Search Results for: gig economy

Waymo Cars and Honey Bears

Longreads Pick

Gentrification has no shortage of first-order sins: displacement in the name of “progress” is bad enough. But after the displaced have been pushed to the margins, what’s left in their stead is a stunning homogeneity — not simply demographic, but dystopian. Anna Wiener’s latest “Letter From San Francisco” sums up the vague malaise that comes from lurching into the future.

Maybe this is what is meant by “tech culture.” A self-driving car named Sourdough ferries novelty-seeking passengers across the Inner Sunset while capturing footage that might be useful for the cops. A local artist scales by adopting political causes as if they’re software skins. At the grocery store, a man and I stand beside each other, deliberating over mustards—but I am running errands, and he is on the clock.

Source: The New Yorker
Published: Jul 20, 2022
Length: 10 minutes (2,699 words)

‘In My 30 Years as a GP, the Profession has Been Horribly Eroded’

Longreads Pick

This is an insightful first-person account of the shifting role of an English doctor. The comparison offered — 30 years apart — tells a powerful story. 

Today, unlike 30 years ago, all patients are strangers and, as my catchment area now extends into different London boroughs, even the places I go are unfamiliar. Gone is the relationship between my community and me. Instead, I am part of a gig economy, as impersonal as the driver delivering a pizza. I ended the shift with a profound sense of loss and sadness.

Source: The Guardian
Published: Feb 22, 2022
Length: 14 minutes (3,703 words)

Instacart: Shop ‘Til You Drop

(Photo by Glenn Koenig/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Instacart’s demand has soared since coronavirus arrived. But the company is continuously changing how it offers work to shoppers, pitting them against one another as batches appear and are instantly claimed and rejecting their sick claims even after positive Covid-19 tests verified by a doctor. At The Verge, Russell Brandom reports on a dog-eat-dog gig system where Instacart is “just an interface, sitting between a pool of orders on one side and a pool of itinerant labor on the other.”

The problem is bigger than just masks and sick pay. The pandemic has turned grocery delivery into a vital service, and Instacart’s business has never been better. Orders are up 500 percent since the crisis started, and shoppers are seeing 60 percent more money for every job they run. Instacart hit profitability for the first time last month, and it plans to bring in 300,000 new full-service shoppers. It’s on track to process more than $35 billion in groceries this year, which would put it on par with the fifth-largest grocery chain in the country.

That success has come on the backs of workers like Rachel. As most of the country has been sheltering in place, workers have been spending hours in lines, hunting through chaotic and newly dangerous supermarkets so that clients don’t have to. Instacart still views those workers as independent contractors, and tensions between executives and gig shoppers have reached a breaking point. The company has already seen two public walkouts, each accompanied by the threat of a public boycott in solidarity. Most painfully, the longest-running shoppers say they’re being pushed out by the influx of new employees in a system designed to churn through bodies rather than protect frontline workers.

For shoppers, batches are the lifeblood of the job. Instacart sets prices for each batch, but they’re often so low that the runs don’t make economic sense. Small batches are often set at the $7 minimum or just above, which is practically nothing when you factor in waiting times and the price of gas. There are good batches, too, but they get snatched up quickly, while the bad ones linger on until they’re the only thing shoppers see. The result is a daily battle over who will get the most profitable batches and be able to make a living on the platform — a battle Instacart seems to be actively encouraging.

In other cases, the app seems purposefully designed to make workers vulnerable. Buyers promise a tip when they list a batch, but they can change it for days after the run is completed. It’s led to a practice shoppers call “tip-baiting,” where buyers list a big tip to make sure their batch gets taken, then pull it back after the fact. Instacart defends the system, saying it gives buyers discretion over how much they’re tipping. According to the company’s statistics, tips are only lowered after the run in 0.5 percent of cases — but the result is still less money in the pockets of gig workers, and it’s a structural vulnerability for people who are already extremely vulnerable.

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Airbnb Is Spending Millions of Dollars to Make Nightmares Go Away

Longreads Pick

“When things go horribly wrong during a stay, the company’s secretive safety team jumps in to soothe guests and hosts, help families—and prevent PR disasters.”

Published: Jun 15, 2021
Length: 20 minutes (5,004 words)

Why You Never See Your Friends Anymore

Longreads Pick

From algorithms that set work schedules to the whims of the gig economy, too many workers are deprived of free time that overlaps with friends’ and family’s, and America’s social fabric is fraying. “A calendar is more than the organization of days and months,” Judith Shulevitz writes. “It’s the blueprint for a shared life.”

Source: The Atlantic
Published: Oct 10, 2019
Length: 9 minutes (2,338 words)

Is The Gig Economy Working?

Longreads Pick

“The power to control one’s working life would return, grassroots style, to the people,” writes Nathan Heller about the neoliberal dream of a work environment in which capitalism is democratized. But the gig economy has always been about the illusion of control, and that illusion is enough to keep people outwardly satisfied, but inwardly anxious. What does it all mean, this endless, piecemeal work? If the gig economy is working us to death, it’s also doing so without the satisfaction of a job well done.

Source: The New Yorker
Published: May 8, 2017
Length: 35 minutes (8,800 words)

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

A female piping plover with a chick.
A female Piping Plover prepares to settle over her newly hatched chick and three unhatched eggs to brood them at her Nantucket nest. (Photo by Mark Wilson/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

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1. The Price of Admission

Rachel Aviv | The New Yorker | March 28th, 2022 | 10,600 words

I’ve started writing this blurb, erased my attempt, and started again a few times now. The difficulty of summarizing Rachel Aviv’s latest feature is a testament to how good it is, and how complex. What starts as the story of a teenager escaping an abusive parent, navigating foster care, and making a life for herself in the form of a full ride to the University of Pennsylvania, a Rhodes scholarship, and even a new last name pivots at a certain point to something else entirely: an examination of the narrow frameworks that powerful institutions impose onto trauma and suffering, an indictment of the unforgiving expectations society has of abuse victims, and a study in human resilience. Just read it. Then talk about it. We need to talk about it. —SD

2. ‘In my 30 Years as a GP, the Profession has Been Horribly Eroded’

Clare Gerada | The Guardian | February 22nd, 2022 | 3,707 words

This essay tells the story of two days: one in 1991, the other in 2021. On both days, Clare Gerada was on-call as a General Practitioner in London, but 30 years have brought immense change to life as a community doctor. This comparison offers a simple yet incredibly effective story-telling technique. Gerada made three house calls on her first day on call in 1991. Each person’s story was very different — from an addict with pneumonia to a little girl with an earache — but the care and time Gerada was able to take with each of them remained the same. Fast forward to 2021, her very last day on-call, and Cohen finds herself juggling numerous visits arranged through a call center, part of a “gig economy, as impersonal as the driver delivering a pizza.” Her patients have also changed, and she explains that “with advances of medicines and technology, patients are living longer, often with three or even four serious long-term conditions.” It has stretched the system into something thin and fragile. Gerada used to see the same patients for decades but “each patient I saw that day was a stranger, and each contact an isolated encounter. We would never meet again.” This piece paints a concerning picture, but one that warrants discussion. Gerada offers a clear-eyed, first-person insight into the healthcare debate in the UK. —CW

3. Plovers Quarrel: A Tiny, Endangered Bird Returns to Sauble Beach to Find Sunbathers Dug Into the Sand

Fatima Syed | The Narwhal | March 26th, 2022 | 5,029 words

Sauble Beach, a lakeside community and tourist destination on Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula, is currently the backdrop of a lengthy, expensive legal battle. The Town of South Bruce Peninsula was fined $100,000 for destroying the habitat of the piping plover: a tiny endangered bird that had vanished from the Great Lakes region for 30 years, until a pair suddenly returned to the beach in 2007. The community has since actively protected these birds, calling themselves “plover lovers.” But some people, including the town’s mayor, want a pristine shoreline of smooth sand for sunbathers and vacationers — and have raked and bulldozed the beach, scraping away the natural dunes and vegetation that plovers need to nest, breed, and live. So, who is this beach for? Can humans and plovers share the sand? This is a well-reported story from Fatima Syed on the battle within this community — and what it means to “damage” a habitat — accompanied by gorgeous photographs. (You’ll love the unexpected plover puns, too.) —CLR

4. Bright Passage

Leslie Jamison | Orion Magazine | March 11th, 2022 | 5,501 words

At Orion Magazine, Leslie Jamison explores her experiences in hospital and the necessary indignities and frustrations of being vulnerable. She recounts the heightened and dulled sensory experiences of recovering from surgery, a place where pain and numbness merge, a place where the patient is struggling to make sense of the world around her and the boundaries of a body now irrevocably changed: “Each time, I felt part of a world—just briefly, in passing—that was structured by a series of contradictory intensities: the simultaneous exposure and anonymity of sharing cramped spaces with strangers; the vulnerability and disconnection of needing strangers so badly; the intimacy and tenderness of bodily care alongside the brisk assembly-line necessities of caring at scale…Private lives become public. The nurses know your business, the other patients know your business, the doctors know your insides. The surgeons see your insides. Extreme emotion—whether desperation or relief—becomes impossible to contain, visible for all to see.” —KS

5. My Friend Goo

Deb Olin Unferth | The Paris Review | March 28th, 2022 | 3,463 words

“In March 2020 the entire human world was out walking,” begins Deb Olin Unferth’s charming, tender essay. We all remember that time; in those earliest days of terrifying mystery, the only thing we could do was find whatever unoccupied bit of the planet we could, and move through it. While most of us did so to avoid anyone and everyone, however, the writer found connection — with a massive goose she names Goo. There’s more to this story, as she reminds us throughout: a long-dead older brother, a strained relationship, the hostile vagaries of the natural world. Above all, as she recounts her growing intimacy with Goo, the essay serves as a paean to the idea of difficult friendship. There’s less of a wallop here than a prolonged, low-grade emotional ache; Unferth draws you through her life and loss with an unerring sense of pace, and from the very beginning you sense that there’s only one place this path can end. It does, of course, at least in a way. But that doesn’t mean you won’t hold your breath waiting for the punch to the gut. —PR

Working To Live Often Means Giving Up Your Life

AP Photo/Chris Carlson

The gig economy and operations like Amazon and Uber demand flexible schedules and constant availability, including weekends, which destroys much opportunity for a set schedule outside of work. In the traditional work force, high salary positions often require long hours and porous boundaries, dissolving the barrier between work and life and eating up the off-time that once contained a social life. Workers pay the price: without schedules that overlap with friends and family, people don’t socialize as much, see their kids, or spouses, or ever relax, and this all takes a heavy toll on society. For The Atlantic, Judith Shulevitz examines the many social costs of America’s work-life problem, and what she calls the cult of busyness.

When so many people have long or unreliable work hours, or worse, long and unreliable work hours, the effects ripple far and wide. Families pay the steepest price. Erratic hours can push parents—usually mothers—out of the labor force. A body of research suggests that children whose parents work odd or long hours are more likely to evince behavioral or cognitive problems, or be obese. Even parents who can afford nannies or extended day care are hard-pressed to provide thoughtful attention to their kids when work keeps them at their desks well past the dinner hour.

It’s an enlightening but depressing piece, but essential if we are to survive what we have either opted into, or had imposed on us by the job market. Shulevitz compares this American paradigm to the failed Soviet experiment called nepreryvka, meaning the “continuous workweek.”

What makes the changing cadences of labor most nepreryvka-like, however, is that they divide us not just at the micro level, within families and friend groups, but at the macro level, as a polity. Staggered and marathon work hours arguably make the nation materially richer—economists debate the point—but they certainly deprive us of what the late Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter described as a “cultural asset of importance”: an “atmosphere of entire community repose.”

I know this dates me, but I’m nostalgic for that atmosphere of repose—the extended family dinners, the spontaneous outings, the neighborly visits. We haven’t completely lost these shared hours, of course. Time-use studies show that weekends continue to allow more socializing, civic activity, and religious worship than weekdays do. But Sundays are no longer a day of forced noncommerce—everything’s open—or nonproductivity. Even if you aren’t asked to pull a weekend shift, work intrudes upon those once-sacred hours. The previous week’s unfinished business beckons when you open your laptop; urgent emails from a colleague await you in your inbox. A low-level sense of guilt attaches to those stretches of time not spent working.

As for the children, they’re not off building forts; they’re padding their college applications with extracurricular activities or playing organized sports. A soccer game ought to impose an ethos of not working on a parent, and offer a chance to chat with neighbors and friends. Lately, however, I’ve been seeing more adults checking their email on the sidelines.

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Man vs. Gig: Doug Schifter’s Last Stand

Drivers protest Uber X and Lyft in Philadelphia, PA. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

In a devastating profile in New York Magazine, Jessica Bruder tells the story of Doug Schifter, a New York City black-car driver who saw Uber’s disruption of the taxi industry decimate his income. After trying to organize drivers to seek stronger regulations — and suffering a string of health issues that ate up what savings he had — he made one last statement: he shot himself outside City Hall. Bruder’s piece is both an important look at a dysfunctional industry and a master class in profile writing.

But at the press conference about Schifter’s suicide, Mayor Bill de Blasio downplayed Schifter’s parting explanation. “Let’s face it,” he told reporters. “For someone to commit suicide, there’s an underlying mental-health challenge.” De Blasio was hardly in a position to diagnose Schifter. There was, in fact, no evidence that Schifter was mentally ill — just a long written record, published over the course of three years in Black Car News, that underscored how the upheaval in the taxi industry had left him physically impaired, financially desperate, and emotionally devastated. De Blasio himself had done little to rein in Uber, backing down on a cap he had proposed placing on app-driven services. “I heard you were going to end the cruelty to the Central Park horses,” Schifter had addressed de Blasio in one of his columns. “How about ending the government’s cruelty to us?”

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To Your Door: The Human Cost of Food Delivery

Getty Images

To earn money during a rough patch as a freelancer, Sam Riches worked as a bike courier, delivering food in Toronto during a six-month period. While the job lacked in pay, it offered one intriguing benefit: a crash course in human nature.

When you’re broke, your body becomes your last resort, a mostly reliable means to make money that also comes with great precarity. If you get injured in a low-wage job with no employment insurance, there’s nothing to fall back on. You pay with your health.

I feel this job in my body. My neck cracks, my shoulders pop, my ankles creak. Some nights, I ride until my legs turn numb and the wind whips tears in my eyes and the world becomes fuzzy at the edges. Then I have a choice. I can keep riding or I can stop and wait until my path becomes clear again.

You learn about human nature when you ride a bike through the arteries of the city. You see couples arguing in parked cars. Elderly ladies collecting beer bottles. Street performers whose routines become familiar. Guys on dates trying too hard. Guys on dates not trying hard enough. Old men falling over drunk. Good dogs. There are so many good dogs.

People are mostly good. That’s another thing you learn on this job. I deliver to downtown offices and suburban schools, to addiction-withdrawal centres and auditoriums, to pregnant mothers and hungover teens and elderly folks who are genuinely amazed they are able to summon bread pudding to their door.

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