Gigged or Rigged? Thoughts on Gigged by Sarah Kessler

The new-age gig economy is painted with billion-dollar company valuations and open-floor-plan-San Francisco offices, but is it truly the new way of work? Yes, but no. In Gigged, Sarah Kessler illustrates the good and the ugly of the emerging gig economy. With offices and in-person businesses shut down across the world due to COVID-19, the future of work is at hand. For some, the gig economy may be the answer, but for the majority, it is far from ideal.

The leaders of the gig economy preach flexibility and freedom and becoming your own boss; they speak of entrepreneurship without the risk of starting a business. This sounds great, but it is not the reality for most. For the skilled, trained worker (the graphic designer, video editor, or software engineer), the gig economy is a near-perfect way to make extra money doing what one loves. It is easy as ever to sign up and find projects through the multitude of gig economy work places.

But for the majority of laborers in the gig economy, this bright picture of freedom and flexibility is little more than an idea. In Gigged, Kessler highlights a gig economy website owned by Amazon called Mechanical Turk. On Mechanical Turk, individuals as well as corporations submit mind-numbing tasks no one at the company wants to muddle through. And understandably so. An example of a typical Mechanical Turk task is labeling images, 10,000 at a time for a penny per image. This type of task is the reality of the gig economy for most, and if the task submitters did not have to pay a penny per task, they would pay less. That is because many of them do not see the human on the other side, just a machine. This replacement of humans with machines is the goal of multiple gig economy entrepreneurs.

When speaking at a conference in 2014, co-founder and then CEO of Uber Travis Kalanick remarked, “The reason Uber could be expensive is because you’re paying for the other dude in the car. When there’s no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle.” This statement by probably the most renowned gig economy tycoon shows the true goal of many gig economy entrepreneurs: automation. The removal of humans from the workforce might be great for profits, but is that really what is best for humanity?

Sarah Kessler makes clear in Gigged that the gig economy is not everything that Silicon Valley paints it to be. For some, it is a way to achieve flexibility and freedom, but for many, it is an unsecure way to make very little money working long hours completing tedious, mind-numbing tasks. The future of work is at hand, but for most, at least right now, the gig economy is not the answer.

- Charlie, November 2020