When I turned 60, I moved my office from downtown back home and put my freelance copywriting business on a gentle glide path to retirement. A year ago, I turned 70 and pronounced myself officially retired. I’d done well. Could I achieve as much in today’s work environment? I shudder to think about it.
Work for a corporation? I never wanted to and never did. Yes, some companies treat their employees well. My son Aaron works for Square. He can eat all his meals in their restaurant and enjoys other perks. And there’s money to be made. But much of the technology industry maintains a “start-up” culture. Life is work. Toil twelve hours a day or more six or seven days a week.
Amazon takes that to the max as reported by the New York Times’ Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld (August 15). The company’s long established, yet “workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are ‘unreasonably high.’” Thank you, no.
I freelanced. I wrote ad and marketing copy clients ranging from Fortune 100 to micro. Given the pros and cons of technology, I don’t know how freelancers are making it today. The pros are obvious. Websites now advertise jobs for freelancers. “Back in the day,” I beat the bushes. But I built personal relationships with my clients. Some lasted 10 years, 20 years and more.
That leads to the cons. Technology often limits the quality of communication and relationship building. Clients go online to fish for the lowest bid. But many skills cannot be considered commodities. Writing is one. Not everyone can listen sensitively then solve a problem. Anyone can string words together. Few can choose the right words and put them in the right order.
Clients need to know the people who work for them. This encourages meeting face to face. Skype is serviceable, but only to a point. I always tried to meet a prospect in the flesh, particularly at the client’s workplace. I wanted to make an impression. I also wanted clues as to whether or not working for that person made sense.
Freelance websites make that harder. Freelancers often compete not so much in the area of skills as in bids—that commodity approach. Competitors and even spambots can drive hourly or project fees down to rock bottom. Clients getting $10-an-hour copy or art don’t do themselves any favors. Freelancers find it tough to make a living in a world in which technology, in the name of productivity and efficiency, often devalues human contact. If you’ve seen people gathered around a restaurant table, each engrossed in a cell phone, you understand.
Our society claims enlightenment. Yet we worship at the shrine of the Initial Public Offering and seek the blessings of the free market that often pummels us. Creativity counts only as long as it contributes to the bottom line. Employees are expendable. But don’t get me wrong. American business doesn’t crush the human spirit. It just ignores it.
I’ve entered my dinosaur years, and I’m proud. In many ways, dinosaurs prove to be more human than what passes for human today.
Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.
To respond, click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.