The San Francisco Chronicle has an article up about the laptop enabled roaming workforce that it has labeled as ‘Bedouins’. Its a fairly in depth look at how technology and changing attitudes about work are creating new lifestyle employment. From the piece by Dan Frost:
San Francisco’s bedouins see themselves changing the nature of the workplace, if not the world at large. They see large companies like General Motors laying off workers, contributing to insecurity. And at the same time, they see the Internet providing the tools to start companies on the cheap. In the Bedouin lifestyle, they are free to make their own rules.
“The San Francisco coffeehouse is the new Palo Alto garage,” declares Kevin Burton, 30, who runs his Internet startup Tailrank without renting offices. “It’s where all the innovation is happening.”
Burton and Kennedy are among those popularizing the bedouin name, separating the movement from traditional freelancing by stressing the workers’ involvement in technology, in general, and Web 2.0 ideology in particular. While the movement is at its apex in San Francisco, where young urban independents can easily find a coffeehouse with the right vibe for them, it’s also happening across the more suburban reaches of the Bay Area, and across the country as a whole.
The move toward mobile self employment is also part of what author Daniel Pink identified when he wrote “Free Agent Nation” in 2001.
“A whole infrastructure has emerged to help people work in this way,” Pink said. “Part of it includes places like Kinkos, Office Depot and Staples.” It also includes places like Starbucks and independent coffee shops, where Wi-Fi — wireless Internet access for laptops and other devices — is available.
“The infrastructure makes it possible for people to work where they want, when they want, how they want,” said Pink, who is based in Washington, D.C.
The piece then goes on to describe a number of people and locations in the Bay area which are fueling the cause. However, one of the best parts I enjoyed most was the connection to previous labor nomads toward the end:
According to the Lloyd’s of London Web site, “Edward Lloyd opened a coffee house in 1688, encouraging a clientele of ships’ captains, merchants and ship owners — earning him a reputation for trustworthy shipping news. This ensured that Lloyd’s coffee house became recognized as the place for obtaining marine insurance.”
Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote some of their best work in Parisian cafes. And in San Francisco, writers and poets of the Beat generation, such as Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, wrote in the cafes of North Beach.
As a ‘Bedouin’ and someone trying to create a community to support other’s online ventures the article had plenty of warm fuzzy moments for me. However, here is the rub: is this lifestyle sustainable or is it a passing fad of the time we live in?
I’ve been closely following the discussion on Web Worker Daily about the Terra Bite Cafe concept. From the WWD article by Chris Gilmer:
Imagine walking into a cafe, ordering a coffee and a biscuit, grabbing a seat and plugging away on your laptop. Then at the end of the week you drop a $20 into the anonymous drop box. Notice the missing step? The coins and bills to pay for your order when you receive it? Welcome to the Terra Bite cafe. It’s all about pure karma.
In the realm of way-out, maybe someday ideas I’ve thought about doing something like this with CodeAway; instead of monthly, 4 hour social sit-downs we provide a continuous usable space for those laptop workers to commiserate, commune, and ‘commute’. This would be for the freelance journalists, writers, code slingers, designers, remix artists, etc.
But any illusions of techno-utopia are quickly dissipated by some of the articulate comments – which are falling about 50/50 on whether such an idea could work. The biggest hurdle seems to be that this example exists in a rather affluent neighborhood with strong tech sector providing plenty of disposable income. Can a comfortable wifi workspace that gets by on karma survive an economic downturn? Is such an effort doomed to be undone by freeloaders? Thoughts?
Embedded somewhere within the slew of new societal norms in the digital age is a changing relationship that we have with work. We are witness to the ascension of the knowledge worker; someone who’s stock and trade is being a nodal point for ideas. It’s very much the modus operandi that I’m in: have wifi’d laptop, will make a living. CodeAway’s mission is to provide opportunities for this new breed to enrich and enhance each others efforts; that, and give us an forum to brag about our latest Wii triumphs.
The power behind web working and my personal involvement make me pleased to announce a new side gig as contributing writer for Web Worker Daily. WWD is an online media property from Om Malik. Om is an award winning technology journalist and former senior writer for Business 2.0. He’s since struck out on his own and is building his own ‘online media publisher’ (the mechanics of which I hope to also learn from this vantage point). Most importantly, he (so far) is a great guy. I initially was a little nervous about the time commitment the gig would require and if there were article quotas that had to be met. Om’s response on what to post?
No expectations – just the posts which come from your heart and your brain, not from your wallet.
He’s also got a interview with Robert Scoble, for those interested.
What does this mean for CodeAway? Probably not much. There might be some cross linking for relevant pieces but for the most part I’ll continue posting relevant stuff here. As long as time permits, I’ll be writing.
Cross coded on mutednoise.com and BloomBurst.com.
From Web Worker Daily:
New York’s Freelancers Union is a 40,000-strong association of the new type of worker in New York state. They offer message boards, job postings, discounts, and advocacy, but their main draw is access to group insurance programs. Without any sort of collective bargaining, Freelancers Union is more like a giant buying club open to freelancers only than a traditional union, but it does serve to indicate the size of our sector of the economy in one chunk of the country. Even if you’re not in New York, you can join (it’s free); they’re planning a nationwide push and expansion of their insurance benefits, and are trying to guage interest in different areas of the country to see where to go next.
Membership is free and they are looking to expand their insurance protection to other states. Is this kind of organization something that could be useful to Utah’s web workers?
Things have been slower than I had hoped but, little by little, I’m getting new spots added to the Salt Lake Free WiFi map. I’ve been going through the list of wireless points provided as a community service by Xmission.
I’ll post more info as it goes live.
Happy 2007! I’m sure as you prepare yourself to get started on those New Year’s resolutions make sure you check out a recent article on the Contract Worker. Freelancing can be an incredibly rewarding career choice but somewhere in those resolutions make some room for building long term value:
As we make a living through contract work, we should strive to reach a point where our hard-earned money works for us. One way to do this is to create money-generating assets along the way, so that when the time comes to retire, we’ll be certain of our financial future.
That’s not to say that freelancing is a dead-end career path. In fact, I believe freelancing provides greater oppurtunities to attain true wealth because being control of your own schedule makes it easy to pursue lucrative, asset-building opportunities.
These opportunities could be as simple as creating a successful blog brand to a self-published bestseller capturing your unique wisdom. These are the things that continue to bring in steady income while you pursue your larger flights of business fancy.
What are your resolutions for 2007? More importantly, what long term value are you building?
Web Worker Daily has a series of thought provoking predictions for 2007. (Of course, this time of year, who doesn’t?) What’s notable is the crystal ball bit about Starbuck launching a series of coworking cafes toward the end. From the piece:
Wish 7: Starbucks introduces a chain of coworking cafes. Instead of jazzy music, customers would hear white-noise style nature sounds like waterfalls or babbling brooks. Wifi would be free, once you joined the coworking club for a reasonable yearly membership fee. Each coworking cafe would include rentable conference and napping rooms–even the most motivated web workers need a rest now and then. Customers could rent the use of large flat-panel displays for an hourly or daily fee. Personal coaches, massage therapists, and tech support specialists could offer appointments to soothe any career, body, or computer problems that arise while coworking. Bonus: a soundproof childcare room would keep the kids busy while Mom and Dad get their work done.
Reality Check: Coworking venues have been popping up in most progressive tech-oriented cities and that will continue in 2007 at both the grass roots and luxury ends of the spectrum, but a national chain with consistent quality and offerings along the lines of what Starbucks brought to coffee houses probably won’t appear for a few years, after sustainable business models for coworking cafes are developed and refined on a local basis.
What do you think? Would you be more likely to leave the comfy confines of a home office for a shop up the street if it was devoted to mobile workers? What kind of needs would such a place have to meet?
Over the weekend I made some decent progress on two new tools for Salt Lake’s mobile web set. While both are works in progress hopefully there is already enough there to make them useful to a few folks.
The first is a Google Maps page with displays the location of free (or nearly free) WiFi zones. I’ll be adding more information as I have time. If anyone has a location not listed or would like to update one of the existing points please leave a comment among the original set of addresses. I’ll also be doing one for Utah County (Provo, Orem) is short order. Most likely it will be the same set of points (for scrollers) but with a different start position.
Next is incorporation of a Google Calendar feed into its own dedicated page. Earlier this year Jordan Gunderson created a ‘Utah Tech Events’ calendar. Unfortunately, it hasn’t become the rich resource of Utah geek events as it could have been. Hopefully, by giving it a bit more visibility and showing how that data can be repurposed we’ll see event organizers take a more proactive role in its upkeep. I’m not entirely enamored with how the plug-in renders the feed; the layout may change in the future.
Got any other ideas for useful tools? What else would make you a better mobile new-media mercenary?
From ValleyWag’s Silicon Valley User’s Guide comes a list of handy tips for keeping the karma coming while working from that new freelancer center, the WiFi coffee hub:
- Unless the place has a sign forbidding laptop use, you’re welcome to boot up.
- If you’re not paying for Wi-Fi, spend about $5 an hour on coffee, snacks and tips. If the place is packed, make it ten.
- Not hungry? Take your five-spot and put it in the tip jar.
- Carry a power strip! One outlet can power twenty 100-watt laptops without blowing a fuse. That’s still less wattage than your hair dryer.
- Hogging the socket is the #1 laptop offense. If there aren’t enough power outlets for everyone, charge up your laptop just enough to run for an hour. Then let someone else jack in until you need to recharge.
- Laptop Offense #2: If it’s crowded, offer to share your table.
I’m not sure that Utah has quite the same going rate that Silicon Valley has (the five-spot in the tip jar) but taking advantage of free wifi without giving something back to the hosts is a big no-no.
As for the free wifi at many of the areas fine city and county libraries – well, technically that is payed for by the communities taxes. One just has to navigate the widely varying levels of security and login processes.
While the phenom of always on connectivity and distributed workforces may be new to us a new report by New Media Age looks at how our kids are adjusting. From Web Worker Daily comes a thought provoking question: If the kids are always on the go doing whatever whenever, how will employers get them to sit in a cube?
Especially interesting are some of the comments:
We have a similar study out there – we call these workers âOut Thereâ?. You can read more about it at this blog entry here.
Our main findings:
People who are âOut Thereâ? are more likely to:
- Value fame as an âassetâ?
- Willing to share certain types of sensitive information on the web
- Believe it is appropriate to criticize their organizations on the web
- Believe that âorganizations need to be more transparent to succeedâ?
- Believe âthereâs no harm in openly discussing the work I do inside my organization with othersâ?