Back to the future?

History is an opportune reminder for us today because a confluence of technological and economic factors is driving the re-emergence of task-based work, albeit in a very different form than the kind practiced in rural villages. Just think of Uber drivers, whose work is based not on predictable 8-5 schedules but around specific tasks—driving people between places. Many Uber drivers organize their days around available trips, paying particular attention to occurrences of “surge pricing”—when they can get more money for driving—which they can accept or decline. In some ways, surge pricing serves the same organizing function for Uber drivers as a good crop does for a homesteading family: an opportunity and a need to do something in order to sustain themselves and their families. Institute for the Future’s ethnographic interviews with people working in the on-demand economy (i.e. via platforms that offer people different tasks they can complete on an ad-hoc basis rather than as full-time employees) reveal the emergence of task-based work in action. This is how people organize their days when they are signed up to do deliveries on platforms such as Doordash, edit reports on Upwork, walk dogs on Rover, or tag images on Mechanical Turk: In the language of many on-demand workers, tasks and work opportunities “ping” them and they choose whether to respond. Instead of talking about jobs, they talk about job “hits”—tasks that pop up on their computer dashboards or mobile screens as they go about their daily lives.


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Back to the future?
Gorbis, M. (2018), 'Back to the future,' Institute for the Future, 30 March.


  • Article
  • Other
  • Yes
  • no specific sector focus
  • work intensity, working time quality, work-life balance
  • English
  • Institute for the Future (Other)
  • 2018
  • Open access
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