Croatians are apparently the tallest people in the world next to the Dutch, or something like that. So, when an Uber driver picked me up with his feet wrapped around the steering wheel of a VW Up! like it was a toy, I wasn’t shocked. What caught my attention was that he was also a pro basketball player. “Gotta stay diversified,” he laughed. “I broke my ankle last season and the insurance runs out fast. I know I’m never going to the NBA and only the top leagues in Europe pay and only then if you start. I’m in a crappy league and I just lost my starting job when I came back from the ankle. So, here I am in the offseason. I also work in my cousin’s café on Split in the summers.”
“Really?” I said. “That’s a lot of jobs.”
“It’s the Croatian way.” he said. “We all have a lot of, what do you say, gigs? ” I laughed. “Yeah, that’s what we call them, I guess.” I only had one gig. His comment started to make me feel insecure.
When I first heard the expression on the podcast “Pivot” (with Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway), I mistakenly thought it referred to something hip like “gigabytes” or people working as digital nomads.
After a quick Google, it presented as less inspiring than that. I know that the idea of having gigs has been around a long time. Bartenders and waiters, seasonal workers, consultants, etc. But the idea of a Gig Economy as a bigger thing is gaining momentum as companies become less institutional in terms of places that people go for a job and more organic in terms of their reach and how and where they operate.
We’ve all heard the stories of the largest hotel company not owning any hotels and the taxi company without taxis. It’s astonishing, for example, that the same place you can buy suitcases and a Peloton (Amazon) is also a company that has the largest government cloud storage contract on the planet. So, everyone is diversifying. We can thank technology, the uncertainty of pandemic, competition.
What it makes me think about is the unspoken rules that we teach at school that hard work gets you immediate feedback that then leads to a clear path for success that then leads you to a future of predictability and promise. Does that contradict the Gig Economy? Who knew that hard work wouldn’t be rewarded or that I’d have to work four jobs?
It’s a bit dangerous, it seems, to have Gen Xers like myself trying to educate the Gen Ys and Zs. When I first got into teaching, my colleagues were products of the 1950s and 60s and literally had no idea how to operate a computer. I grew up in the information age. Talk about irrelevance. But now the problem of connection isn’t one based on computing, but community and what that looks like.
It feels like it’s our responsibility to provide some constants in a Gig Economy, but that doesn’t mean retreating to the basics that this pandemic lures us into doing. We can be forward thinking but grounded in the ability to methodically prepare, to resist instant gratification, and to be a good partner. What scares me about the Gig worker mentality is in spite of the freedom and creativity it portends to, also leaves people fending for themselves, which seems dangerous. I believe that schools are one of the last institutions that are the calm in the storm. In spite of their intransigence, they are the constants, the communities that we depend on, and most importantly, a non-judgemental harbinger of hope in humanity.
I don’t want to educate IB students that end up disillusioned, driving Ubers with their diploma hanging on the rearview. I also don’t want to make everything uncertain so that the foundation dissolves beneath their feet. But if we are going to continue to tilt towards a gig economy, then we have to resist the compromise of self reliance and realize that we run a lot further together than we can accomplish sprinting by ourselves.