Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

Innovation, inventing jobs, and the eradication of the middle class gig.

Thomas Friedman had a great piece in Sunday’s New York Times speaking to Tony Wagner, an education specialist at Harvard about his new book Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. Wagner talks about how educators and …

Mon, Apr 1, 2013, 19:17

   

Thomas Friedman had a great piece in Sunday’s New York Times speaking to Tony Wagner, an education specialist at Harvard about his new book Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. Wagner talks about how educators and students alike need to change it up, focussing on innovation, and invent their jobs rather than find them. It’s a reality, but not a very comfortable one for those entering the workforce over the next couple of years.

There’s something very selfish about a generation screaming “innovate” at those younger than them, when the oldies didn’t have to try so hard. Two decades ago, people in their twenties who worked across the increasingly blurry industries of media, tech, PR, entertainment etc. weren’t worrying about portfolio careers, or become a one-person content factory, or inventing their own jobs. Yet now that’s expected, and it’s a huge pressure to put on a young person. Not everyone has the capacity to develop multi-million euro apps, end up FROWing thanks to their fashion blog, or create a cottage industry around their skill sets. Not everyone is an entrepreneur or an innovator. Not everyone has the time or energy to think up and implement world-changing ideas when those leaving college are expected to work for free on State-supported programmes such as JobBridge, or be grateful for the corporate slavery of unpaid internships.

Having people work for free is the final victory for capitalism. Already a completely corrupt model, which depends on those with nothing creating profit for those with everything, working for free is part of ‘innovation’ in the employment sector. Over the past decade, the media has spearheaded working for free. It has the upper hand because loads of people think working in the media is a desirable thing. With this approach, now replicated in reality television shows where contestants constantly audition only to be tossed aside, young people are taught that it’s more important to get ‘a foot in the door’ rather than actually earning a fair wage. It’s complete bullshit. Profit-making companies expect a distorted exchange – you give us something, and we give you nothing. It’s not right, and it certainly isn’t sustainable. Ultimately, there’s a huge disconnect between those making massive profit and those frantically greasing the cogs for little or no return. The same goes for online services, with YouTube, Facebook, Google and so on generating massive revenue based on the voluntary sacrifice of individuals’ content, data, and personal information. We are giving ourselves away.

From a company’s point of view, I can see why they want and need young people to work for free, because everything is being squeezed. Ironically, that squeeze comes from the culture of free. The consumer doesn’t want to pay for media anymore, so they take everything – film, news, TV, music – for free or next to nothing and expect it to continue to flourish. It’s an impossible model, like causing deforestation and returning to expect a lush landscape and not a desert.

Obviously the internet with all of its wonderful upsides caused this short-sighted screw up. Patrick Freyne’s interview with Jaron Lanier raised plenty of genie-out-of-the-bottle points. Perhaps as the web matures we’ll reach some kind of equilibrium where the middle class will be sustained by fair work, fair pay, and a fair standard of living. Perhaps it’s really hard to have any perspective considering everything is moving so quickly. But we need to pause, take a step back and acknowledge the model of work for young people we are creating simply isn’t sustainable. Because ultimately, there’s no such thing as free. Someone always pays.

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