IS SHARING REALLY CARING? A nuanced introduction to the peer economy
As part of the Open Society Foundation’s Future of Work inquiry, I was commissioned to write a primer on the “sharing economy,” with a particular focus on peer-to-peer marketplaces (i.e.: Taskrabbit, Udemy, Etsy, Lyft, Getaround, Airbnb). The paper breaks down various concepts shoveled under the term “sharing economy.” It then turns to the peer economy, laying out stakeholders, known problems, reviewing some of the structural inequalities, opportunities, and the morphing pathway to ownership.
I’ve attended events as both a facilitator and panelist. I’ve spoken about citizen journalism and community engagement, creative storytelling and content distribution, labor in the peer economy, nuances of the “sharing economy.”
Bay Area Video Coalition - Gig Union Town Hall to discuss a world where freelancing is the new normal (video)
I have been making my own personal business cards for years, always designing them and usually printing and making them. When I began my independent consulting business, I sent my design to a letterpress shop for production. The business card is a smoke gray, with copper hot foil stamping.
When I was at MIT, I took full advantage of the Media Lab shop to learn lasercutting, vinyl cutting, the water jet, and other digital fabrication tools. I learned how to make stencils, cut and etch wood and other materials, but my favorite tool by far was the vinyl cutter. Above, I made a map for my phone of all the U.S. states I lived in, tiles for the Bopscotch project (BW image on top, followed by example of prepped file), and a decal for my computer.
“Technologies that change society are technologies that change interactions between people.” - César Hidalgo
The normative understanding of work is imploding. Throughout most of the U.S.’ twentieth century, landing a job was equivalent to a lifetime of smooth sailing, but today’s Americans are always anticipating the next round of layoffs. This thesis kicks off with the rise and ebb of gainful employment through the 20th century. It then introduces the peer economy as a well-positioned, future work model for mainstream adoption. I run through the peer/sharing economy ideology before introducing stakeholders—providers, companies, investors, entrenched interests, regulators, cities, labor advocates, strategists, scholars and critics, and media—as well as known problems in the space.
I suggest three historical antecedents from which to draw:
The domestic workers movement for identifying emergent needs, organizing strategies, and as a natural partner in procuring labor rights
An indictment of legal work status in the US and an exhortation to expand its classifications beyond “employee” and “independent contractor.”
The franchise dilemma offers legal terms—”covenant of good faith and fair dealing” and “contract of adhesion”—that capture tension between providers and platforms that both groups have had difficulty articulating. These terms are necessary to carry on a truly productive conversation of ethical issues in the peer economy.
The fourth chapter summarizes qualitative and ethnographic fieldwork in New York City and San Francisco. I interviewed various stakeholders with an emphasis on social welfare. Instead of summing up known issues, the chapter conveys how providers see themselves in relation to companies and customers.
This thesis ends by locating the peer economy within a larger movement to redefine work. It contextualizes the peer economy as one model and articulates the motivation among all stakeholders, which applies across labor models: “The excitement that I have observed around the peer economy—even when it is naïve—is a recognition that now is a chance to do things better.”
Each day we walk by silent buildings and lots. Absent landlords, hibernating developers, abandoned lots—their impact as part of the patchwork is subtle but real. Be they eyesore or brownfield, SPACES ARE REACTIVE. Unused spaces trap the vitality of the neighborhoods they surround. For the last 15 years, Vail Court has fallen into disrepair. The 24-unit housing complex is uninhabitable and unsafe as a structure while the rest of the property acts as a weekday parking lot. Attempts have been made to move forward—both by the property owner and by neighbors—but as far as the public knows, there have been no plans for the space since 2005.
This project asks neighbors and frequent passersby to fill in postcards that are mailed directly to the property owners. I was enamored with the weight of postcards: How does the sender’s selection of a design suggest something personal? A postcard has more weight than a petition signature and gives flexibility to write a lot or a little, to illustrate concepts and/or capture them in words. It is a dynamic physical artifact. Some of the postcards are pre-designed to trigger the imagination. Most are blank for senders to dream up other possibilities. Vail Court has been a topic among Cantabrigians for many years. Conversation continues to swirl within the community, but how does the conversation flow back out—beyond the city councilors to the decision-making owners? These postcards capture the lived experience and hopes of those who share Vail Court in common. The postcards and process are documented on a site before being mailed—two cards per day—with an invitation for the owners to respond to the community online.
I co-taught a graduate/undergraduate course on codesign, where consultants and groups’ collaboration is such a transformative experience that it blurs the line of who is learning from whom.
I advised the CMS.862 group working with NeighborMedia, a citizen journalism platform in Cambridge, MA.
(Regarding the poster, I used a laser cutter to cut out the edges. Originally, the pieces were meant to be perforated so students could tear off and pocket information. After the first test, however, I realized that the cutting process would take hours per poster, so I abandoned it)
Bopscotch is a tweak on the classic hopscotch game. Each square of the court is associated with a specific tone, allowing a player to create a melody, or team up with others to compose complex melodies, as they hop over the court. By layering tones onto hopscotch, sound is mapped on top of space which strengthens connections between spatial and aural awareness.
Vojo is an audio blogging platform that grew out of VozMob, a partnership between USC Annenberg and the Institute for Popular Education. It began as an avenue for migrant workers to to tell their stories—documenting work abuses, telling community stories and sharing family life.
Vojo was developed by the MIT Center for Civic Media to scale the platform so other organizations could also give voice to their communities. I helped to facilitate workshops, and design materials for the project.
As part of an exploration into the politics of categorization and how to manifest identity, I focused on Etsy’s narrative of handmade and proposed a tool. I analyzed 62 posts in the Short Stories series, in which sellers write up the story behind a special product, and parsed them into 22 categories.
Etsy has done a commendable job in making the right products easier for buyers to find. Although Etsy continues to improve its search tools and interface, it has not focused on how to bring out the crafter’s inspiration behind the product. Crafting is deeply personal, and handmade products often issue out of some aspect of identity. This is a selling point of handmade products that is muted on Etsy.
The story should not be the selling point for products, it does contribute to the meaning of handmade products. Even though short stories is a useful series, that storytelling space is separate from the point of sale (the product page). I wanted to bring the story into the commercial space without overwhelming the product. Keeping those criteria in mind and inspired by the Firefox Tilt extension, I decided to nest any storytelling features in the product page.
A day before Hurricane Sandy touched down, netizens began to congregate via etherpads, Google Docs and IRC, assuming the name “HurricaneHackers.”
HurricaneHackers teamed up with Sandy CrisisCamps—a series of hackathons organized by CrisisCommons around the world—to host a hackathon at MIT Media Lab. About 30 participants worked together throughout the day to figure out how a remote set of volunteers could support Sandy relief with communication technologies.
Pablo Mazón and I were the main facilitators for the hackathon. With Pablo’s experience organizing OccupyData hackathons and my participation in hackathons, we knew that a common gathering place is powerful for imaginative and holistic thinking, and to matchmake that thinking with real world needs.
As an exploration of the meaning of literacy, how to approach it and how to map it onto real-world concerns, a team comprising Erica Deahl, Julie Fisher, Jason Lipshin and I created a web-portal and game-based tool to teach aspects of childhood nutrition to caregivers and children. The project website includes a resource portal for caregivers, and a ‘kid-facing’ section that introduces the major interactive tool of the project, “The Game of Lunch.”
This offline card game, printable from the site, introduces concepts based on the My Plate standard of balanced nutrition and the Aggregate Nutritional Density Index (ANDI). Through game play featuring food categories (vegetables, fruits, grains, etc.), nutritional density, individual ingredients and recipe combinations, kids explore fundamental principles of healthy eating.
The website also features a photo-sharing section for players to post photos of actual snacks they’ve made based on the ingredients and recipes they encounter in the game.
In 2011, a friend and I decided to challenge ourselves to try the vegan diet. He was a vegequarin, and I was a curious omnivore. We agreed to go vegan two months a year—one month during a season of abundance and other during scarcity. We have since continued this tradition, bringing many more friends on board (visible in October 2012).