Story 2

Why do we do what we do in an era of Fiverr and other venues that devalue the artist?

Hi, seeker! I’m Christian, a member of the Upstairs Community. In 1989, I met my partner in love, life, and work. We took on a project for a company in Sweden, and since then, we have designed publications for major Canadian cultural institutions and art galleries. Projects take the form of branding and web stuff with a lot of fun and photography sprinkled around. The best part of living day-to-day is the people we meet. You never know what inspiration lies around the next curve or over the next mountain. We continue working from our camper as we travel North America. We aspire to ship our van to Europe and persist in our travels.


After writing this response, I thought: Why not ask how? I didn’t want to interrogate the idea of “why are we, artists and creators?” I was seeking to understand why or rather how we allow ourselves to work in the dark, damp mines of Fiverr and other gig work venues.

Why should we let someone, probably someone we’ll never meet in person, tell us I’m willing to pay $5 for a logo or business card design or $25 for an entire book design. Would these folks want us to tell them we can pay $2.50 for their simple plan for universal domination?

I’m 33 years into my career in Graphic Design, and my firm has awards and articles too numerous to list. We’ve taught college. And yet, near retirement, without an office (we live in a van), we contemplate some of these gigs. Why?

Maybe to justify our existence as not-yet-retired people? My hackle rises anytime someone points at the camper and asks, “How long have you been retired? Sixty is the new 50!”

Fiverr and others offer the hope that lots of work will come through the door and that if you didn’t make enough on this job, you’d make it back on the next one. So, how will we go forward, gig here, job there? Will we find time to do the pro-bono work for that non-profit?

Will we have time between gigs to walk the kids to school? Vet bills? More and more, I see how Feudal life is becoming, how every moment of our life is marshaled by the need to work, albeit for less money.

I know money isn’t the end goal of our work as designers, but I know there’s rent to pay, insurance, office expenses, and of course, the computer and software on which all our lives depend. If you sign up for the gig factory, keep in mind the quality of life, of work, and of the society in which you aspire to live.

If you’re hiring a gig factory worker, keep in mind the quality of their life and how many $5 gigs they’ll need to take on to pay their bills.


I would love to hear your two cents on my question:

Why do we do what we do in an era of Fiverr and other venues that devalue the artist?

Remember, there are no right or wrong answers, just different approaches.

See you in the conversation section below.

Stay curious,
—Christian

Conversations One so far

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Tough question, Christian, like any important question should be.

For me, the short answer is: because internet.

We, people in general, are trapped by our naivety and gullibility to swallow up obvious too-good-to-be-true deals. The internet persuaded us that the norm, not the exception, is to have your cake and eat it too. Open-source software is the first thing that comes to mind.

Like a sorry old man, although I am not that old, I keep coming back to the fact that we’ve lost our common sense, our decency, our touch with reality that was the norm 30-40-50 years back. It was the norm because you wouldn’t get anywhere without it. The environment forced you to stay grounded to get anything done.

Now we have the alternate reality, increasingly the only reality for some, of the internet. Here we have people mixed with machines competing for whatever is valuable in any given day: attention, money, fame, clicks, likes, NFTs, what have you. The trouble is the competition is not a competition at all since the actors have wildly different needs and incentives. People have biological bodies to attend to, biological siblings and children to raise and take care of, that nasty entropy that plagues anything made of matter, a whole inner universe of emotional needs and struggles, philosophical conundrums like the meaning of life, not to mention the truckload of evolutionary leftovers from our not-too-distant tech-free past. Machines have none of these, plus they are true digital natives, literally. And their “life” goal is dead simple: just be.

The corporations (and governments – not sure if the differentiation is required) of the world saw for some time that you could make people play this heavily skewed game if you spin the flywheel fast enough. People lose their grip after a certain velocity, just like in those G-force accelerators; we become nothing more than chicken at some point, after which we pass out. The trick is to keep the speed just before the passing-out point.

The Ubers and Fiverrs of the world, but also the Googles and Facebooks, are the playing fields where the game is played today. Tomorrow it will be other venues but the game will remain the same.

Now, how do educated, self-aware, critical-thinking, high self-esteem people get persuaded to play this game? They don’t. At least not at first. The game takes advantage of the vast inequalities of our world: there are plenty of people on this planet for whom $5 is a godsend. Just get them cheap internet and they will flood the playing field. These are not stupid people, far from it, just that they have more urgent needs than work-life balance. And the internet takes care of providing them with just-enough skills and a suitable digital identity.

At this point the buyer side of any transaction comes in. Customers are also kept at high G-forces by the ceaseless consumption, informational and emotional bombardment, ever-present inflation. They too jump in totally ill-equipped to play the game to their advantage. But play they will since there doesn’t seem to be any other imaginable way (chickens have a tendency not to imagine much).

Once any transaction has chickens at either  end, those still on the fence face a grueling choice: starve or play. It’s only natural that most choose to play. We are biological, not digital beings after all.

In parallel with this dynamic, the corporations are increasingly trying (and succeeding) to replace the chickens altogether, with machines. Split work into ever smaller tasks and machines will have a field day picking up the pace. To make Kafka smile from above, have the chickens train and take care of the said machines until they can take over. Poultry farms must be in awe. 

Of course there is “a bit” of a bump at the end of this game: when all transactions are between machines, where does the value come from? After all, this game’s raison d’être is to collect and transfer power from the many to the few. That is a problem indeed, but it is sufficiently far into the future to worry about it another day, at least as the few are concerned.

So, why does a creator devalue him or herself? Because internet and its ability to supercharge the timeless game of power played by humans.

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