Ross talks at length about the new forms of free or token-wage labor that are available to employers today. He makes a point of saying that while free labor on the web gets most of the attention, it is not only a web problem. One of the increasing uses of free labor is through internships. While some internships, such as those in finance, are often paid, many others are not, especially in the social services or non-profit world. For college students in some concentrations, it is understood that the only way to secure a job after college is to do a summer internship (or 2 or 3) in that field before graduation. An article in the NY Times by Steven Greenhouse describes the lengths some parents will go to in order to have their child work for “experience” but no pay. (Internships Abroad, Unpaid with a $10,00 Price Tag, 2-5-15). In the new normal, some people are willing to pay thousands of dollars for the chance to work. Of course, this creates a disparity between those who can afford to work for nothing (or pay to work) and those who must take a paying job over an unpaid internship. Ross says “The internship is particularly relevant to our overall discussion because most interns do not see themselves as hard done by.” Where people tend to recognize unfair labor practice in say, a sweatshop, they tend not to recognize the exploitation of interns.
As Ross points out, self-service in the digital age also contributes significantly to the cheapening of the labor market. Back when phones that could be dialed by people first replaced telephone operators, the public had to be convinced to take on the task of dialing. When Bank ATMs were first introduced, people feared it was the end of the job of the bank teller and many were skeptical about using them at all. When they first appeared, Citibank actually stationed actors at the newly invented ATMs to convince people to try them. The notion seemed to be that a friendly face (and carefully scripted upbeat dialog) could ease the transition from man to machine. Indeed, ATMs did greatly reduce the number of bank tellers in banks but today we don’t think twice about using them. (I now deposit checks with my phone app– how long until we don’t even need the ATMs?) We now scan our own purchases at CVS and I am sure many stores will soon adopt this cost saving practice as well. Whether it is online or off, we have become accustomed to taking on tasks that workers are no longer being paid to do.