When one exits the traditional workplace for whatever reason, responsibility for answering the question — How do we make the exchange of one’s time for one’s survival and quality of life as efficient and effective as possible so that as many as can may benefit from what each has to offer? — shifts from the structure of the organization onto the shoulders of the individual formerly employed within it. Gone is the centuries-old social contract whereby one receives a wage or salary plus benefits for time spent meeting the requirements of a position description and fulfilling the boss’s prerogatives. Instead, one allocates one’s time thinking, speaking, doing, and learning related to personal priorities beginning with assuring one’s own survival, then protecting the vulnerable for whom one feels responsibility, and hopefully, enjoying a reasonable quality of life beyond the struggle to secure basic needs.

Unfortunately, the culture of work remains stuck in unhelpful dichotomies such as paid versus unpaid; smart and industrious versus stupid and lazy; educated and skilled versus ignorant and untrained. This labeling limits choices, pits people against themselves, and prevents them from taking advantage of the value each possesses as a living human being. Furthermore, as developments in technology, improvements in processes, and drops in demand displace people from the traditional work structure, competition increases among them for whatever paid work opportunities become available AND with the very systems, processes, and tools that caused the loss of their jobs in the first place: it’s one against the other and both against “the machine”!

The nature of work has moved from a labor-intensive, industrial paradigm centered on employment within a job structure to a knowledge-intensive, post-industrial era where people provide value through the delivery of their perspective, experience, ideas, and curiosity about the fluid, dynamic, and rapidly changing circumstances in which they find themselves day in and day out. In the interest of fairness, though, the delivery of value warrants commensurate compensation in exchange. The challenge, then, is to develop post-industrial systems for value exchange that allow whoever participates in them to meet their basic needs, at a minimum, and ideally, enjoy a reasonable quality of life. Let’s see where we are.

Central to this shift is the rise of the social media platform on which people can participate. Through the likes of Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, etc., billions of people around the world willingly post (and frequently update) personal information about themselves to include where they are, who they’re with, what they’re thinking and doing, how they feel, etc. They’re incentivized to do so by being given access to apps / digital tools deemed useful to them on a routine basis; opportunities to connect with others, post profiles, portfolios, and projects; and immersion in a steady stream of communications about a nearly infinite range of topics, opinions, and personalities all of which matter to someone, somewhere. The entities that control these platforms harvest the data generated by the billions of daily interactions, apply powerful, intelligent algorithms to mine the data and identify patterns of behavior, and convert those data into information that feeds marketing / advertising campaigns; product and service development; and clever incentives to motivate more people to spend more time on the platforms—and ultimately, spend more money on what’s offered online.