The Gig is up

Gig-economy startups are all the rage. Companies like Uber and Door Dash and their copycat rivals around the world have created a gig-economy where low-income workers can make extra bucks by taking a few shifts as a driver or delivery person. 

The gig-economy is made possible by the instant connection of hungry or lazy people and those eager and available to fetch them some food. Download and app, order a ride, and in minutes someone arrives at your door with pizza or a lift to the airport. Instant convenience is all the rage but how convenient is it for gig-economy workers?

No Phone? No Data? No Gig

One obvious requirement for a gig-economy job is a smartphone and data plan. It’s curious that we all assume everyone has a smartphone and unlimited data, but that is simply not the case. People at the low end of the income scale who often rely on gig-economy jobs must factor in the costs of a smartphone plus a big data plan before making their first delivery.

Julia Ticona puts this into perspective in WIRED –Smartphones Are a New Tax on the Poor

How many of you think about your Uber driver’s phone sitting in the middle of the dash navigating to your final destination? What about all the folks riding around on bicycles delivering pizzas and groceries door to door? How would these people know where to pick up and deliver without a data-rich smartphone? Thumbing through a map book before each trip? 

Not likely…

“The future is already here, its just not very evenly distributed.”

– Cyberpunk author, William Gibson

Professor Ticona is absolutely right to draw attention to this hi-tech tax on gig-economy workers. If you want to make a few bucks driving people for Uber you obviously need a vehicle, but Uber also requires that you have a smartphone and generous data plan. That could get rather expensive for an eight-hour shift. 

A great Get Poor quick scheme

The irony is that the more shifts you take to make ends meet, the larger your data bills become. It’s an addictive pattern to which lower-income workers are particularly vulnerable, and that’s the rarely talked-about drawback of the Cloud-based gig-economy.

Gig-economy companies and their investors claim they’re enabling a new source of dependable income for low-income earners. However, they don’t dwell on the requirements for the gig or how much it may eventually cost to earn a little extra money.

It turns out that just like Big Tech’s social media, Gig-economy companies are getting their workers hooked on the dream of a decent regular income without providing any of the tools or benefits necessary to manage that dream.