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It is the dawn of the age of the squeezed. I am squeezed by too
little time and too much world, by cost inflation and wage
depression, by the elephants of my expenses and the peanuts of my
pay, by the supply of millions like me and the demand of companies
who know it. I can do it all from home, but so can everyone else.
Empowered individuals are squeezed into competition with every
other empowered individual.
Generation Squeezed illustration by David Barringer. Click
to see full-size graph.
As an American creative worker, I confront a global workforce
that has, with the opening of markets, expanded by three billion
people from the other side of the world,
300 million of whom are English-speaking middle-class Indians,
every other one of whom is writing a novel or crafting new
design-template software but will soon, like me, be wondering how
it is that anyone actually earns gas money around here.
As a guy who works from home, I am just another guy who works
from home, working the internet like any 10-year old, sending PDFs
of books and magazines via YouSendIt, and waiting for measly checks
to arrive months late, sufficient only to pay the late fee on my
credit card. And for some reason, these checks are made of paper,
tucked inside envelopes, and I have to walk to my mailbox to get
them. I get in my car. I pay for the gas it takes to drive to the
local ATM. I slip the check into the ATM, which scans the paper,
renders it into a digital image (now I get something
digital? seriously?) and asks me if the amount is correct. No. No,
it isn't. It can't even get me home.
I think the future of work will be like this for all of us,
everywhere, we the empowered powerless, the squeezable multipurpose
individuals, vessels of intellectual capital squirting our
value-add onto the frozen patties of a flattened world. Squeezed by
competition, we'll have to squeeze our dreams, scale them back to
something less than we'd hoped.
Perhaps my generation will not continue the upwardly mobile
American dream-making pursued by our forbears. America promises
class mobility by the process of economic evolution, today's
generation standing on the shoulders of yesterday's. My
great-great-grandparents were farmers, my great-grandparents
craftspeople and servants, my grandparents engineers and
businesspeople and homemakers, and my parents professionals with
advanced degrees. I've been privileged enough to get the advanced
degree, ditch it with disdain, and live a creative life of the mind
and mouse, dependent on my wife's professional income and pulling
my weight by running the castle as knight, groundskeeper, cook and
court jester. Either our lifestyle is a template for how to scrape
by in the suburbs, or else our cumulative debt from school, home
and equity line is a cautionary tale about the perils of trying to
live out the wrong generation's economic destiny.
Members of Generation Squeezed will be forced to do more to
feed, clothe, shelter and educate ourselves as we are paid less and
less for our labor. I'll be working virtually with someone on the
other side of the world, but I'll be doing it while wearing a
Bluetooth headset and wrist-mounted iPhone so I can weed the herb
garden, milk the goat and collect the eggs from the backyard
henhouse. The squeezed life is going to be a lot of work. Family
life itself will be for entrepreneurs. We'll need to possess a
variety of high-tech survival skills that will cover computers,
telecommuting, agriculture, accounting, plumbing, home repair,
animal husbandry, pest control, sewing and the maintenance of wind
turbines and fuel cells.
I will not be the only one seriously considering the economic
benefits of polygamy and extended bi- and tri-family units (design
an eco-friendly, energy-efficient “green” house for that
family, will you?). My wife and I can't survive alone anymore. We
could use a few more partners in the household. The relationships
wouldn't even be sexual or romantic. We just need some chores done
and a few more checks in the mailbox. Our ad would read:
“Dual-working couple seeks hard-working individual(s) to pool
resources, share overhead, construct geodesic dome, install solar
roof tiles, plant vegetable garden and provide home-school
instruction for college-age children.”
It's a paradox, the home expanding its functional independence
as the world expands its functional interdependence. The more
globalization enables temporary collaboration of individuals across
the globe, the more individuals are forced to become permanently
self-reliant. I work collaboratively, but I survive on my own. I am
paid for the task and no more. No benefits, healthcare, insurance,
overtime, investments. I'll be repaying my own school loans as I'm
taking out new loans for my kids, and I'll be paying for my Boomer
parents' aging lifestyles even as I can't afford to invest in my
How far will globalization push the independence of the
individual? The individual will be the new locus of a sustainable
environment. Forget the home. We will all be encased in thin suits
of iArmor, protected from the elements, connected to whatever
supplants Google and YouTube, fed by organic nano-farms built into
our bodies, exchanging creative uncopyrightable labor with
doppelgangers in other time zones, expressing affection for others
within our proxy neural networks of our species-wide global
love-in. We'll all be safe and sound, of course—and perfectly at
home in our squeezable minds.
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If you join, renew, or upgrade during AIGA’s Spring
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