In the digital economy, we'll soon all be working for free – and I refuse: We can shrug and say it's just another industrial revolution, a move from formal to informal work, the whole "portfolio" number. But where is the social contract, then, if it "doesn't tide you over when you're sick and it doesn't let you raise kids and it doesn't let you grow old"?
The implosion of the middle class produces instability. We cannot all be freelancers for ever. Freelance work, like interning, is fine if you have the funds to manage without a regular income. That is, if you are already wealthy. But the digital economy operates as a kind of sophisticated X Factor. Someone will make it, sure. For more than 15 seconds even, maybe. But most won't. This is why Lanier says the internet may destroy the middle classes, the people who can't outspend the elite. And without that middle group, we cannot maintain a democracy.
He sees musicians and artists and journalists as canaries in the mineshaft of this new economy. Who will pay them? "Is this the precedent we want to follow for our doctors and lawyers and nurses and everybody else? Because, eventually, technology will get to everybody." [...]
The creative industries, first music and now journalism, saw these changes coming too late. My children have been brought up in a world where they have to compete with those who will work for free. It is only a matter of time until we will all be asked to do the same. And I refuse.
For what is being eroded is not only actual wages but also the very idea that work must be paid for. Huge profits are being made from these so-called opportunities for our youth. But they are, in fact, the exploitation of insecurity. This is not about being anti-technology. It is about being pro-human. Technology is here and it's often great. But we must find a sustainable way of using it so that the stuff we do or make is paid for in living and not virtual wages.