Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

The Gig Economy

Posted on | February 22, 2009 | No Comments

I first heard it from editor, friend and colleague Jackie Damian last year: The Gig Economy. A nice, tight description for what upwards of 10 million Americans find themselves today: underemployed.
On the one hand, it’s the direct result of the mortgage/banking/lending/politics/governing meltdown that hit its stride last fall.
On the other hand, though, this has been building for years, thanks to the Internet. It could very well mirror the wholesale cultural changes that occurred over a period of decades during the Industrial Revolution, when the notion of town and village was upended after thousands of years.
The Internet’s disruptive force also has counter-effects to what the Industrial Revolution wrought: Then, laborers left the uncertainty of the fields for hourly, certain grind of the factory, and, unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Marxist (there’s a pun there somewhere), a higher standard of living.
Since the phrase 9600 baud emerged in the public consciousness, we’ve had the opportunity to leave the certainty of a daily job for the flexibility of the consultant’s world. But it wasn’t until the advancements and social ethos of Web 2.0 that it all came together.
This is really good news at a really grim time. The tools and connections are in place. The mindset is beginning to emerge.
Rather than sell apples on a street corner, you can take advantage of the numerous “hiring halls” in place, such as oDesk, eLance and others.
Social networking of all stripes allows you to connect to people you wouldn’t know from places you couldn’t imagine 10 years ago.
Laptops are available for just a few hundred dollars, and there are more free Web tools for you to use (calendaring, email, writing, counting, powerpointing and publishing) than you can shake a stick at.
New opportunities pop up every day. This morning I read about LaidOffCamp, the month-old wiki-based brainchild of Chris Hutchins, laid off in December. The first face-to-face LaidOffCamp is set for March 3 in San Francisco. They’ve already set up @laidoffcamp on Twitter and a Facebook group.
Out of the virtual and real extensions of his idea will come networking and eventual work for any number of the participants.
It could very well be that from the ashes of this economic crisis a new relationship between labor and capital emerges, strengthening both and driving greater efficiencies in the economy. It couldn’t happen without the abundant tools we have at our fingertips. It does what it’s supposed to do: Solve some time-consuming and formerly expensive roadblocks to capital production and it puts the right minds in front of the right companies that want to exploit those brains quickly and efficiently.

And that’s the silver lining in the dark cloud.

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No Responses to “The Gig Economy”

  1. Loring Wirbel
    February 23rd, 2009 @ 10:36 am

    I am loving gig workstyles, but there are two problems, one obvious, one subtle. The obvious one is the problem of all companies, respectable and despicable alike, failing to pay contractors in years like 2009. The subtle one is the problem of companies gutting out mid-level management, getting contractors to work on consulting projects, and then having those consultants push through projects up to executive VP level with virtually no oversight, editing, etc. It’s great responsibility for the freelancer doing the gig, but does the organization truly want to make itself that flat? It means putting all power in the hands of outsourcers.

  2. Lou Covey
    February 24th, 2009 @ 6:38 pm

    Speaking as one who has essentially been in a gig workstyle since 1986, welcome to my world.

    My last real corporate gig was as a tech editor for Lockheed. when I got laid off I said I never wanted to work for another corporation. I did fill out another couple of W4s after that, but every move was dedicated to figuring out how to avoid getting a regular paycheck.

    While lately it’s been quite painful economically, my work is much more satisfying and I don’t have to attend as many meetings. I’m much more productive.

  3. MoJito
    March 2nd, 2009 @ 7:33 pm

    Also worth noting due to the Gig Economy is the concept of the “Brandividual,” which Abbey Klaassen wrote about in AdAge today:

    We see folks like Marty Collins (whom I’ve worked with through Visible Technologies) establishing her own blog, supported by Microsoft, but with her own thoughts and very much in a sense, her own branding separate from MSFT:

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