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"The Gig Is Up"

Previewing our December documentary film selection

The Econ Extra Credit Team Dec 2, 2021
Heard on:

Our December film is without a star. There’s no single person, product or business at the heart of “The Gig Is Up” —  no truffle, no typewriter store, no theatrical corporate scandal. The film, released earlier this year, calls itself “a very human tech doc.”

Instead, the documentary relies on a multinational cast of characters to tell a still-developing story of ever-increasing significance: the spectacular toll the gig economy takes on the people who keep it running. 

First, there’s the visible: the demands often nonchalantly made of Uber drivers, Deliveroo cyclists and TaskRabbit’s “taskers,” all vying for a share of a share of a market cornered by the platforms they work for. 

Then there’s the invisible labor, much easier to forget about, which is carried out by those performing “small online tasks” for sprawling tech firms: taking surveys, identifying photos and transcribing audio or video for sums as small as 1 cent (or, in Amazon’s case, Amazon gift cards).

Relentless demand spurs these companies forward. Algorithms determine the day-to-day operations. And consumers lose sight of the people doing the work — about 100 million of them, globally, with scant chance of redress when their commission is cut or their contracts are summarily terminated.

The film’s arc brings us right up to the start of the pandemic and documents the fight for legal reform of gig work in California, a reminder that this story of stark disconnects is still unfolding before our eyes. 

“The Gig Is Up” is available on a variety of streaming platforms. In our next instalment of this Econ Extra Credit newsletter, David Brancaccio shares his thoughts on the documentary. In the meantime, do let us know your reaction: extracredit@marketplace.org.

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