Paid duct taping vs unpaid creation

The difference between “doing a job” and “doing good work” is one we take very seriously, and I dare say most of the people working in the Edgeryders team, but also those on the platform, in the community are actively searching and or pursuing alternatives to classical jobs.

This is the reason we are now organising an online-summit with multiple topical public listening and discussion sessions on the very topic of “making a living”.

Sometimes that is very hard. Some people have to do their “good work” after their job, for others, the financial reality of the “good work” is not secure, especially during a crisis like this one.

In one of our conversations about the issue of work during Covid19 I shared how my friends and my mother’s self-worth was tied to work even so they know better. Among many understanding and helpful answers was the recommendation to read David Graeber’s book “Bullshit Jobs”.

Bellow you find a snipped from David Graeber’s book “Bullshit Jobs”


I would like to invite your perspective on this issue in the context of open source and the issue of “making a living”.

  • Have you experienced examples of that?

  • Do you think this is an important issue?

  • How would you like to solve this?

  • How can we find an appropriate value system for value-creating work?

check also this interview for recent context:

Please post here and I would like to invite you to our online-summit:
Sneak Peek: Covid19 + Resilient Livelihoods: An Online Summit
If you are interested in being involved in organising this session please also comment :slight_smile:

The conversation we are having here is the start of a listening session during that summit.

This event is part of the NGI Forward project Generation Internet (NGI) initiative, launched by the European Commission in the autumn of 2016. It has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 825652 from 2019-2021. You can learn more about the initiative and our involvement in it at

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The Graeber interview is intense. Related to work, this was particularly interesting:

Graeber: And of course the pandemic has highlighted the reverse side of this: the more immediately your work helps other people the less you are likely to be paid.
Q: Health and care workers, factory and utility workers, shopkeepers… got celebrated during the pandemic. How come?
Graeber: Because the essence of their work is to do no harm. Just consider the emergency and care workers who are out there risking their lives so that the health system does not collapse. In theory, a labour movement is the strongest when their work is essential and brings a lot of bargaining power to the workers. So if the health and care workers would decide to strike for better conditions and better pay this would be the best possible moment. But in reality this does not happen.

However, I don’t agree with his characterization of open source work. Indeed, much open source work is started on nights and weekends but it matures in institutions and with corporate contributions. I would get into details, but I don’t want to derail the conversation. The point still stands. There is a lot of uncompensated labor being done on the internet.

I would like to invite your perspective on this issue in the context of open source and the issue of “making a living”. Have you experienced examples of that?

Personally? Certainly. I found it impossible to get local information about COVID-19 cases, so I build a service myself: :it: The Corona Virus in Turin, Italy. It’s nothing brilliant, but there are others in my community that also want this service. The gap between the dynamic document I made and the people out there that I know want to read it is frustrating.

If I can provide the service to the right people (the more difficult part) then I can seek compensation that I can invest back into the work.

How would you like to solve this?

There are concrete lessons to learn from both Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. I still dream of a network where one person signals a good or service available in a virtual space they can control (i.e. not controlled by a 3rd party, like Facebook). The contemporary web is absurd because better models are so easy to imagine.

  • Decentralized: If I like a band, I should be able to go to their webpage and compensate an artist directly for their work.
  • Centralized: If I like a band, I can support them on a platform that they own with other bands (a cooperative like Ampled). The people that make the content should own the platform.

How can we find an appropriate value system for value-creating work?

It’s important to look at the models of the past while acknowledging what makes the internet unique. Marx couldn’t have imagined a space where ephemeral goods could be distributed at zero marginal cost all over the plant in a fraction of a second.

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Thank you @schmudde for this thoughtful response! Do you maybe know some people in you line of work you could invite to this conversation?

Perhaps. Are we talking about open source work or the arts?

And do you mean to this forum or for some other more formal conversation?

The people I know who are preoccupied with issues related to pay and work online are more freelancers and business owners. Less academics and analysts.

Cross-posted on Blivande


Here is a recent interview with Graeber in which the topic is connected to the current situation.

Have a look, what would you like to add or ask?

What is your experinces with bullshit work before as well as during the crisis?


How about economic relations?

It really is fascinating because for so many years governments all over the world had been telling us they could not do anything like what they just did: stop almost all economic activity, close the borders, and declare a global state of emergency. Three months ago, even, everyone assumed that even a one percent decline of GDP would be an unmitigated catastrophe, like we’d all be trampled by the economic equivalent of Godzilla.

But that is not what has happened.

No, something else has happened. Everybody stayed at home and economic activity only fell by one third. Which is already crazy. You would imagine that when everybody is at home and not doing anything the economy should be down by at least 80 per cent, not one third. Wouldn’t you? Kind of makes you wonder what exactly are they measuring? What is an “economy”, anyway? And what is work?

I think we can begin to see those things more clearly because of the pandemic.

Also touches on protesting in quarantine times for example

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We would like to make a summit event out of this topic. Who would like to get involved?

I am not sure if that really is an issue (and I guess the book has real numbers about it). I mostly think of the “Open Source Programmer at night” as a myth, or at least being the exception when speaking about Open Source Software that is actually being used by multiple parties in critical parts of their business systems.

Also in podcasts I sometimes hear programmers ranting about how tough their “life” and working conditions are at their day-to-day-job. Yet, the demand is very high and the salary is … “competitive” - as a developer you should be able to pick your job (if you can live with the 40h etc convention)! If you want to do Open Source, tell your company.

If I encounter some issue with Free (as in freedom, ~ Open Source) software, I will contribute, in the form of an creating a issue in the ticket-system (that is how developers keep track of what maybe has to be done), getting involved in the Forum, Mailing List or Chat, or propose an improvement (“Pull Request”). Many times this is about a clarification in the installation or maintenance instructions. I do this in my paid time (I bill my customers for it) and I believe any User should feel as an empowered user and just do the same - for me its part of the game. If my bosses (I dont really have any…) were to tell me: “Nope, you have to keep your improvements private” or “Sorry, thats something you have to do in your free time”, they’d disqualify as bosses. Just move on - there should be plenty of alternatives out there.

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Check out this comment with an emphasisi on akademic jobs:

It goes well with our planned summit event on the 22nd of June on precarity in higher education:

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@anique.yael and @alberto , since you have proposed the above work by Graeber and the discussion thereof, would you like to join our Session on endangered researchers and precarity in higher education as multipliers? like @MariaEuler points out, we are in the same thread:)

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@atelli sounds like a plan!

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Ampled - had not seen that before. I hope they can grow and sustain themselves. Seems like a good model.