The Trap of Gig Culture
How can we dismantle something so toxic while using it to survive?
Like many millennials, I have, over the years, found myself underpaid, underemployed, and looking for ways to supplement my income. But because of my work schedule, it's hard to take on another part time job. So, naturally, I've turned to the internet. And on the internet? I found beermoney. Beermoney is a reddit thread where people who look for micro jobs, gigs, and passive income come together to discuss ways to supplement income, with little-to-no effort or time commitment. It includes market survey sites, academic research participation, ad income from watching videos, beta testing, secret shopping, and online and receipt cash back programs, among other things. Users post referral links, advice, and their earnings for the month to indicate which sites are useful, and which are scams.
First of all, there's no such thing as "no effort" or "no time commitment." All beermoney efforts do take time and concentration, along with access to internet and power. What makes them appealing, though, is that the flexibility and low risk allow people to utilize it alongside their schedules, and to participate in it a little or a lot, based on what they can do. And while it doesn't pay much, users report between $20 and $1000 a month, depending on how much time is put into it.
But why should we have to spend every spare second of our lives working to get a little extra coin? And what are the effects on the larger economy? Websites that pay pennies for micro-tasks end up not having to hire full time employees. And, if companies are hiring fewer full time or even part time employees, the job market is made that much more competitive, leaving people desperate and looking for ways to supplement income. Furthermore, most people using beermoney come from a middle-class background, looking to supplement income to purchase entertainment-related costs (which is clear by how it's marketed, even in the name, beermoney). But, likely, the people experiencing the most turmoil in this job market are lower-class people, working 16 hour days to get by, and beermoney wouldn't be enough to contribute to living costs in any real way. Like almost everything else under capitalism, this system impacts communities of color most, not to mention the potentially scary implications of data mining that most of these companies use, and how that disproportionately affects people of color.
Knowing all this, I tried to cut back on my beermoney-site habits, and found that I missed not only the constant stimulation it provides, but also the padded income each month. I'm so brainwashed by concepts of productivity tied to income, that I felt bad for missing these small, but real, opportunities. I felt like I was wasting my time when I could be earning something. I was completely addicted. So, I decided to limit myself based on programs that seemed to also add some value to my world. Prolific, for example, is a survey site specific to academic research. The surveys are decently paid, and contribute to research I care about. I still use cashback apps for grocery items I already planned on buying (basically just redeeming a coupon after the fact), and here I am, writing articles in my free time as well.
I don't know what the short term solution is. I don't like the exploitative nature of beermoney sites, or the perpetuation of "work hard enough and you'll be happy and rich" narrative. But I also am living in a world where these opportunities are sometimes necessary. So, while we petition for universal basic income and policy change, you can find me taking surveys and taking pictures of my receipts, looking forward to a better future.