to integrate and coordinate actions stemming from that will. If workplaces of the times of “solid modernity” were, irrespective of the kind of products manufactured, also the factories of social solidarity, liquid-modern workplaces are, irrespective of their business objectives, the producers of mutual suspicion and competitiveness.

Full Story: r-evolutions: Far Away from Solid Modernity (PDF)

(via [m])

See Also:

The Precariat – The new dangerous class

Temp Worker Nation: If You Do Get Hired, It Might Not Be for Long

Time Wars

The Disposable Worker

As an independent agent, Smith has no health insurance, no retirement benefits, no sick days, no vacation, no severance, and no access to unemployment insurance. But in recession-ravaged Ormond Beach, she’s considered lucky. She has had more or less steady work since she signed on with LiveOps in October 2006. “LiveOps was a lifesaver for me,” she says.

You know American workers are in bad shape when a low-paying, no-benefits job is considered a sweet deal. Their situation isn’t likely to improve soon; some economists predict it will be years, not months, before employees regain any semblance of bargaining power. That’s because this recession’s unusual ferocity has accelerated trends—including offshoring, automation, the decline of labor unions’ influence, new management techniques, and regulatory changes—that already had been eroding workers’ economic standing.

Business Week: The Disposable Worker

Here’s the depressing thing: even if millions of corporate execs read this article and agree with it, they will be powerless to actually make any serious lasting changes within their organizations.

Interestingly, this article makes no use of the term precarity.

(via Global Guerrillas)

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