Monday, March 11, 2019

CURMUDGUCATION: Gigging, Progress, and the Unmaking of American Work

CURMUDGUCATION: Gigging, Progress, and the Unmaking of American Work

Gigging, Progress, and the Unmaking of American Work

This is not really about education, and it is totally about education.

Over at The Nation, Malcolm Harris has written a review of Sarah Kessler's Gigged: The End of the Job and the Future of Work. It's a thoughtful and worthwhile read, even if you decide not to tackle the entire book.

Harris opens with the cautionary tale of failed start-up Webvan, and notes the lessons that the founder Peter Relan gleaned from their collapse:

The first problem, he wrote, was customer targeting. Webvan’s strategy was to offer “the quality and selection of Whole Foods, the pricing of Safeway, and the convenience of home delivery,” a combination that attracted working- and middle-class shoppers. What it should have been doing instead, Relan concluded, was “providing a luxury” to a smaller, richer customer base. Second, he wrote, the company shouldn’t have invested in all that infrastructure. Webvan built cutting-edge distribution systems from scratch: giant networks of new algorithms, miles of conveyor belts, fleets of custom trucks with PalmPilot-wielding delivery drivers. At its peak, Webvan had a billion-dollar contract with the construction firm Bechtel for new distribution facilities around the country. Relan named Instacart and Postmates as lean start-ups that were learning from Webvan’s failure.

Look at my flexible income!
Webvan is a signpost from another era (twenty whole years ago) when the idea was that techno-companies would make life better for everyone, workers included. Now, says Harris, Americans have given up on the idea that "progress should improve everyone's life." Every step forward benefits only a few and costs someone, somewhere.

Progress is especially costly for workers, and Kessler tells the stories from the workers point of view. This, via Harris, offers some troubling insights. For instance, all that creative innovative thought that's supposed be a critical skill in the 21st century? Turns out that's important because companies find it efficient and inexpensive to leave their gigployees to solve their own problems. That saves money, because it shifts both the problems of management and the costs of running the business to the gigployees. Imagine if Uber had to CONTINUE READING: 
CURMUDGUCATION: Gigging, Progress, and the Unmaking of American Work