I heard a story on NPR this morning about a high school teacher in California who drives for Uber because the cost of living in his community is so high he can’t quite make ends meet on his teacher’s salary. Then I looked at the front page of the NY Times and there’s a story about Uber testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. The company many had thought of as part of the “sharing economy” is truly, as it has always said, really just a tech company. But what really struck me was the connection between the two stories. As Uber becomes more “efficient,” it will no longer need its independent contract drivers like the teacher. I am well aware that in the long history of industrial organization, as technology has increased efficiency and productivity, the members of the workforce have seen temporary setbacks that lead to long-term improvements for society as a whole. This feels different. My concern is that the teacher featured in the story and his wife, also a teacher, cannot afford to live in the community they serve on the salary the community is paying them. That does not result from technology; that results from skewed priorities.
What does this have to do with the arts? Much has been written recently about the “gig economy” for artists. And, others have written about art and arts work in the “sharing economy.” But what happens when the technologies of sharing cause the gigs themselves to dry up, as self-driving cars most assuredly will? Must our artists all become schoolteachers to supplement their gig-life and build a gig-life to supplement their teaching income — because our communities undervalue both?