Thursday, July 17, 2014

Potato Salad and the Future of Work

At the beginning of July a man posted a project on Kickstarter: Making Potato Salad. He asked for $10 for supplies, and since this was his first potato salad, he said it might not be any good, but he’d send samples to anyone who funded him for $3. This is what he’d do if you pledged $20:
Receive a potato-salad themed haiku written by me, your name carved into a potato that will be used in the potato salad, a signed jar of mayonnaise, the potato salad recipe, hang out in the kitchen with me while I make the potato salad, choose a potato-salad-appropriate ingredient to add to the potato salad, receive a bite of the potato salad, a photo of me making the potato salad, a 'thank you' posted to our website and I will say your name out loud while making the potato salad.
Within a week he had over $40,000 pledged.
I first heard about this from uber-liberal cartoonist Ted Rall, who found it outrageous that such a frivolous “project” could generate so much in donations. His cartoon, “Potato Salad Society,” includes these comments:
Meanwhile, worthier Kickstarter projects—and charities—go unfunded. It’s safe to assume that few of the potato salad supporters would give anything to save refugees in South Sudan…Finding donors online requires the deadpan, mildly amusing tone that has become the official vibe of the Web.” Rall’s conclusion: “We.Are.Doomed (Internet-friendly neo-Bob Newhart tone).
First off that is quite condescending and presumptuous to assume these people wouldn’t give to refugees, but this is in-your-face Ted Rall; he loves being confrontational.
But more importantly, I think Rall and other critics are missing something important here. I think this potato salad project could signal the future of how many of us earn a living.
I envision a future where some people make their living online, with sponsors contributing small amounts a month or year to support their creative output —a crowdsourced version of the wealthy patronage system that supported great Renaissance artists like Michelangelo. Instead of depending on one wealthy person, these people could live off thousands or millions of tiny contributions.
It’s becoming common today to see paypal “donate” buttons on websites. Ted Rall has one on his website, and I have contributed as a way of showing my support for his work (perhaps he’s bitter because he’s not generated the same level of support as the potato salad maker).
We could support people because we think his or her work is important, or because we want to be part of it. We could show our appreciation for something that makes us laugh, or think, or cry, by contributing a small sum. The Huffington Post interviewed 18 of the potato salad donors, and they said they had contributed because they thought it was “funny,” “charming,” and “genuine.”
Through the wonder of the worldwide reach of the Internet, those small sums could potentially add up to a decent living.
There are predictions that we are not far from a revolution in work, due to the roboticization of the workplace. This will throw a large percentage of people out of work, and we’re not talking about factory workers only, this includes doctors and lawyers (see my blog post). If this is true we’re going to need to find entirely new ways to earn a living. Supporting each other’s creative endeavors seems to me a very positive solution. 

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your premise in the short-term, but ultimately it is government that must insure that the populace is taken care of--and by "taking care" I don't mean living in poverty, desperation, and hopelessness (conditions which breed instability). This means millionaires and billionaires cease to exist. A world state, I've come to believe, alone can save us from ourselves. The survival of humankind is more important than anything.