A commitment-deficient generation wakes in a world where instant gratification is possible and endless options are available in every aspect of life; from what we want to eat to where we want to live to who we want to be when we grow up. With touch-screen-accustomed fingers, this generation reaches for not one, not two, but all of the goals and dreams all at once. Who says we have to pick just one?
Is an element of choice diminished in a future where we can have it all? Maybe. We are no longer presented with forks in the road at which we must choose just one path, knowing a different life might exist at the end of each one. We are, for the first time, constructing new avenues for ourselves where all of our desired roads converge. Enter, the labour trend of zero-hour contracts, independent project-oriented work, and remotely picking up jobs at any time of day or in multiple fields, christened after the gigs picked up and played by musicians. The Gig Economy has made multifaceted, mobile careers and long-distance professional relationships possible, much to the convenience of the millennial and subsequent generations whom would scoff at being asked to choose one thing. The truth is, we can’t, we won’t, and we don’t have to.
This economic landscape, in which the doorways to multiple diverse opportunities seem perpetually open, is well-suited to the multi-generational archetype of a career-oriented, travel-interested, well-connected individual. Work, like us, is flexible, accommodating for our fear of missing out on the next best thing; it is often remote, allowing for self-sufficiency and mobility as our careers traverse the globe alongside us by way of technology. For many of us, it sounds like the lifestyle of dreams.
But what seems appealing on paper might be more challenging in practise. When we think of the Gig Economy, we picture freelancing creatives, consultants, and content creators operating from MacBooks propped in independent coffee shops and trendy WeWork offices. But also included in this economic model are Amazon warehouse employees, Uber drivers, and ‘informal workers’ all over the world, defined by Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg, chief economist of the World Bank, as those ‘not covered by labour regulations’ – in other words, the self-employed.
In the same breath, Goldberg highlights a major issue faced by this demographic, supposedly the luckiest workers in the force: ‘they don’t have formal contracts like permanent workers, so as a result they don’t have any benefits, they don’t have any social security, and they don’t have any job security’. Meanwhile, those working on zero-hour contracts whose wages depend on meeting sometimes unfathomable production outputs can end up clocking more than the standard weekly forty hours, for significantly less pay.
Even within the seemingly idyllic world of creative freelancing persists the unforgiving pattern of being rejected due to inadequate experience, but unable to gain experience as employers continuously opt for more equipped individuals for a job, a cycle that can seem impossible to crack. Consumers and customers, too, have as much endless choice as workers do, and can easily opt out of one individual’s services in favour of another. The same commitment-devoid working environment that prevents us from ending up confined to one job title or company can therefore result in exploitation, both of those who choose to work this way, and those who don’t. Whether willingly adopting, or settling for, this life- and work-style, we opt out of the security of a steady job, stable pay, and full coverage in social services that workers of a simpler time were once guaranteed.
Despite awareness of its disadvantages, an increasing number of young professionals are moving into freelance and independent contract-based work. Why are we embracing insecure and unstable ways of living and working, as individuals, as a generation, as a society? I’m sure there are tens of fine-tuned, economically driven responses to this question. But from the eyes of a project-oriented creative who will likely become integrated into this model, we push forward because although it’s difficult, people are making it work. We are regularly confronted with narratives of friends of friends, former colleagues, and inspiriting Insta-folk who have shown us that willingness to sacrifice stability at the beginning is a small price to pay in exchange for never again having to compromise what we want, personally and professionally. It is increasingly possible to build careers in which we can continuously curate niche roles for ourselves, connect with colleagues from all over the world to support and work with us, and blur the line between business and pleasure, travel, play. I wonder how many of us will manage to reach out and grasp one.
Edited by Alexia McDonald, Head Digital Editor