By now you’ve heard of the sharing economy – the digital, ‘economy 2.0’ enabled by a constellation of apps and websites like Uber and Air BnB.
Many see them as the future of business – and that’s certainly the way things have gone in San Fransicso where they often feel like the number one employer.
But not everyone is convinced. American filmmaker Andrew Callaway recently did an experiment for the podcast Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything – to get a first hand look at what it’s actually like to work one of these jobs.
“The agreement I made with Benjamin was to only work sharing economy jobs this month so we could present a first person view of what it’s like to work inside this thing. He likes to call it the on-demand economy. And I think that’s okay, but if I was in charge, I would probably call it the pyramid scheme economy.”
During the month Callaway works a variety of jobs including as a driver for Lyft, a courier for Postmates, and a laundry runner for Washio.
His conclusion? The sharing economy is not very friendly to the people that work in it.
He’s got plenty of reasons. For one, he says the work is dehumanizing; usually users don’t want to see or talk to you, and often it’s excruciatingly dull, like standing in a line up to pick up someone’s frozen yogurt.
“The people who use this app, they believe that the people who wait in lines are suckers. They probably even like watching us on their apps, doing nothing. It’s probably what keeps them coming back to Postmates.”
For another, he says it puts the employee at the mercy of the customer in a way few other industries do. With Uber, for example, drivers need to maintain a 4.7 star rating from customers or they’ll get fired. Pardon, “removed from the platform.”
That highlights Callaway’s main point – that sharing economy companies create the fiction that their employees are “independent contractors,” (sometimes called partners, couriers, or even ‘ninjas’).
He says that allows the companies to dodge employment regulations, offload costs onto their workers, and remove any financial risk (like parking tickets, or mixups at the grocery store).
In fact, at the end of the month, Callaway says his favourite company to work for was the one that behaved the least like an app – and it involved picking up people’s dirty underwear.
“The real reason why Washio is so great for us, is because there’s no illusion of choice. There’s no accepting or rejecting jobs. There isn’t even an acknowledge order button. You are assigned all of your dopoffs at the beginning of the day. And then you are told every single thing to do after that. By the app. The idea that I’m an independent contractor is a total joke. This is ‘work’ work.”