Uberworked and Underpaid

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 26 Jan 2018

Member Reviews

Trebor Scholz brings an eye-opening perspective on the "sharing economy" and its effects on "low-income workers".  It's a voice that needs to be on the table and a read for anyone considering work in this new digital reality where the office is taken away and you're almost your own boss  except you're a subcontractor or freelancer.  He brings with his arguments good research and analogies to show how unstable and unfair such work can be, but there is a note of bias in his writing. It is not scholarly, but his criticism is welcome as I seek to balance the perspectives of this growing trend to help students determine their career pathways.
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Uberworked and Underpaid is an indepth look at the state of digital work place and practices, how it has enriched the few and impoverished many despite its promise of freedom and entrepreneurship for all.

Anyone with a stake or potential stake (work-wise) in today's gig economy. University or college students concerned about getting a job after school would also benefit from having a read.
People who get depressed easily should stay clear, there is plenty of sorrow and pessimism to drive a human insane here. There is also a lot of hope and proferred solutions, but the author is quite realistic about the state of jobs in the world at this time.

The author was thorough in researching various methods that "internet-age" companies like Uber, 99Deisgns, Upwork, Amazon, etc use in avoiding the payment of minimum wage to staff. More importantly, this book encourages the formation of staff-owned platforms, citing the examples of Loconomics and Stocksy, as one of the ways to circumvent the tyranny of low-pay or non-paying work in the name of "exposure" or freedom from traditional jobs.


    "We are told that millennials want to take their clock back; they prefer to work at night, following their inner clock. Workers, stationed in a cafe, their living room, or a co-working space, can freely follow their interests and they even get to travel. There are, of course, significant advantages to not working in an office as nobody controls what you’re doing as long as the project gets done on time. In reality, however, this contingent work setup often leads to loneliness, fake flexibility, a lack of consistent opportunities to work, and longer work hours. What is marketed as flexibility and autonomy, at least for the most vulnerable workers, is in fact much closer to what Mike Davis calls 'forced entrepreneurialism.' On a Mechanical Turk coffee mug it reads: 'Why work if you can turk?' suggesting that crowdwork for Amazon does not even feel like work. And who would do it if it’d feel like exploitation? Net critic and consultant Clay Shirky suggested that much and the CEO of Amazon Mechanical Turk posed that workers can vote with their feet if they don’t approve of their pay; they have a choice.

    "But for some workers toiling in the platform economy is about 'Zugzwang.' 'Zugzwang' in chess, means that no matter what the players ’ next move will be – and a move she has to make – there are not any good options."


Uberworked and Underpaid: How Workers Are Disrupting the Digital Economy by Trebor Scholz is available to buy on all major online book stores.

Many thanks to Polity for review copy.
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An interesting and unsettling book about digital labor and the impact on today work. It was really interesting and helped me to understand a lot about the digital work and the digital labor and it was really interesting to read the proposed solutions
Many thanks to Netgalley and Polity
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Uberworked and Underpaid looks at how digital labor, sold to us as an opportunity to live a flexible, fulfilling, independent life of ‘micro-entrepreneurs’, often camouflages a reality characterized by the slow disappearance of fair labor practices and an increase in economic inequalities.

    CrowdFlower’s Lukas Biewald summed the situation up quite adequately back in 2010 when he said: “Before the Internet, it would be really difficult to find someone, sit them down for ten minutes and get them to work for you, and then fire them after those ten minutes. But with technology, you can actually find them, pay them the tiny amount of money, and then get rid of them when you don’t need them anymore.” 

The victims of these new engines of exploitation are working for the usual suspects: Uber, TaskRabbit, Amazon Mechanical Turk, etc. However, the book also includes into this festival of precarity the many individuals whose work often remains uncompensated or underpaid: the interns, bloggers and journalists (to which i’m going to add most people involved in the art world) who are asked to work ‘for exposure’, Amazon’s book reviewers, anyone who has to solve one of Google’s reCAPTCHA, the fiction fans, the gamers, the DuoLingo users who engage in crowdsourced language translation, etc.

In a chapter about The myth of Immateriality, Scholz even goes as far as to include the millions of forgotten individuals whose very physical efforts fire off the digital realm: the cobalt and coltan miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the assembly line workers in Foxconn factories or the cooks and cleaners working at the facebook headquarters.

Scholz documents and analyzes with great clarity and vigor how platform capitalists are exploiting the overabundance of vulnerable workers and how internet has become an efficient enabler of unethical work practices. However, his sharp critique of the so-called “sharing economy” soon leaves space for an in-depth inquiry into realistic models and ideas that could lead to a fairer digital economy. He particularly lays his hopes in Platform Cooperativism (some of them already exist: Loconomics in San Francisco, Fairmondo in Germany, etc.), explores the promises of Universal Basic Income, looks at existing unions, guilds and design interventions and drafts 10 principles for decent labor platforms.

Uberworked and Underpaid is a very informative and eloquent call for democratic and ethical labor practices. It sheds light on fairly depressing realities but comes up with encouraging and attainable alternatives.

Another reason why i found this book invaluable is that, unlike many publications about economy and society, this one frequently includes works of art, design, cinema and literature into its discourse.

I have only two minor criticisms. The first one is that i would have liked to read about citizens’ reluctance to relinquish cheap services. Many Londoners, for example, seem to prefer low-cost taxis to security and fair working arrangements. Similarly, when Foodora riders protested against the ridiculously low compensations they were receiving from the delivery company, the local population remained fairly unconcerned. I fear that we all bear our share of responsibility in what Scholz calls “crowd fleecing.”

The second commentary is that the book is, unsurprisingly, very U.S.-centered. However, the models and politics explored in Uberworked and Underpaid have already spread across continents so i believe that European readers will find the book extremely helpful and pertinent too.

    If ever you’re in New York, you might be interested in the event The People’s Disruption: Platform Co-ops for Global Challenges convened by Trebor Scholz, Camille Kerr, Nathan Schneider and Palak Shah on 10 and 11 November at The New School, NYC.

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Uberworked and Underpaid: How Workers Are Disrupting the Digital Economy by Trebor Scholz published by Polity is a strong book about the digital labor and its reality and at the same time it's a stimulating book because you will learn everything about the most known web companies ruling the net-world-dimension, what it means copyright in the net, or labor, or just being there, supporting your favorite actor, or writing reviews of your favorite books and how companies are acting regarding it.

Sometimes the so-called digital labor is very underpaid or not paid at all.
Also the word labor is different from work. Work, as the author writes means a daily activity, working with hands and constantly. Labor is a medieval word meaning pain and toil. Classified under labors there are activities like writing a poem and growing up a baby adds Mr. Lewis Hyde. 

But digital work shouldn't be considered after all as a different work from the common one "disconnected" by the net, but the story is still dramatically different in this society where it is also pretty difficult to define what it is leisure connected with work. Where start leisure and when work is implemented by it?

When we want to buy a book always more often we google the title on Amazon or other websites reading the synopsis and some reviews. 
But what kind of world is this one of book reviewers?
A group of millions of passionate people and bookworms. 

There is the shocking beauty story of ms.Harriet Klausner from Pennsylvania. This lady wrote more than 31000 reviews for Amazon while the author wrote this book and she is considered a sort of monument, taken in great consideration from newsmagazines like The New York Times, The Washington Post but she doesn't receive any buck for this work. The author wrote that if ms Klausner would have been paid 5 dollars per review, now she would have saved 155.000 dollars.

So there is to ask to ourselves: what motivate people to write? Why do they work for free?

Another interesting chapter is the fan labor, the one involving a saga, it could be Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, your favorite actor or the TV series you love the most. Again, in most cases it's a free work or very underpaid in the best lucky cases.

43 million of people writes the author, in the USA (a statistic of 2013) live in poverty and long-term jobs assuring a stability and a security for the future are disappearing. 

Social networks? People, writes the author: "Are using Facebook for "free" while consuming a culture of their own consuming." Interesting also the sections dedicated to Instagram and other socials.

Students attending 4 year college in the USA work in stage for free most of the time at first. 77% of these people are women. 
In Germany there are 400.000 underpaid or not paid at all academic students assistants working in university. 
Why this? 
Because they live in the hope of a better future and a better tomorrow. Not only but according to the author these young people starts to develop psychologically a "self-denigration" behavior. 

That the net has changed the cards on the table of our daily life is evident. With the time appeared more than clear that the net created discrepancies talking about work as well. 
In this book Uberworked and Underpaid the reader will enter in a paradoxical world where few privileged people with a great intuition earn wagons of money and the rest of them nothing or they are very underpaid.
What the book wants to do is to try to connect, after the big euphoria for the arrival of the net more than 20 years ago and the various societies connected with it and the high expectations of all the people for this new "life-platform" and this incredible way of communicating, all the workers around the world for trying to define a best future for all of them active thanks to the net and the so-called digital labor. 

You must read this book. It's of great relevance, sometimes sad but dramatically true and very well done.

I thank NetGalley and Polity for this eBook.
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