Flat World Work

Day 151 Week 22 Q2 Thursday, June 1, 2023

For you writers, artists and musicians. Have you noticed it is harder to earn a living doing creative gigs than it used to be? Playing music and doing freelance writing projects used to pay the bills, at least in America.  They do not any longer. Now you must have another job to support your creativity habit.  For example, in the ’70s, a musician could earn $50 to $75 playing in a coffee house, a restaurant or at an event for between two and four hours. If you did this every day, you could earn enough to live on. Just barely, but you could. Now fifty years later, these gigs still pay the same $50 to $75, but rent is a lot higher. 

Nearly twenty years ago, in 2005, the award-winning New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman introduced us to The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century.  In it, he pointed out the entire world was now competing for an increasing number of jobs which had the tendency to drive down wages in first-world nations as third-world nations competed for work at diminishingly exploitive wages.  Around that time, I heard John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco, which at the time was the largest market cap company in the world, declare there was no reason to ever hire an American engineer again, as they were overpriced. By the way, Cisco is now ranked number 49, not number 1 but that is another story.

The point is we live in a significantly flatter world economy, and the impact here in the United States, where I live, is it is much harder to live on most creative gigs. 

Another huge yet related change has been the temporary nature of teams, who now come together for the life of a project.  In the past, when teams moved from one project to the next, sometimes for years, the team members got to know each well enough to be far more complimentary regarding strengths and weaknesses. This resulted not only in higher quality work but also in more meaningful relationships because people could and frequently did, work at the same company for much longer periods of time, sometimes for their entire careers. The combination of rapid turnover of both teams’ and individuals’ jobs is directly related to competition created by the flattening of the world. 

The bottom line is working in a flat connected world where relationships suffer due to disintegrating bidirectional loyalty between workers and companies creates a lack of stable workplaces where now many people work in coffee shops. No, you will never convince me the quality of what they produce is higher than having an office.

Flat-world economics requires those who work in it to be increasingly more concerned with money and less concerned with meaning. This results in less room to be creative, less room to be excellent and less time to be happy.  No wonder people are freaking out about the future. They know things are not going better for them than in the past.

Perhaps the only reason the so-called first-world nations had it so good in the past was because of exploitation?

Just Saying.