Who are the techno-serfs who work for peanuts assembling furniture, making deliveries, giving massages and preparing meals via odd job websites like TaskRabbit and Zaarly? They're surprisingly cheery folks who are unreasonably happy taking crap wages from strangers, if the Observer's investigation is to be believed.
"The karma piece is really nice," ex Southern Baptist Chad Miller told the paper of his $670-a-month TaskRabbit sideline. "I'm really playing my cards low, but... I do very much agree with the sense of community, sense of charity, and volunteerism. Short of working at a soup kitchen.... this for me."
OK but when your duties include waiting in like waiting in line for Conan, giving rides to JFK and hauling furniture up four stories of stairs, don't you ever feel taken advantage of?
Like this one guy Corwin Ip, he assembles and makes furniture via TaskRabbit because his fiancée wants "a destination wedding" so he needs a second job. Or MaKenzie Morrissey, who has made $600 after 30 tasks but at least she has "met a lot of writers and actors and things like that - or bloggers." Egad, blogger contact is something you should get compensated for not with.
All the underpaid overworked "taskers" in the article are so cheerful and striving and nice - shades of 30 Rock's Kenneth the Page, especially with that ex Southern Baptist actor guy - it feels wrong to go so far as to pity them. But at the same time you can't help but wonder if the web hasn't just enabled an exponential increase in the ability of ruthless and calculating and privileged Jack Donaghys of the world to exploit the all-too-gullible, open minded, kindhearted Kenneth the Page's of the world, who are eager to do an honest day's work (or far more) in an awful economy.
It's hardly comforting that wealthy hottub networking enthusiast Ashton Kutcher described his TaskRabbit competitor to the Observer as removing "friction between what we want and what we have... it saves people the most valuable thing in the world - time."
Actually, it only saves people time when they can convince others that their time is less valuable. That's not so much a tech development as a social one, and not a particularly uplifting one. Unless you've got just the right disposition.