Denise Cheng, a Comparative Media Studies Graduate student at MIT, recently gave an update on her research exploring how different paradigms of work move into the mainstream. She also brings to light potential worker welfare issues as we transition to an economy embracing collaborative consumption. We spoke to Denise earlier this year to shed some light on the intricacies of the movement and the related trends surrounding it.
Cheng’s look at the changing patterns of work is most relevant in the current economic climate. She mentions that the US has surpassed its pre-financial crisis GDP but has less fulltime workers today than in 2008! This is indicative of a larger trend away from traditional full-time employment. Today, many willing and able workers are unemployed or underemployed. Conventional paradigms of work, being full-time, salaried, work for men, have been disintegrating for many years. It is very positive for those who are underemployed, and for the broader community, that the collaborative consumption movement is striding forward.
Traditional patterns of employment went through phases of negotiation for rights and privileges for workers; this chapter must also emerge for the peer economy to ensure it is a competitive option for workers. Cheng raises questions of career trajectory, job security and benefits for those entering work in this sector. She notes that individuals working for various platforms for all or part of their income will increasingly be defined as freelancers. Questions are raised in relation to regulations governing work in this sector, as the freelancers are not strongly unified in the same way that full-time employees in a labour union have been in the past.
Cheng also mentions infrastructure. As work has evolved over the course of history, infrastructure has preceded or followed it. In this case, communication technologies have developed to a point that enables collaborative consumption to be considered viable.
Cheng has been mapping the overlaps between various different organisations that operate under the broad banner of collaborative consumption. By noticing where there are overlaps, mutually beneficial relationships may be developed. This is all in the name of strengthening the capabilities of this sector of the economy.
She also identifies the need for a broad range of people to adopt collaborative consumption as a movement. Early adopters are often the creative and technological class. Also it is interesting to note that there is ‘osmosis’ of users between different platforms, meaning that users of Task Rabbit are likely users of Kickstarter, for example. (Also check out Rachel Botsman’s TED Talk about the osmosis of user reputation between platforms)