Terra Economy Manifesto
We can transcend the gig economy into something better.
A new era is dawning. With the rise of “gig economy” services through the 2010s that took over large sectors of the economy, it was only a matter of time before new ideas come along and, as tech types love to say, disrupt the status quo. A worker-owned co-op in New York is hoping to compete with corporate entities like Uber and Lyft.
The reality of these centralized corporate services is they provide little more than a trusted brand — all while extracting a lot of value out of the day-to-day of the business. There are other, more decentralized issues of trust and customer service may be managed, however, which can potentially eliminate much of the corporate overhead, while even potentially offering users a centralized app for finding workers to help them.
Examples of how this could work already exist in the real world. For instance, there is an open-source, decentralized competitor to Twitter called Mastodon. Though it is only a fraction of the popularity, it is effective in its design — and arguably, something to transcend the gig economy would find even more value in it.
With Mastodon, anyone can create their own instance of the service. However, due to a standardized way for instance of Mastodon to communicate with each other, one can “follow” people on entirely different instances of it, with everything working seamlessly. Imagine this — but with getting a ride or food delivery.
The end result is something where the customer gets an experience not all too different than they might on apps today, but the service behind it is structured in such a way that the workers retain more of the profits and control over their particular instance of the service.
Though the “gig” economy is so named because workers get very short-term “gigs” rather than jobs, such a name evokes the shorthand for “gigabit” or “gigabyte” that has pervaded much of our tech culture in recent years. My hometown, Chattanooga, declared itself the “Gig City” after setting up municipally-owned fiber internet at a gigabit per second. In a nod to this, I propose this new paradigm be called the “Terra Economy” — a pun on “tera,” the prefix after “gig,” as well as “terra”, earth, evoking the more grassroots nature of these enterprises.
Let us go forward into an era where those who work such jobs have more meaningful control over their livelihood — where enormous corporations don’t need to extract billions of dollars to power something we have the technology to do in a far more efficient way. Often doing the right thing economically means the consumer pays more. Here we simply transfer the overhead to those more deserving.