I read an article yesterday about the spread of sharing technologies and how they were beginning to challenge what we think about work.
It’s a hot topic here in France with authorities acting against the company, Uber, which was letting anyone with a car and the Uber app get paid for giving lifts to strangers. French taxi drivers protested vehemently (and sometimes violently) against this service which they saw as undermining their way of making a living. Taxi driving is a highly regulated job and the drivers have to pay a lot of money to get and keep their licences. It’s no wonder that technologies which underpin the likes of Uber are called “disruptive technologies”!
Whatever you think about the struggle between Uber, the taxi drivers and the State authorities, the service is a good example of how the nature of work might change.
The article I read (in a French magazine) pointed out that someone might earn some money driving their car using “Uber” in the morning, trade some antiques online using “leboncoin” in the afternoon, and welcome guests to sleep in a spare room using “AirBnB” in the evening. None of this makes the person a taxi driver, an antiquarian trader, or a hotelier.
So, maybe in such an example, this person would not define themselves by their work. They would also be experiencing a lot more freedom than any employee of a company, choosing not just their working hours each week, but the nature of their work, almost task by task.
Will this kind of working spread? Is this the new kind of “portfolio” work? What does that mean for regulators, tax inspectors and the State? And what does it mean for established tradesmen and professionals who are currently subject to the bureaucracy of employment and licenses etc?
In some ways this is a very libertarian version of utopia – each individual working for themselves without huge barriers in the form of regulations and the powerful interventions of the state. But this article referred to quite another interesting version of utopia – that of communism described by Karl Marx in “German Ideology” –
In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity … society regulates production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.
I don’t think there are apps for hunting, fishing, or looking after sheep yet, but there are certainly lots of opportunities for critics!
So, what do you think? Are these new technologies the vanguard of change in the nature of work? Are they the place where libertarians and communists find something to agree about? In fact, are they challenging not only the nature of work, but the role of the State and the old labels we applied to political groupings?