A very good piece on how the some of the world of work might look like in the future. BTW, I first picked up on Rachel Botsman during an appearance on the ABC's The Checkout program talking about social banking.
In Somerville, Massachusetts, just across the line from Cambridge, is an institution called Artisan’s Asylum. At 40,000 square feet, it says it’s one of the largest “makerspaces,” or community craft studios, on the East Coast of the United States. A nonprofit group, it hosts craftspeople, artists and entrepreneurs, analog and digital alike. In addition to classes in traditional fields like woodworking, fiber arts and metalworking, it offers coveted rental space for creative types.
At one end of the space, tech whizzes are building Stompy, a 4,000-pound hexapod — a six-legged robot. At the other is a “bike hacking” collective that repurposes old bicycle frames. In between are the folks who invented a 3Doodler, the three-dimensional pen — it extrudes heated plastic that can be formed into just about any shape. The 3Doodler raised $2.3 million on Kickstarter (far outpacing its $30,000 goal) and is on track to be the next must-have gift item.
Community fabrication spaces like Artisan’s Asylum are becoming popular across the United States and Europe. For many, they represent an appealing vision of the future of work.
Unlike in the classic industrial setting, where the manual and mental aspects of work are separated between blue- and white-collar employees, those tasks are integrated in these “makerspaces.” There’s a commitment to ecological sustainability. There are no bosses or even “jobs,” in the traditional sense. Value is generated, for sure, but as “livelihood” or, in the case of the start-ups, worker/creator ownership.
This shift from employment to livelihood, while far from prevalent, has become a necessity for many in the wake of the 2008 global financial collapse, which led to the loss of more than 8 million jobs in the United States. At the time, I and other observers predicted that these jobs — a victim of labor-saving technical change, globalization and financialization — were unlikely to return. Five years later, the employment-to-population ratio in the United States, 58.6 percent, is at its lowest since 1983. In much of Europe, unemployment has soared, especially for youth, even as aging populations place pressure on pension and other social welfare programs.
As jobs disappear, people have begun to carve out new ways to gain access to income, goods and services. This is evident not only in the “makerspaces,” but also in what has come to be called the “sharing economy,” which encompasses activities as diverse as car-pooling, ride-sharing, opening one’s home to strangers via Web-based services like Couchsurfing or Airbnb, sharing office space and working in community gardens and food co-ops.
Like “makerspaces,” the sharing economy is refashioning work, giving people new opportunities to earn money or to have access to goods and services. People are joining “time banks,” through which members trade services like baby-sitting, carpentry or tutoring. They are selling their labor for cash on platforms like Task Rabbit and Zaarly. They are renting out their cars, homes and durable goods, from appliances to lawn mowers. They are also giving away their stuff, via Web sites like Yerdle and Freecycle, rather than throwing it away.