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chris25

In The Digital Economy, We'll Soon All Be Working For Free – And I Refuse

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Never mind checking your privilege. Flaunting those enviable privileges is where it's at. Go to any of our big cities and cash will be flowing through ponced-up restaurants nestled between Poundland and the nail bars. They even wave it in our faces.

Already at a private school that charges £7,000 a term? Then you must need a hand up the ladder. So let Mater and Pater bid as internships for Mary Portas or Fabergé are auctioned off. Not so much getting a foot in the door as crowbarring it in with money. Theirs is a world in which austerity remains an abstract idea.

Meanwhile, we have more than a million Neets in the country – young people not in work, education or training. They could do with a helping hand but they have somehow missed the boat. It hardly matters to them that the boat was the Titanic. Their older brothers and sisters have gone to college but are still in a world of part-time pub jobs. They don't have proper salaries and therefore no chance of mortgages. And, of course, in other European countries the situation is even worse.

At this point it is customary to blame the banksters. Or at least the politicians. But there is another group partly responsible for the parlous state in which we find ourselves: the digi-heads of Silicon Valley who told us everything could be kinda free. And easy. In some virtual paradise.

But it's not lovely being asked to work for free, whether you are 18 or 48. On the popular free app known as Facebook, the great music writer Barney Hoskyns put up a manifesto that struck home: he asked "freelance content providers" – be they actors, writers, musicians or photographers – to withdraw from unpaid labour. (I did that a while back – except, of course, for causes I believe in.)

But this is about more than that. It's about technology taking jobs, about what it can and can't provide. Hoskyns quotes Jaron Lanier's new book Who Owns The Future?, in which he argues: "Capitalism only works if there are enough successful people to be customers." Lanier, a computer scientist and a musician, is rightly called a visionary because he sees what is happening, when everything is live-streamed but no one knows the name of the person who made the music any more. Content is free.

Governments play up the idea that a digital future creates jobs rather than eats them up. Culturally, there is now a fantasy world of start-ups and blogs and YouTube TV where a very few people manage to make money but most work simply for "experience".

In an interview with Scott Timberg for Salon, Lanier gives a potent example: Kodak used to have "140,000 really good middle-class employees. Instagram has 13 employees, period." He describes a winner-takes-all world, with a tiny number of successful people and everyone else living on hope. "There is not a middle-class hump. It's an all-or-nothing society."

We can shrug and say it's just another industrial revolution, a move from formal to informal work, the whole "portfolio" number. But where is the social contract, then, if it "doesn't tide you over when you're sick and it doesn't let you raise kids and it doesn't let you grow old"?

The implosion of the middle class produces instability. We cannot all be freelancers for ever. Freelance work, like interning, is fine if you have the funds to manage without a regular income. That is, if you are already wealthy. But the digital economy operates as a kind of sophisticated X Factor. Someone will make it, sure. For more than 15 seconds even, maybe. But most won't. This is why Lanier says the internet may destroy the middle classes, the people who can't outspend the elite. And without that middle group, we cannot maintain a democracy.

He sees musicians and artists and journalists as canaries in the mineshaft of this new economy. Who will pay them? "Is this the precedent we want to follow for our doctors and lawyers and nurses and everybody else? Because, eventually, technology will get to everybody."

Education and healthcare farmed out to the bright-eyed tech nerds? It's already happening. We are already missing the human touch in our hospitals and schools. Gove's new iPad-levels still cut out the creative subjects from the core – and just when we need the innovations they bring the most. Growth – the holy grail, with nearly half of all European youth unemployed – is impeded when technology eats into job security and therefore has repercussions for pensions and benefits. Those without salaried work cannot hope to support an older generation.

The creative industries, first music and now journalism, saw these changes coming too late. My children have been brought up in a world where they have to compete with those who will work for free. It is only a matter of time until we will all be asked to do the same. And I refuse.

For what is being eroded is not only actual wages but also the very idea that work must be paid for. Huge profits are being made from these so-called opportunities for our youth. But they are, in fact, the exploitation of insecurity. This is not about being anti-technology. It is about being pro-human. Technology is here and it's often great. But we must find a sustainable way of using it so that the stuff we do or make is paid for in living and not virtual wages.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/05/digital-economy-work-for-free

Spot on. Are they finally starting to get it in the graundian, even if their beloved Labour get in power the cosy middle class liberal dream is over?

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Spot on. Are they finally starting to get it in the graundian, even if their beloved Labour get in power the cosy middle class liberal dream is over?

Graundians are just worried that they might actually have to learn to do something useful for a living that people will willingly pay for.

Thanks to e-books and print-on-demand there are far more writers making living wages from their work now than there were when they had to beg a publisher to print their books and then pay an agent 15% of their measly advance for sending it to the publisher. The only people really suffering are the 'best sellers' who publishers previously bought prime retail space for in book stores, and who can't now buy the front page on Amazon.

Edited by MarkG

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Guest eight

Graundians are just worried that they might actually have to learn to do something useful for a living that people will willingly pay for.

Thanks to e-books and print-on-demand there are far more writers making living wages from their work now than there were when they had to beg a publisher to print their books and then pay an agent 15% of their measly advance for sending it to the publisher. The only people really suffering are the 'best sellers' who publishers previously bought prime retail space for in book stores, and who can't now buy the front page on Amazon.

MSM about five years behind this site as usual.

Posters on this site fall into two categories - those whose labour has been rendered worthless for various reasons, and those who think theirs can't be even though it will be. Those in the latter camp will be along shortly to explain why the article is rubbish.

I'm not a luddite who thinks it is possible or even desirable to halt this onslaught of technological progress but we do need to understand the effects on the greater mass of the population and work out what can be done for them, and quickly.

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I don't want a job, I want stuff.

But this "visionary" says that I should hope for the price of stuff going up, because it will mean I have to work harder to get some?

It's like HPI being spread through the economy.

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Graundians are just worried that they might actually have to learn to do something useful for a living that people will willingly pay for.

Thanks to e-books and print-on-demand there are far more writers making living wages from their work now than there were when they had to beg a publisher to print their books and then pay an agent 15% of their measly advance for sending it to the publisher. The only people really suffering are the 'best sellers' who publishers previously bought prime retail space for in book stores, and who can't now buy the front page on Amazon.

Umm you do not really believe that do you. I know someone who wrote a really good book on Forex trading. He got some money for writing it from the publisher, and he sells it on his own website and Amazon.

He has given expecting up any further money given as someone uploaded the PDF version to several download sites. Google for the book and the "free version" is easily apparent. He is resigned to the fact that he has increased his exposure.

"Capitalism only works if there are enough successful people to be customers."
"Kodak used to have "140,000 really good middle-class employees. Instagram has 13 employees, period."

I'm amazed people "on the right" don't get this. Oh I forgot politicians don't work for free!

Unless governments can find some pretty effective way of taxing these corporations, or making them pay for the blatant copyright theft or "content acquisition from which they profit, but barely pay for (Google would be nothing without other peoples stuff) then we are all in deep trouble.

Unless we are headed truly for a Gene Roddenbury future where we just work to improve ourselves. Well someone has to clean the loo's.

Edited by Secure Tenant

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Sour grapes there from a prime w**ker.

You want a good income, you convince someone you're worth it. Doing good work in your own time is one way to do that, and the 'net makes it easier than ever to get noticed[1]. Worked for me.

[1] But conversely, if you're lazy and useless, it shows up how much better $rest-of-world is. No wonder Grauniad journalist hates it.

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This is becoming true in IT too. The best are supposed to contribute to open source projects etc. I simply don't have the time or inclination.

I have sympathy for journalists but it is tempered by the disdain that they showed manual labourers and the manufacturing industry in the last 40 years as they were removed from the economy by 'Market forces'

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This is becoming true in IT too. The best are supposed to contribute to open source projects etc. I simply don't have the time or inclination.

I have sympathy for journalists but it is tempered by the disdain that they showed manual labourers and the manufacturing industry in the last 40 years as they were removed from the economy by 'Market forces'

This is the same reason I don't have a lot of sympathy with farmers whinging about cheap imported milk etc. I don't remember them standing arm to arm with the miners.

Most days I try to rise above it though.

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Instagram doesn't have 13 people. It possibly has 13 real employees but it has an army of people running about doing stuff, probably on a contract basis.

Yes, Koday has gone from 140K to chuff all, but Kodak is a product of the last century. Before Kodak, those 140K people did something else. Today there are new classes of jobs that didn't exist when Kodak was founded - people who run data centres, build stuff, code stuff. There is a current problem with labour arbitrage, but that is narrowing fast.

I would imagine the horse maintainers and carriage makers said much the same thing when the motor car started to gain traction. The carr workers will probably say the same thing when teleportation is invented.

I think there is also a temporary illusion with all these companies spending a shit load of cash, and giving away free stuff. It seems like advertising is the new gold rush - you don't need to make anything any more, you just need eyeballs. I don't get it, and the blowout is going to be huge I think....

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I think there is also a temporary illusion with all these companies spending a shit load of cash, and giving away free stuff. It seems like advertising is the new gold rush - you don't need to make anything any more, you just need eyeballs. I don't get it, and the blowout is going to be huge I think....

Sounds exactly like the last dot.com bust. Didn't realise it had got that bad.

I have limited sympathy for journalists. Apart from the very few investigative ones, most don't bring much value to society and there are many thousands of people who would happily and competently do their job of recycling press releases, going on junkets and paraphrasing the wires - if they could break into what seems to be a closed shop open mostly to Oxbridge graduates.

I consider myself a bit of a lefty, but it's clear that the Guardian don't practice what they preach in terms of hiring.

Blogging and other online news sources have reduced the barriers to entry and destroyed the mystique of the profession. It's a shame for them, but not an unexpected one.

I do think that we will likely see a crunch point at some point in my lifetime regarding jobs. Basically, any job (and I include mine) which uses a computer is open to being highly automated or finding someone willing to work almost for free. It will be a difficult transition phase unless we are able to restructure our economy accordingly.

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Speaking on behalf of sedan chair carriers everywhere I demand that the wheel be abolished!

If the Phil Spaces of the world are feeling the pinch then too bad. Their employers, the newspapers, are reduced to giving away their content for free anyway. I don't buy a daily newspaper any more - I do peruse a few websites each day but I never pay for anything.

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On the other hand, maybe an internet full of free music, films, porn and games is actually a deliberate elitist construct to keep the disenfranchised* youth of the World in a soporific state.

*I say disenfranchised - when I was their age I had to pay through the nose for my music, films, porn and games - but then I also had the opportunity to earn the means to do so.

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Posters on this site fall into two categories - those whose labour has been rendered worthless for various reasons, and those who think theirs can't be even though it will be. Those in the latter camp will be along shortly to explain why the article is rubbish.

I'm not a luddite who thinks it is possible or even desirable to halt this onslaught of technological progress but we do need to understand the effects on the greater mass of the population and work out what can be done for them, and quickly.

+1 A contender for post of the week.

Edited by PopGun

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Sour grapes there from a prime w**ker.

You want a good income, you convince someone you're worth it. Doing good work in your own time is one way to do that, and the 'net makes it easier than ever to get noticed[1]. Worked for me.

[1] But conversely, if you're lazy and useless, it shows up how much better $rest-of-world is. No wonder Grauniad journalist hates it.

Definately category 2

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I would imagine the horse maintainers and carriage makers said much the same thing when the motor car started to gain traction. The carr workers will probably say the same thing when teleportation is invented.

Or the hunter gatherers whose forest got flatterned by farmers using violence to determine their will?! the 'freedom' of markets holds no bounds, "we will force you to be free"....

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"Growth – the holy grail, with nearly half of all European youth unemployed – is impeded when technology eats into job security and therefore has repercussions for pensions and benefits. Those without salaried work cannot hope to support an older generation."

near to an admission from an msm journalist that the state pension isa ponzi scheme as I have seen in a while. I have no intention of being supported in old age. My responsibility to make sure i can support myself. The safety net should only apply if illness stops the feasibility of this, though an all out darwinist approach would get little argument from me given the current state of the world and humanities assault on trying to beat nature.

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MSM about five years behind this site as usual.

Posters on this site fall into two categories - those whose labour has been rendered worthless for various reasons, and those who think theirs can't be even though it will be. Those in the latter camp will be along shortly to explain why the article is rubbish.

I'm not a luddite who thinks it is possible or even desirable to halt this onslaught of technological progress but we do need to understand the effects on the greater mass of the population and work out what can be done for them, and quickly.

That's missing a whole third category - the ones who suggest that full employment should only be a means to an ends. Why should having everyone working around the clock be an aim for society?

This debate is too polarised on whether jobs are coming or going and it completely misses the bigger questions altogether.

The aim should be for people to do less and/or gain more. Putting up barriers so that they can't do the former or the latter is bonkers. It's the sort of stuff myopic central planners fall for over and over again though, unfortunately.

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Or the hunter gatherers whose forest got flatterned by farmers using violence to determine their will?! the 'freedom' of markets holds no bounds, "we will force you to be free"....

I hope you're not suggesting that it was a free market in action there?

People threatening others to take stuff from them is pretty much the polar opposite of a free market.

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That's missing a whole third category - the ones who suggest that full employment should only be a means to an ends. Why should having everyone working around the clock be an aim for society?

This debate is too polarised on whether jobs are coming or going and it completely misses the bigger questions altogether.

The aim should be for people to do less and/or gain more. Putting up barriers so that they can't do the former or the latter is bonkers. It's the sort of stuff myopic central planners fall for over and over again though, unfortunately.

Oh, I agree completely. But to get to there from where we are now? Big ask.

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Instagram doesn't have 13 people. It possibly has 13 real employees but it has an army of people running about doing stuff, probably on a contract basis.

Yes, Koday has gone from 140K to chuff all, but Kodak is a product of the last century. Before Kodak, those 140K people did something else. Today there are new classes of jobs that didn't exist when Kodak was founded - people who run data centres, build stuff, code stuff. There is a current problem with labour arbitrage, but that is narrowing fast.

I would imagine the horse maintainers and carriage makers said much the same thing when the motor car started to gain traction. The carr workers will probably say the same thing when teleportation is invented.

I think there is also a temporary illusion with all these companies spending a shit load of cash, and giving away free stuff. It seems like advertising is the new gold rush - you don't need to make anything any more, you just need eyeballs. I don't get it, and the blowout is going to be huge I think....

Indeed. This is something I have been discussing with Wonderpop for the past many months on various threads here.

Something will come around, and while there was one (or a few) Kodak, there are ten of thousands of Instagram.

Having said that though, it looks like structural unemployment is going up (looks like 8% rather then 4%) will be the norm - unless the population compounding stops.

Finally, no - we are not all doomed/working for free, but those with little digital skills will indeed find the future rather hard indeed.

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http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/05/digital-economy-work-for-free

Spot on. Are they finally starting to get it in the graundian, even if their beloved Labour get in power the cosy middle class liberal dream is over?

A pretty good comment here: http://discussion.guardian.co.uk/comment-permalink/24108411

You are 100% correct. This is the cry of middle class creatives in anguish from those who demand the right to be whatever they choose to be and expect to get paid for it. No toilet mopper from the working class (or immigrant class) - and I have been one such before you object - would demand the right to do exactly what they choose. No, they would accept the harsh reality that you have to take what you can get from wherever you can get it. But Moore just spouts a privileged view which basically amounts to protectionism. She seems to forget that many of us out here haven't had the luxury of doing a job we might actually have wanted and enjoyed to do for many a long year now.

Well guess what Ms Moore? You have no right to expect that you can do what you want to do and make money from it. No right at all. It's a dog eat dog world. By all means demand payment for whatever it is you want to do. You will find that others are less choosy. Writers are ten a penny and opinions are like arseholes: everybody's got one. Chances are, if papers like this are to be believed, that the people writing for free below the line have more to say than the nominally paid for hacks above it anyway.

Yap...do what you like, but bare in mind that the world is constantly changing and subject to competitions. If one works in one of those protected sectors - then one should count their blessings.

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Oh, I agree completely. But to get to there from where we are now? Big ask.

We know what not to do - threaten people when they try to do stuff more efficiently.

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Guardian hacks only ever had work because the public sector buys and advertises in their rag anyway. Theres no actual demand for 100 pages of daily marxist hypocrisy. Dont see that changing.

+1. And I bet a lot of Guardian hacks spent the last few years hand-wringing about how we should drop the debt and do things for people in poorer countries - yet when a system comes along that allows someone in the Phillipines or India to compete with westerners on a level playing field for work, suddenly it's all wrong.

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Guardian hacks only ever had work because the public sector buys and advertises in their rag anyway. Theres no actual demand for 100 pages of daily marxist hypocrisy. Dont see that changing.

So true.

I do feel a bit for journalists. They've probably had to work very hard and do things for those with the power to make their way up the system ... only to discover, anyone can write stuff and the occupation is dead.

A lot of it's luck, but I'm sure the good ones won't be going hungry.

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