Whether your work is unpaid or gives you a great salary, whether you are indirectly supported by family, governments and institutions or earn your daily bread directly.

We all work. Even the unemployed do something to survive.

“Yeah, but that’s not work, or is it?”

Good question: What is work?

Catching Up With Work In Times Of Increasing Acceleration

Have you ever tried to take a photo of a fast-moving object like a car, only to find out that what you’ve actually taken a photo of is nothing but a blur?

Human beings used to make their living by hunting and gathering. With the invention of the plough, more and more people became farmers and it was a lucrative business for a long time.

All of this changed during the Industrial Revolution when farmers became workers, leaving the fields for the factories.

But not much later the worker turned into the employee, leaving the steam-engines and dirty factories for the corporate buildings of glass and steel. Work was now defined by sitting in front of a desk for long hours, in cubicles or private offices, adding and subtracting numbers, making phone-calls and holding meetings.

With each successive technological invention what we understood as “work” changed.

And the Internet has already kicked that change into its highest gear, blurring the boundaries of employment and work.

Anatomy of Drop-Outs and Pattern Recognition

In the same way the plough symbolized the age of farming and the steam-engine accounted for the age of the worker, our present day is defined by companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and the ideas behind them.

In the IT industry, which is at the forefront with its extreme dynamism, models of future work are already taking shape today. Often there is neither a fixed job description, nor long-term career paths (source)

It was Marshall McLuhan who once noted that information overload leads to pattern recognition and that when people begin to spot larger patterns in their lives they are unwilling to conform to a fixed, linear position in life but drop out right, left and center.

Now, he said that in the 70ies. What accounted for “information overload” in his time (radio, TV, newspapers) to most of us today would not constitute an information over-dose but rather under-nourishment!

In other words: If Luhan is right and many dropouts like Steve Jobs did in fact drop out because of “pattern recognition” due to “information overload” due to an abundance of media and information, the age of Google and Facebook is bound to create even more dramatic “pattern recognition” and career-shifts in youngsters growing up today.

And, in fact, it is already happening.

Home-Based Businesses and Freelancers

In June this year, Telework Research published an impressive study titled “The State of Telework in the U.S. – How Individuals, Business, and Government Benefit” (pdf)

Among the results were the following insights:

If people worked from home…

  • businesses would be more productive
  • people would be less stressed
  • environmental pressure due to commuting would be decreased
  • etc.

The results of this and other studies were arranged by theaosdesign in an Infographic which among other things states that a whopping 79 % of people would work online if they only could!

But, the obvious question is: If working online is so great why don’t more people do it?

via theaosdesign.com/citrix3.html

Scammers, Spammers and Shady Businesses

Have you ever googled “make money online“, “work from home” or “work online“?

No? Go ahead and do it now. I’ll wait for you…

( insert elevator music, here)

Ah. So, you’ve seen tons of sites with “AWESOME SECRETS TO MAKE YOU RICH” and “EASY CASH”, etc. , yes?

But have you seen those huge well-organized databases of online job centers, as well?

No? The reason for this is that they don’t exist and if they do they are filled with scams, low-profile or low-paying jobs or in other ways nowhere near to living up to the demands of a workforce that is sick of sitting in offices all day long and an environment that is overtaxed by commuting.

There are, of course, websites for freelancers such as elance.com or freelancer.com but if you aren’t highly specialized and/or willing to put up with annoying site-specific procedures and low salaries due to high competition and commissions, it’s difficult. (I described this here for “online teaching” and here for other marketplaces)

But again: If working from home makes people happier and more productive and is so much better for the environment, why is there no eBay for “online workers”, no well-organized online job-market that connects the right people in the right way?

As of the time of this writing, if you want to work online it’s not that easy, because

  • you have to weed out all the scams just to get an overview of what’s possible
  • earning a decent income is difficult if you’re just hanging out on those “marketplace” sites
  • it’s very difficult to find high-quality information that guides you along the way

It doesn’t mean that it’s impossible, though. Not at all!

The problem here is one of perception and infrastructure, not of doability.

A Sneak Peek Preview Of The Future

We’re living in times where the definition of “making a living” is shifting. The employer-employee relation is slowly vanishing in favor of something more dynamic, less-defined by a top-down linear job-description in a hierarchy but rather organically grown from the needs and skills of particular individuals.

The farmer worked on the field.

The worker worked in the factory.

The corporate drone worked in the office.

The Web-worker works on the net.

Many aspiring web-workers try to re-create corporate conditions online in the same way online teachers try to recreate 3d models of the classroom for their lectures.

But the Internet is decentralized. And this is probably the no#1 reason why we’ll never see a centralized database for online jobs!

Corporate or linear models won’t work.

The future of work is:

  • highly diversified: We won’t just do one thing with one company or employer. Instead we will do multiple things with multiple people, always learning, connecting to new people, growing.
  • service-based: We won’t just execute a cogwheel-like function in a corporate structure that puts out products. We’ll be in direct contact with the people we’re working for. Not selling. But servicing.
  • independent of time & place: We will sit in Berlin and work for people in Tokio. One party will work when the other sleeps. We’ll keep contact via email, chat and VoIP. We’ll be able to work from wherever we please, whenever we have time.

It’s the most exciting times we could possibly be alive in!

Nevermind the scammers and spammers.

They will vanish just like the manual plough and the corporate cubicle.

Parallel to their disappearance, a new generation of individuals will rise who have already severed their ties to the old world, living and working from anywhere and offering their knowledge and experience in all ways, shapes and media so others can do the same.

On second thought: That’s not the future. It’s already happening.

If you want to find out more about all of this check out these hand-picked recommendations or sign up for free updates:

Further Reading:

If you prefer reading something longer, you can also download my book A Mindful Guide to Online Living which I wrote as a sort of map through this mushy territory of making a living online and which I recently put up as a Kindle Version, as well, for less than the price of a coffee!

To loosely quote McLuhan: “A book is not a product. It’s an info-service!”

img: (CC-BY-SA) by Maldita la hora.