Instaserfs (part one of three)

In the sharing economy no one  can hear you work. This is because companies like Uber, Lyft, Postmates and others only employ “partners” or independent contractors. So your host decided to partner with Andrew Callaway, a 25 year old San Francisco native, to find out what its like to work in the sharing economy. As the official ToE instapoder Andrew will drive, shop, clean, deliver, and serve for a whole month, and he’s going to record his entire experience.  Plus in this episode technology journalist Sarah Lacey tells us the truth about Uber.

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34 comments on Instaserfs (I of III)

  1. James Douglas says:

    Long time fan of the show. I happen to be traveling to San Francisco tomorrow and will be utilizing Lyft/Uber for all of my transportation needs. I would love to catch a ride with Andrew and participate if it’s helpful and not too late.

    1. Good Luck says:

      Why not take public transit, at least some of the time? Just curious

  2. Nikkos Chilhood Diary says:

    Gotta make stickers!!! This could be the next “Andre the giant has a posse”.

  3. Hi –
    I very much enjoyed this episode.

    I’m sad with your choice to perpetuate the notion of this arrangement of commerce as the “sharing-economy”. It is true the worker shares their own property with the customer, and shares their revenues with the intermediary service provider. However, the expenses encountered by the on-demand worker (fuel, depreciation, insurance) are *not shared with anyone* – i.e. those expenses were heretofore borne by a single entity and were largely passed on to the consumer.

    Also, this is definitely not serfdom. To characterize it as such negates the notion of serf bondage. I don’t believe this is that.

    This is something else, yet familiar: the balance-sheet externalization of labor taken to the next level. It is a hyper-localized version of geographic labor arbitrage (né outsourcing) married with pervasive communication technology (rich mobile communication) and unprecedented personal liability on part of the worker.

    I don’t know what to call it, but these un-catchy thoughts come to mind:
    “1099 service drones ranked via social graph feedback”
    “commodified persons delivering conveniences.”

    I trust you can invent a more appropriate moniker.

    Whatever, it’s definitely not a sharing economy.


    1. Andrew says:

      Hi David,

      I am very suprised by this comment in general not because I don’t think your points are invalid, but I don’t think they are correct in which direction angle that you believe Ben to taking on this, frankly on the point of serfdom.

      I will admit that there is great potential from all of these startups to provide an easy access to jobs and work where before it wasn’t so simple to sign up and start earning money. There are a lot of good startups out there, that do have good intentions. However I think Ben and Andrew are trying to analyze all of these in an attempt to let us draw our own conclusions about these different companies.

      Let me not beat around the bush though, some companies are flat out in it for the money, and are not guided by moral values or worker rights. Uber is definetly the leader in moraless business practices, and yes it does include indentured servitude as well, if you don’t believe me, feel free to look up their system to provide drivers with a car.

      1. Jeppe says:

        Uber is not sharing economy – it’s on demand service with a highly critical approach to making money within a disruptive market that is in need of innovation.

        I do agree with you on the notion that some companies are only in it for the money and not giving a hoot about the people “they employ”. The industry as a whole could use a regular check-up, but I think the pace of which it evolves makes it very difficult to navigate.

        I think this explains in detail which services are part of the new economy:

      2. JWKJR says:

        LYFT is right up there with UBER. It is far from a sharing community. LYFT is using drivers like lab rats. There is no way these drivers are making on average anywhere near minimum wage, and I am sure most are even losing money. I would be happy to post actual numbers from my experience. I have given 906 total LYFTS. It is not a lot but enough to be credible. I provided my last LYFT yesterday 1/24/2016. LYFT is a company built by the very thing they are working to replace, the driver.

  4. Been Told says:

    Thanks for another awesomely interesting episode. And wow, Ashton Cutcher seems to be a complete asshole… So if someone asks you not to behave like a misogynist they’re a shady journalist…

  5. thomas says:

    Great great episode! These issues really need to be discussed more in the media. Hopefully CA’s recent ruling of Uber drivers as employees will force some change in these industries.
    Looking forward to the next installments.

  6. Mike says:

    Great podcast! Big fan.
    But I think it’s irresponsible to compare the hourly wage you earned, after taxes, to the minimum wage. People who earn minimum wage pay taxes too, albeit a lower rate. You correctly pointed out that independent contractors pay a higher tax rate, so you should compare pre-tax wages and note the higher tax rate, or compare your post-taxes wage to the minimum wage after taxes, whatever that is in S.F.

  7. Good Luck says:

    Wow. This is so absurd. I was completely disgusted by the guy who only gave the $1 tip! (But at least he gave you 5 stars?! Ugh.) You know that guy has to be making so much money. A $1 tip is insulting. I don’t make that much money, but I always try to tip $3-5 (usually for $6-12 trips) because I know how little Uber drivers get paid and with a large tip it’s still less than a cab. Then again, I usually take the bus so it’s no problem! Also, that whole group of people and the people who got high in the car seemed so ridiculous I had to remind myself that (as far as I know) this isn’t even scripted. Looking forward to hearing about more investigative work. This whole new app economy keeps the bottom people at the bottom and the 1% at the top. Good luck making it a whole month, Andrew. This kind of work is not easy.

  8. Headphone Listener says:

    I know you weren’t going to pay the $2,100 for your intern Andrew to get his car fixed, but couldn’t you at least have bought him a decent microphone and showed him how to use it? Was this all recorded in Voice Memo on his phone? His voice over parts were loud (and he’s got the aping Benjamin Walker thing down) but many of the subjects he was interviewing were really quiet. I couldn’t turn the volume up enough to make out what some of them were saying without getting deafened when he came back with another VO segment.
    A real shame because I’m interested in the subject of this mini series but I’m not sure I can listen to another two such lopsided audio files.
    As other people have pointed out, “sharing economy” may be a popular term and one the Ubers of the world strive to keep in the media but it is an awful misnomer. Please consider switching to a more honest description of this new economy.

  9. Katy Pye says:

    Just found your podcasts and am a new fan. Have left Air BnB due to its invasive Verification I.D. program, and now, thanks to you, won’t be hiring Uber (1st time) during an upcoming trip. Keep up the good work!

  10. Sylvain says:

    I believe in the sharing economy, but not the kind you described. I do not rent my apartment on Airnbnb but I’m into home exchange. And I trade books on Bookmooch. No money involved, that’s what makes it sharing.

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