A couple of months back, there was an interesting article in The New Yorker on a growing industry: temporary personal assistants. (Not sure, but access to this content may require a subscription.)
One of the companies specializing in this is Boston’s own TaskRabbit – since expanded to cities on both coasts, as well as Chicago, and coming soon to South/Southwest – which has as its motto Do more. Live more. Be more. Not sure if that motto is for the taskers or the taskees, but I guess it works both ways.
Folks in need of jobs done – organizing their closets, prepping for a dinner party, getting their laundry done, dropping off donations – post their tasks, and TaskRabbits bid on the jobs. Once their bid is accepted, they’re off. All the grubby payment details are managed on line. No cash changes hands. Those “friendly TaskRabbits” are background checked, so it’s unlikely that, say, an ax murderer will show up to take down your Christmas tree. (Not apparent whether those who sign up to have tasks performed for them are similarly vetted, but I would hope so. Way too many Craig’s List killers out there…TaskPosters do have to use real, verified identities, but I guess there’s no way to weed out the Ted Bundy’s until they make their first strike.)
The New Yorker article didn’t focus on the boring, pedestrian requests that the task-masters set.
No “organize my closets” there.
One couple wanted their compost bucket cleaned out. (Which got done for $31. If I’ve got it right, TaskRabbit adds an approximate 15% service fee, paid by the poster.) Someone needed help retrieving a set of keys he’d dropped down a sewer. ($80) One TaskRabbit made $100 driving a truckload of burning necessities from San Bruno to the Burning Man Festival in Nevada. I would have driven off the road laughing if I knew I was transporting “A big silver tricycle, a batch of Jester clothes and a large, tent-like dwelling called a yurt.”
One big baby TaskPoster stepped in dog crap and immediately smart-phoned a TaskRabbit request to have someone fetch a “new pair of navy blue Toms shoes from Nordstrom’s.” ($17.) Okay, I get that Toms are soft shoes, so it’s not as easy as cleaning off leather. Still, you’d think a grownup could cope with a little bit of dog crap, wouldn’t you?
Thousands of unemployed or underemployed workers have parlayed one-off job requests into part- or full-time work. The gigs are especially popular with stay-at-home moms, retirees and students. Workers choose their jobs and negotiate their own rates.
Here’s what the friendly TaskRabbits demo looks like:
The sewer-fisher wasn’t a TaskRabbit, by the way. She was a “fulfiller” for Zaarly, “an online marketplace for micro-labor and goods based in San Francisco”, which has among its investors both Kleiner Perkins and Ashton Kutcher. (Another of the Zaarly projects: someone “who hired someone to buy a Michael Jackson-themed dog costume for a puppy.” Now there is a niche request.)
TaskRabbit and Zaarly are, I guess, the face of the new economy, in which “micro-laborers” make or augment their living doing the little things that someone else can afford to have done for them. The work world is starkly breaking down to TaskRabbits and TaskPosters.
Which did get me thinking about what tasks I would be willing to take care of as a TaskRabbit. Which didn’t last long: I quickly reached the conclusion that, in the grand scheme of things, I would much prefer being a doee to a doer. (We already have a couple who comes in every two weeks and does cleaning for us, so I’ve already pretty much declared where I fall.)
As for tasks I would absolutely consider having a TaskRabbit take care of for me:
- Help me get the Christmas tree in the stand. An annual moment of tension, although somewhat diminished once I started getting the more manageable 6’ tree, as opposed to one that was 7’-plus.
- Run bags of clothing over to St. Francis House. Mostly I’m pretty good about this, but sometimes I have a lot of stuff from my sisters, and it can just sit there while I figure out whether I can stuff it all in my shopping cart and get it over there in one trip. (Confession: this happens only after I have gone through the bags and removed the stuff that was obviously meant for me.)
- Install new drapes in the bedroom and the den. Which I will get around to once I get around to having the bedroom and den painted. Which may or may not be this year, even though it is on my New Year’s resolution list for the nth time. Anyway, I so do not want to break my neck trying to get this job done. Whenever I get around to
doing itgetting it done.
- Get rid of the ancient and colossal air conditioner that’s been sitting in the den closet, taking up precious storage space, since we moved into our condo over 20 years ago. Where we have central air, and where we have never used, and will never use, this behemoth.
Ah, yes, I do see TaskRabbit-ry in my future.
But I am a bit unsettled by the thought that, increasingly, these are what the jobs “out there” are going to be like: menial things – like taking care of someone who stepped in dog crap – that just cannot be outsourced to India or the Philippines. And the TaskRabbits won’t all be stay-at-home moms and male retirees.
It’ll be just like the good old days: you’ve got your lords; you’ve got your vassals; and you’ve got your serfs.
I guess I’m a vassal, but I can’t shake the notion that Serfin’ USA is not going to be such a great place to live.