One in three American workers is now a freelancer. This “gig economy”—one that provides neither the guarantee of steady hours nor benefits—emerged out of the digital era and has revolutionized the way we do business. High-profile tech start-ups such as Uber and Airbnb are constantly making headlines for the disruption they cause to the industries they overturn. But what are the effects of this disruption, from Wall Street down to Main Street? What challenges do employees and job-seekers face at every level of professional experience?
In the tradition of the great business narratives of our time, Gigged offers deeply-sourced, up-close-and-personal accounts of our new economy. From the computer programmer who chooses exactly which hours he works each week, to the Uber driver who starts a union, to the charity worker who believes freelance gigs might just transform a declining rural town, journalist Sarah Kessler follows a wide range of individuals from across the country to provide a nuanced look at how the gig economy is playing out in real-time.
Kessler wades through the hype and hyperbole to tackle the big questions: What does the future of work look like? Will the millennial generation do as well their parents? How can we all find meaningful, well-paid work?
"The gig economy looks like the perfect antidote for the spiritual misery of modern work . . . the people in Kessler’s book turn to gigs for flexibility and financial independence. The only problem is, according to Kessler, it almost never works out that way. An Uber driver named Mamdooh Husein finds that after accounting for oil changes, air fresheners, car washes, gas and Uber’s commission, he takes home less than minimum wage. When he tries to organize a strike, Uber fires him. By tagging pictures of food and writing product descriptions, a Canadian named Kristy Milland earns $20 an hour on a site called Mechanical Turk, but she has to work so fast that she develops carpel tunnel and a cyst on her wrist as big and hard as a marble. (Mechanical Turk offers no paid sick leave or workers’ comp.) Rigging her computer to sound a siren whenever a lucrative task becomes available, she sleeps in her office so she can take jobs in the middle of the night without waking her husband. Her 'flexible' gig keeps her from one of the simplest joys of marriage: sharing a bed. The gig economy turns out to be less a brave new world than an opportunity for companies to transfer risks to their employees and offer few benefits in return. Kessler concludes that reinventing work without also reinventing the social safety net 'can’t quite count as progress.'"—Paul W. Gleason, California Lutheran University, The Washington Post
"Kessler’s timely book explores the personal, corporate and societal stories behind a massive tech-driven shift away from permanent office-based employment . . . Perhaps the most revealing parts of the book are the stories of real workers in the gig economy."—Financial Times
"In this well researched and beautifully written book, Sarah Kessler provides a very accessible but sophisticated analysis of the “gig economy.” While vividly telling moving stories about individual hardships and achievements, it provides a broad perspective that helps us see the “gig economy” as the latest manifestation of the long-running historical struggle over power, security and risk between different classes. It is essential reading for anyone who is interested in understanding the future of our economy and society."—Ha-Joon Chang, University of Cambridge, author of 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism and Economics: The User’s Guide
"Aside from being accessible, Gigged is sophisticated and nuanced in its treatment of a subject matter that few academics and even fewer journalists have been able to wrap their heads around. Kessler does a fabulous job of countering deterministic notions of the ways that technological change and emergent employment structures interact to drive outcomes for workers and for society at large."—Adam Seth Litwin, Associate Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University
"With deep reporting and graceful storytelling, Sarah Kessler reveals the ground truth of a key part of the American workforce. Her analysis is both astute and nuanced, making GIGGED essential reading for anyone interested in the future of work."—Daniel H. Pink, author of When and Drive
"Sarah Kessler's wonderful book offers unprecedented illumination of the promise, and the peril, of the gig economy by taking a deep and intimate dive into the day-to-day lives of the workers who rely on it."—Martin Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future
"Gigged offers a timely and in-depth look at the promise and peril of the gig economy from one of the first journalists to recognize how big and important this new market would become. In the tradition of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, Sarah Kessler goes behind the statistics to tell the stories of people making a living (sometimes just scraping by) as gig economy workers."—Dan Lyons, New York Times bestselling author of Disrupted
"Reporter Kessler's insightful exploration argues that the increase of people working as freelancers rather than employees of organizations is largely owing to technology that allows workers to deliver services coordinated by apps . . . An appealing choice, chiefly for those interested in the effects of the gig economy on workers."—Library Journal
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A VERY OLD NEW IDEA
At South by Southwest 2011, the napkins featured QR codes. Flyers rained down from party balconies, and the grilled cheese—provided by group messaging app GroupMe—was free.