Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Got Gigs? The New "Gig Economy"

Today on NPR's radio show Talk of the Nation, Tina Brown discussed what she calls "The Gig Economy." She is referring to people who work several jobs at once, doing several different types of work at once -- as opposed to having the old-fashioned and quickly vanishing "career" with full-time job, one boss, paid vacation and health insurance. Brown herself is a veritable "gigonomist" -- she runs her own online magazine and blog, wrote a bestselling book on Princess Diana and has edited a whole host of fancy magazines.

"Now that everyone has a project-to-project freelance career, everyone is a hustler," says Brown on her blog.

While I would prefer the term "multi-tasker" over "hustler", I have to admit that my own life seems to epitomize this idea. I am one of those industrious people who are always working on some task or another -- some paid work, some volunteer, some hobby.

Each week, I teach online classes in international politics, I teach writing for another university, I co-teach healthy cooking classes, write for 3 blogs, and then I volunteer tutoring Hispanic kids and cooking for the homeless. My newest "gig" is a travel course where I'm taking my university students to Turkey for two weeks.

In my spare time, I swim nearly every day, do yoga weekly, travel to 2-3 new countries per year and couchsurf around the US -- but of course, I'm never really on vacation and my laptop gets lugged around between beaches and train stations like a ball and chain around my wrist.

In Talk of the Nation, questions were raised as to whether free-wheeling freelancers like myself are:

1. Exploiting ourselves -- Endangering our futures by not getting employer-paid health insurance, unemployment coverage and the like.

2. Exploiting others -- "Spreading ourselves too thin," so to speak, and thus sacrificing quality for quantity in our work.

3. Simply products of our environment -- a downsizing economy, a multi-tasking culture

Personally, I tend to agree only with the third conclusion. I am certainly a product of my environment, but I'm not complaining. The freedom I gain from being 100% in charge of my time makes up for any false sense of security I might get from getting a 9-to-5. No job is 100% secure, just as nothing in life is 100% certain, and once you accept that, I find that there is little to gain from having a full-time job.

As for health insurance, HSA's are great ways to buy your own health insurance and get tax breaks for doing it. In fact, when you work as a freelancer, all kinds of things are tax deductible. When you think about it, you can find everything you can get from the highly touted and overrated full-time job from other sources quite easily.

On the other hand -- Not being trapped in an office all day long? Priceless.

What do you think about these fly-by-night part-timers? Vote now!


Anonymous said...

Hi thanks for following my blog.

Phew, im exhausted at reading the amount of pursuits you have. Good on you and you are the sort of person i would inspire to be.

Living life to the full and working on various fields at the same time and being flexible and working to your own timetables is the perfect ingredients for making the most of your life and making it interesting.

You only get one shot at it so go for it..

Artificial Wisdom said...

the image is messed up. Only a genric tripod image is there.

Working for yourself makes it very hard to publicize, and also doesn't allow you to specialize.

Nejla said...

Thanks, AMW, for your comments.

Nejla said...

Thanks, AW, for the tip about the image. I've fixed it now.

How does working for yourself make it hard to publicize?

The way the Gig Economy is supposed to work according to Tina Brown, people would specialize less, as they would simply adapt their pursuits to fit the immediate needs of the world around them. This is preferable, I think, to spending 10-20 years getting a PhD in something that may or may not get you a job, and may be even less likely to ever fill an actual need in the world.

Then again, I guess it depends on your idea of what counts as meeting a need or fulfilling a useful purpose in the world.

I'm curious to find out what others think about this.

Artificial Wisdom said...

If I'm looking for someone to perform a task for me, I'll look for specialists in the field, people who can perform the task quickly and competently because they have a lot of experience in the field.

Why would I ever hire a consultant who doesn't even work in the field? If I did decide to do that, there would be a lot of people for me to choose, and naturally I would pay much less.

Nicole said...

I feel exhausted by just READING the multitude of tasks that you are involved in...Where on earth, I ask myself, does she get the energy? Two answers come to my mind...1.She is young(yes, 31 is young..) 2. She is, more than likely, energized by the kinds of projects themselves, AND she is helping others in virtually everything that she does, and that in itself creates a vibrancy that stirs one on to WANT to keep going and creating...Okay, so I said two, but I must add a third...3. If you are going to get up in the morning and work at anything, how lovely to love the work that you do, and on top of that, to be able to excel in it is something we all aspire to do.

Bird* said...

amazing post. NPR always mpves my brain.... helps to see a situation in a new light.

i agree that no job is secure. especially in this day in age. i just recently found out that my boss feels that her job is threatened, which opened my eyes as to how this whole nation of people have been affected.

i have always been an independent person, and have always known what i would do if i were to loose my job tomorrow.... you've got to keep your options open. and know your resources.....