Gig jobs have become a structural aspect of contemporary
economic landscape, creating unique social and technological
challenges. How can policies and design solutions better
protect gig workers and mitigate the risks participants face?
By Paolo Parigi and Xiao Ma
Recent technological advances have significantly altered the landscape of modern life. It is now easier than ever to meet strangers or to acquire deep knowledge of obscure subjects, which were previously the exclusive domain of experts. Soon, automated vehicles will deliver us from place to place along with the things we buy.
Yet, the biggest revolution may be unfolding before our eyes without receiving much notice:
More and more people are now part of the “gig economy.” This is the informal definition
for people who make a living by sharing and selling services and goods on platforms like
Airbnb, Uber, Lyft , Task Rabbit, and so forth [ 1].
In what follows, we highlight some
of the characteristics of the jobs that
the gig economy is creating. Because
of the unique characteristics of gig
jobs, we also emphasize three key aspects we think can increase the protection (legal and economic) generally associated with these jobs. Policy
makers have a fundamental role to
play that is perhaps different from
what most observers of the gig economy have discussed.
A key aspect of the gig economy is
its reliance on trust. The role of trust in
the gig economy has been segmented
into two parts: interpersonal trust,
as in the trust that a host places on a
guest in an Airbnb exchange (and vice
versa); and trust in the platform, as in
the trust that all users have in a given
website (its rating system, procedures
for screening out malicious users, general fairness, and so on). While much
has been written on the topic of trust
in online communities, here we take a
different perspective and explore the
topic of how to design platforms that
amplify both aspects of trust.
CHARACTERISTICS OF GIG JOBS
A short history of the word “gig” illus-
trates some key aspects of this new
economic sector. Recently, NPR aired
a commentary on the gig economy [ 2].
It was Jack Kerouac who first used the
word “gig” to describe a job that he
held temporarily as a part-time brake-
man for a San Jose railroad company.
For him and the hipsters of the 1950s
and 1960s a gig meant any job a person
would do when his or her real self was
somewhere else. A gig gave you money
but nothing else—not an identity, not
a career, not friends. A gig was the op-
posite of a real job that, at the time,
meant having a stable income, the
protection of strong unions, and the
prospect of a career. A real job meant a