Is Freelance the Future?
I recently ran across this article by Doug Rushkoff. In the article, Rushkoff argues that the Recession has brought to light a growing trend; jobs are obsolete. Rushkoff asks the following:
I am afraid to even ask this, but since when is unemployment really a problem? I understand we all want paychecks — or at least money. We want food, shelter, clothing, and all the things that money buys us. But do we all really want jobs?
Rushkoff lays out the case that technology is beginning to erode the classic idea of a job for the majority of the population. He is not arguing that people should cease being productive, but merely that we are transitioning towards a system that rewards independent freelance work and more creative or intellectual pursuits for a large portion of the population. He concludes:
This sort of work isn’t so much employment as it is creative activity. Unlike Industrial Age employment, digital production can be done from the home, independently, and even in a peer-to-peer fashion without going through big corporations. We can make games for each other, write books, solve problems, educate and inspire one another — all through bits instead of stuff. And we can pay one another using the same money we use to buy real stuff.
For the time being, as we contend with what appears to be a global economic slowdown by destroying food and demolishing homes, we might want to stop thinking about jobs as the main aspect of our lives that we want to save. They may be a means, but they are not the ends.
At first, Rushkoff’s article seems a bit on the fringe, but keep in mind it ran as a front page opinion on CNN.com, about as mainstream as you can get.
I kept thinking about Rushkoff’s article when I listened to Thomas Friedman on Midday a couple of days later. Friedman argues that we are already in a new economy where we need to redefine the process by which people make money. Friedman discusses that fact that globalization and the Great Recession have reshaped the way Americans think about jobs. He recounts a conversation with his daughter where he states “when I got out of college, I got a job. When you get out of college, you’ll have to create one”.
Friedman backs up this claim with the fact that every successful business, in the end, destroys jobs in three ways; creating efficiencies, adopting new technology, and hiring labor where labor is cheapest. In order to survive in a globalized and technologically advanced economy, Friedman points out that American workers need to adopt a freelance approach in which they can work for multiple people or companies in a specialized field. In becoming specialized, people avoid becoming “average”. In the New Economy, a merely average worker is replaceable and exportable.
Friedman’s discussion caused me to reflect on a growing part of my business. More and more of my firm’s business is helping people start up a new, freelance, business where they specialize in the same work they previously did for an employer. In many cases, they are doing freelance work for their former employer as well as other clients.
There are some perks to this system. Self-employed people are often ranked as the happiest people. Flexible work schedules and direct responsibility for your work are known to increase person’s quality of life. As an independent business, you can work for multiple employers. This means that, theoretically, you can earn more money.
What do you think? Is the American economy actually shifting to a “freelance economy”, or is this merely a temporary side effect of the Great Recession? If this is permanent, is this a good thing?