Work Future 1: An Introduction

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The beginning is a great place to start, and luckily we are at a beginning.

This particular beginning emerged in the 1960s as we started to connect computers and share packets of information among the resulting networks.1 And ever since, the Internet, along with its biosphere of accompanying software and hardware, have been inviting themselves deeper into our lives. What started as a novelty whiz-bang-wow is now considered a critical necessity. Just place a random group of technologically-habituated humans in a space without connected devices and wait—the withdrawal symptoms will not be far behind. And as with all beginnings, they invite questions as to where they lead.

In light of this Network Age, Gig.Work explores one question in particular: How is the institution of work changing?

In order to explore properly, we must have lenses to see. The two primary lenses used will be the gig economy and systems thinking.

The gig economy lens looks at the evolution of work itself. Today the basic unit of work is the job. Children are educated for jobs. Adults look for jobs. Employers control jobs. Politicians promise to create jobs. Governments regulate jobs. The Gig economy proposes the project as the basic unit of work. In the gig economy, a job is considered just one form of project that qualifies as work.

The systems thinking lens examines how the institution of work fits into the larger society. Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things, regarded as systems, influence one another within a whole.2 Basically, everything is a system itself and everything is a part of a system. All these systems are interconnected. A primary thread of the Gig.Work project is the idea that we need to fundamentally reconsider the role of work within our social systems.

Using these lenses of gig economy and systems thinking, the change in how we work is readily observable. We each can think of concrete examples of people (perhaps even ourselves) who work on gigs, have multiple streams of income, and/or hold the title of “consultant” or “contractor.” The Uber-ification of everything from laundry3 to flower delivery4 to executive talent5 is another example of how work is changing. And many of us can relate to feelings of frustration, tenuousness and instability that permeate the experience of work and how it integrates into our lives. Gone is the option of the 30-year job with a pension. How we work is quite obviously changing.

The societal implications of this systemic change in the institution of work are immense. The questions for further consideration come rushing in:

  • What does employment mean today?
  • What does having a “collage career” mean?
  • Why are people doing project-based work?
  • What does education look like for the gig economy?
  • What skills are most critical in the gig economy?
  • What systems need to be adapted and built to create a predictable marketplace for both businesses and workers?
  • What is the current discussion about the “gig-project-sharing-on-demand economy” getting right and what is it getting wrong?
  • What is the role of work in our society?

It is questions such as these Gig.Work will explore through editorials, research, workshops, interviews, and document reviews, all to be published here.

This is a critical exploration because like the transition from hunting and gathering culture to agrarian culture; and like the transition from agrarian culture to industrial culture; the transition from industrial culture to network culture will fundamentally rewrite the human experience of work.

Welcome. Let’s begin.

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