The TED Interview
Juliet Schor wants a four-day work week
August 4, 2022
[00:00:00] Steven Johnson:
Welcome to the TED Interview. I'm Steven Johnson. One of the defining properties of a global pandemic, beyond the life and death struggles with disease itself, is the fact that it disrupts so many of the routines of everyday life. Usually, we're glad when the case counts drop and we get to go back to normal life again, attending in-person school or dining out in restaurants.
But in certain cases, the COVID disruptions have left us wondering if some of our old routines were really the optimal ones. Nowhere is this rethinking of habit more pronounced than in the world of work, which is one reason we've decided to focus a number of shows this season on the future of the workplace.
We're obviously in the middle of a major conversation about the pros and cons of working from home, which has major implications for city downtowns and commercial real estate and the environment. But there's another movement that has been amplified by the pandemic, which is less about where we do our work and more about when, and that's the campaign for a four-day work week.
Just last month, 70 companies in the UK launched what organizers are calling the most ambitious test program yet, exploring the merits of a four-day work week where more than 3000 employees will work 80% of the time while still being paid 100% of their previous wages with the expectation that they remain just as productive as they were during the five day week.
Now that may sound like a fantastic deal to you, or it might sound like a fantasy, but either way, you want to hear from today's guest, Juliet Schor, who has been one of the most persuasive advocates for the four-day week in recent years. Schor is an economist, author, and professor of sociology at Boston College.
She's the author of more than five books, including 1992’s The Overworked American, and a recent book on the sharing economy: After the Gig, which also has a lot of implications for the post-COVID labor landscape. We spoke earlier this year at TED Vancouver where she gave a talk on the four-day work week movement and her research with companies around the world who are giving it a try.
[00:02:29] Steven Johnson:
Juliet Schor, welcome to the TED interview.
[00:02:32] Juliet Schor:
Oh, thank you. Great pleasure to be here.
[00:02:35] Steven Johnson:
So I wanted to start with just the, giving you an opportunity to reflect on the last two years. I mean, what has surprised you the most?
[00:02:42] Juliet Schor:
It's been kind of mind-boggling, I have to say. As someone who has spent a lot of her career trying to sort of get change in the workplace and you know, frankly, been fairly unsuccessful. Both the speed and the extent to which previously held, strongly held views about what has to happen the way things need to be is being completely overturned.
Yeah. So we've talked so much in the national conversation about work from home, which of course has just been a massive transformation, you know, along these lines, but it's been much more than that. You know, I work on work, I also do a lot on climate and, and sort of changing consumption patterns and so forth.
And I don't know, a few months into the pandemic, you know, nobody was buying anything ‘cause there's nothing to buy. And you know, just hoping that people would change their habits sort of long term, and they would stop flying and doing all these things. And you know, I was saying all this like, “Oh, I hope this happens to that.”
And I can't say I really sort of had a lot of faith in the fact that those changes would happen. The workplace has been really different because the workplace, I thin, is changing, I don't wanna say forever, but it's a durable change. It's like they can't put Humpty back together again. They can’t.
[00:04:18] Steven Johnson:
Yeah. It's a fascinating time. So we're here at, at the TED Conference and we're in Vancouver, and, uh, just a day or two ago you gave a terrific talk from the TED stage. Congratulations.
[00:04:28] Juliet Schor:
Thank you. Thank you.
[00:04:29] Steven Johnson:
I’m sure you're very relieved to have it behind you.
[00:04:31] Juliet Schor:
Lot of fun.
[00:04:32[ Steven Johnson:
Very well received. Um, and on the stage, you, you made the case for a, a very specific change, um, that has, you know, been floating around before COVID, but suddenly it seems more viable for all the reasons we're talking about now. And, and that is this idea of the four-day work week. Tell us about the, where it has been implemented and, and what the results have been. You know, kinda make the case for the four-day work week.
[00:04:59] Juliet Schor:
Yeah. So you know, beginning in like 2014, almost 10 years ago, you start to see various governments and individual companies who are experimenting with shorter work hours. And the key bit to this is shorter work hours with no cuts in pay.
[00:05:20] Steven Johnson:
[00:05:21] Juliet Schor:
And not four day, uh, condensed week where it's for 10 hours. I mean, you had that in Utah during the, um, financial crisis. They went to work, uh, 10-hour days, and people liked it a lot, but so these are real, genuine work time reductions with no reductions in pay. The biggest, uh, trial was in Iceland. Most of them went to 36, 35, and more and more going to 32. Phenomenal results, like less stress, lower work-family conflicts, more energy levels, productivity stays the same or gets better. Doesn't cost anything.
Everyone in Iceland now is either on one of these shorter hour schedules, or they can be, they have the, they're eligible for them. Um, and then you get individual companies doing it. Not a lot of them, but, uh, the one that made sort of the most, uh, you know, had the most headlines is a New Zealand company owned by a man named Andrew Barnes. He read a, an article in a business magazine saying the average worker works, I don't remember if it was two or three hours a day. I mean, some really low number. And he is like, “Wow, that's really interesting.” He believed it. I think it's probably enough not the rest of it. But anyway, but the point was absolutely right, that there's a lot of slack in the day, particularly—
[00:06:48] Steven Johnson:
Right. Some of it actually spent on Slack.
[00:06:49] Juliet Schor:
Yeah, exactly. So he goes back to New Zealand and says, “I'm gonna do this in my company.” And he gets a researcher from the University of Auckland to study exactly what happens. And it's fabulous. You know, people are much happier. Revenue is growing, the company's thriving, they're getting better people.
You know, everything that he's trying to measure looks good. And he becomes very, you know, passionate about this idea and starts a worldwide movement called Four Day Week Global to try and tell people about it. And um, meanwhile there are individual companies doing, a lot of them in tech. Um, once the pandemic started, the momentum started to build and they got in touch with me and we started our Irish trial February 1st.
So we are… Companies are voluntarily joining a trial. They're getting coaching, help on implementation and so forth. And then my team is researching the outcomes both on the company side and the employee side. We're looking at economic, social, and uh, carbon outcomes.
[00:08:03] Steven Johnson:
Is there some reason this is only happening on island nations?
[00:08:06] Juliet Schor:
Oh, oh no. You know what? Ireland was just the first.
[00:08:10] Steven Johnson:
Okay. It's just like you got New Zealand, we've got Iceland, we've got Ireland.
[00:08:13] Juliet Schor:
True. Now the UK's interesting. We have more than twice as many companies and employees, uh, signed up for the UK trial. They've had a four-day week campaign going for years in the UK.
Um, and then the Australasians are starting in, uh, in August. So we’re, we got all the English like—
[00:08:34] Steven Johnson:
Moving off of the island.
[00:08:35] Juliet Schor:
—and the Spanish government announced a four-day week trial months ago, in which they're paying the fifth day so the companies don't have to take the risk—
[00:08:45] Steven Johnson:
[00:08:46] Juliet Schor:
—uh, that productivity will go down. And we, we can talk about that. One of the big themes of these, Andrew Barnes’ perpetual guardian system is that people do 100% of the work in 80% of the time.
[00:08:57] Steven Johnson:
Yeah, that’s, that's, I wanted to touch on that. I'm glad you’ve raised this. So when, when we see examples where productivity doesn't decline, we're not talking about adjusting for the fourth day, we're saying absolute productivity of the four-day week… The output at the end of that four-day week is the same or roughly the same as a five-day week?
[00:09:14] Juliet Schor:
[00:09:15] Steven Johnson:
And the argument there is the slack time. The, basically, if people know they're there for five days, they spend more time checking Facebook and they spend more time, you know, they're just less efficient with their time. Is that, is that basically the idea?
[00:09:29] Juliet Schor:
Yes. So the idea is that there's low or zero productivity activity going on and just get rid of it. Give people that full day off that you can get that 20%.
[00:09:43] Steven Johnson:
[00:09:43] Juliet Schor:
One, one day. So the biggest thing is actually probably not slack, although that's yes: meetings. One of Andrew Barn's really important lessons was you have to reorganize work to get rid of that low productivity activity, and you have to let the employees themselves figure out how to do it.
[00:10:06] Steven Johnson:
[00:10:06] Juliet Schor:
So meetings are the number one thing that the companies get control over in order to make this work. The dramatic case was Microsoft Japan, which, um, they had a sort of draconian change in meeting policy. and they actually had a 40% increase in productivity.
[00:10:28] Steven Johnson:
Right. I, I have to say on the meetings front, I, I spent some time in my career in, in kind of tech startups where I was going into an office and, you know, working alongside other people and twice, I kind of shifted back to more or less being a writer, working from home.
And each time the vast, the, the single biggest improvement in my quality of life was the radical reduction in meetings. Like the meetings are just a terrible time suck and, and soul, um, a soul suck on some level. Um, and it was just super liberating to, to be out of that. So I can see that if, if you, if you pare them back, you can really get a lot more efficiency.
[00:11:03] Juliet Schor:
Yeah. And there are dimensions to meetings. So they're like: how many meetings are there? How long do they last? How many people go to them? Um, how much time do you have to prepare for them? And so that's, that's the number one thing. And then you also have, you know, some of the employees that I've interviewed will talk about things like, um, you know, I don't make phone calls to people anymore. I just message them. ‘Cause then we don't have any chit chat. I mean, you're losing something there, but they're saying it's worth it.
[00:11:29] Steven Johnson:
Right. Tell me a little bit about the, the work environments where this doesn’t play very well.
[00:11:37] Juliet Schor:
So we'll start with manufacturing.
[00:11:40] Steven Johnson:
[00:11:40] Juliet Schor:
Um, I think you mentioned that I wrote the Overworked American in 1992.
[00:11:45] Steven Johnson:
[00:11:46] Juliet Schor:
Uh, after I wrote that I was looking for companies who were interested in reducing work time, and I wanted to study what would happen. And I went to Motorola, I had a contact and, and you know, we talked everything through and they said, “You know what? We have intensified work so much we cannot intensify anymore.” They'd already been through all that Japanese management, and so manufacturing is at a pretty high pace in a lot of places.
So any kind of workplace where people are either really working very intensively now, where they're overworked, where they're too stressed out, you can't ask them to intensify their work. You, you can't ask them to pay for that with more work intensity. So I think about teachers, I think about, um, healthcare workers, manufacturing workers, you know, there are other service workers who are already at really high pace, and so, those people also deserve free time.
And the, here we have other interesting experiments where people were just given free time without being asked to intensify. So there were some trials done in Sweden with nurses where they were given six-hour days, and they just hired new people. They get a lot of cost savings on the healthcare side with the nurses, and on the fewer sick days, fewer, less unemployment benefits.
People are not quitting and burning out. I had a COVID test this morning, and uh, the nurse who did my tests said she had seen my talk, and she was just, “Finally someone understanding what's going on with nurses. I'm sending this out to all of my nurse friends.” But they're experiencing that burnout. You do have some companies that are giving four-day weeks to those kinds of workers without expecting them to intensify.
So we have a restaurant, Jane, that's part of our trial. Their managers are at 55 hours and they're going down into the 40s. Um, Because they're, they're burning people out. They can't get people. People are resigning. So you've got a lot of heterogeneity in the workforce, but the four-day week can work for those different kinds of situations.
[00:14:12] Steven Johnson:
The other thing that you mentioned in the talk that I thought was striking is using that fifth day as a place where you stack up all errands or your doctor's appointments or things like that. It's not just like another day of leisure, it's just you're more efficient about, “Okay, I know that Fridays I'm not going to the office, and I'm not expected to work, and so that's when I can schedule all the extra things in the week that I need to do.”
[00:14:35] Juliet Schor:
Yeah, I mean, beforehand you would've been leaving the office to go to the doctor’s, right? So your company wasn't getting that.
[00:14:42] Steven Johnson:
And I think it's probably worth just reminding our listeners that the five-day week was itself a kind of invention? Um, can you just tell us briefly like the, the history of, of that convention?
[00:14:55] Juliet Schor:
Yeah, we'll go back a little earlier.
[00:14:57] Steven Johnson:
[00:14:58] Juliet Schor:
So with the development of industrial capitalism, and of course also with plantation agriculture, you get a tremendous increase in working hours. So more and more days per week, lengthening of the working day, um, as people went into factories and plantations and so forth, and so, you know, by the second half of the 19th century working hours were, you know, twice what they came to be, you know, roughly around now. They're, they're a little bit, even less than that now, but, you know, we're talking average 60 hour weeks, 3000 hours a year. I mean, really arduous schedules.
[00:15:37] Steven Johnson:
[00:15:38] Juliet Schor:
So you, you begin to get the, uh, pressure from workers, so through labor unions and other kinds of pressures to reduce working hours. And that process starts, you know, roughly 1870 or so forth in Britain. You get it in the United States, and the first thing that happens is you get rid of Sunday work. And then, you get the two-day weekend. You've probably seen the bumper sticker, you know, “The labor movement were the people who brought you the weekend.” And you're moving to the five-day week, um, in the first half of the 20th century. And it, it happens unevenly. The US is the first of the wealthy nations to go to a five-day week. And then of course in the Depression, we get the Fair Labor Standards Acts, which enshrines the 40-hour week as the normative work week.
[00:16:30] Steven Johnson:
That's very helpful. I mean, I, I think we forget just how much work we've grown accustomed to in a postindustrial society compared to previous societies, particularly if you go back to pre-agricultural societies, and we're gonna stay focused on the modern day, but I just read, read this amazing study looking at people's activity, kind of hourly activity in hunter-gatherer societies, just kind of itemizing what they were doing and the, the most striking discovery was that they would spend something like 20% of their time doing nothing. That there was a huge block of time… it wasn't just, it wasn't just leisure versus work. It was actual sitting around doing nothing was, was a significant part of the day, which it seems unimaginable to us now, I think.
[00:17:13] Juliet Schor:
It’s, it absolutely is because the vantage point from which most people think about work in our society is that mid-19th century point, which is the period of the highest working hours in all of human history, history and they think, “Isn't capitalism wonderful? It gave us all this leisure.”
And that was, you know, one of the big messages of the Overworked American was to say “No, look at what happened in the, you know, 150 years before that.” ‘Cause it's a long period in which, you know, all those saints’ days and non-working days, and, um, there's a, a line from my book about, you know, the average medieval peasant worked, I don't know what it is, a thousand hours a year or something, you know, that it keeps showing up on Twitter and people keep retweeting it because it's like, “Wow. I thought everybody before us worked all the time.” ‘Cause they were poor. They were poor, but they weren't working that much..
[00:18:17] Steven Johnson:
[00:18:29] Steven Johnson:
Now I wanna shift a little bit, um, to your 2020 book, After the Gig. And it's a book that's wrestling with the kind of the original promise, and I think the disillusion that a lot of us have now with the sharing economy, um, goes by many names, but that's generally the, the way we've come to describe it.
Um, but one of the things I love about it is that it also has a really interesting, um, concrete set of proposals for how we can actually live up to that original promise, um, in some new organizational forms. And just like the four-day work week, I think it's a wonderful time to talk about this because we are in a, in a time of, of possibility, right? Where it feels like changes can actually happen. So I wanna begin just again, with a little bit of history. Um, take us through, the, the kind of utopian vision of this new sharing economy.
[00:19:26] Juliet Schor:
Yeah, it's, it's so interesting to think back to the, what people thought that the sharing economy was gonna do. So there are multiple dimensions to it. Um, one of them had to do with cutting out the middlemen and, and giving value to the consumer and the, the producer. It was also thought that it was going to be fantastic for the climate crisis. It was gonna reduce carbon emissions because now instead of staying in a hotel, you were gonna stay in someone’s home and Airbnb or Uber, you were gonna be, somebody was gonna be driving somewhere and they were just gonna give you a ride.
Right? That was like one of the original ride-sharing.
[00:20:11] Steven Johnson:
[00:20:12] Juliet Schor:
Um, and then a, a big part of the excitement about it had to do with work and a new way to work, and the sort of big promise was that it was gonna free people from bosses. And, and this is why I got interested in it, ‘cause I've been, you know, studying hours of work for a long time. People could choose the number of hours they worked and when they worked. So complete control over their own schedules, which is a huge thing because most people don't have that in our economy. And more and more people needed it and wanted it. So the freedom for managerial control and the freedom to set your schedule and of course also make some money.
[00:20:54] Steven Johnson:
[00:20:54] Juliet Schor:
You know, ‘cause many of the people who went to these apps had other jobs and other sources of income.
[00:21:00] Steven Johnson:
So you did extensive studies of people working in this world. What, what was the scale of that?
[00:21:04] Juliet Schor:
So I, uh, put together a team of graduate students. I was funded by the MacArthur Foundation, and we sort of went case by case. I think we had something like 13 cases. So each grad student could pick a. an app or a… We also looked at non-profits, different like different sharing economy, non-profits, a maker space, a food swap, and uh, so we were doing in some cases, ethnography where we'd be hanging out at these sites or we'd be doing these trades ourselves and then interviews with, uh, users, uh, people earning money on them also with the consumers or in the nonprofits, you know, any of the users.
We did, uh, some big data analysis for Airbnb. We've got a lot of that and that's still continuing. Um, but, you know, ride hail. food delivery, Airbnb, Turo. Um, we did a lot of Task Rabbit, um, and it went on, we did about seven years. Wow. The project went on for seven years, and this was an emergent sector. We were able to move with the sector.
[00:22:19] Steven Johnson:
[00:22:19] Juliet Schor:
We just kind of interesting, followed the trends. Um, people started so many of these sites and apps. I mean, just hundreds and hundreds of them. So many of these things failed. But we, we followed the ones that, you know, were getting big enough that they were worth looking at. And, um, we wrote a lot of papers that were sort of cross-case, which made our research very different than most. Most people did at single. You know, they'd study, Uber or they'd study Airbnb, and we were doing so many of them. We had more cases than any project.
[00:22:55] Steven Johnson:
The other thing that was really, I think, you know, quas-utopian about it, and I've written a lot about cities over the years and, and part of the values that we associate with cities is interaction between strangers, right? That you, you, you have, you're forced to have these exchanges with people you don't necessarily know.
And I think we sometimes mythologize that a little bit. Like you kind of are interacting with people on the subway, but most of the time you're just sitting next to a stranger, and you're not actually having a conversation.
And suddenly there were these, you know, Airbnb’s probably the best example where people are actually welcoming strangers into their home. And you talk about it in the book, about people kind of befriending people who stay at their homes and things like that. And so there was this sense of a lovely new kind of social commercial interaction was possible back then.
[00:23:39] Juliet Schor:
Absolutely. So I, I use the term “stranger sharing.”
[00:23:44] Steven Johnson:
[00:23:45] Juliet Schor:
Um, and the, sort of the technological innovation here was mostly people historically didn't like to share with strangers, ‘cause you don't know them and you, it's uncertain and you don't wanna take the risk. So all of these apps followed what eBay pioneered, which is crowdsourcing ratings and reputational information.
So the idea is you get, uh, an explosion of stranger sharing, and my team was studying this before almost anybody was. And in the early days, so many of the people on these apps were there ‘cause they believed in that connection piece of it. Um, and they were connecting with each other. Over time, of course, that mostly changes. So, in the early days of Lyft, you sat in the front and you gave the fist bump to your driver and you, you became friends.
Yeah. Um, and now, you know, in the book I have that thing where, you know, Uber puts in that “shut up and drive button” where you can like, tell your driver—
[00:24:51] Steven Johnson:
Please don’t talk to me.
[00:24:52] Juliet Schor:
—“Leave me alone.” Right? And nobody sits in the front anymore, right? And it just became, uh, conventionalized in terms of arms-length transactions, but people really believed, more on some apps than others, like Airbnb the most, I think, that they were creating a new kind of market exchange.
[00:25:12] Steven Johnson:
Well, let's talk about that. So what, describe for us what you think happened. Why, why did this not live up to its promise?
[00:25:20] Juliet Schor:
You get commercialization. So rather than just a, a person who's renting out a room occasionally to other individuals, you get ghost hotel operators in which there is, you never see the person who owns it and it all, it becomes very business-like. They hire a concierge who you probably also don't see. So you get a lot of, um, contactless on some of these apps, and then, with ride-hail and with the food delivery also, the companies become very predatory.
So there's a class dimension here, because I think in the early days you had a lot more highly educated sort of college students or graduates, middle-class white people doing this. Partly ‘cause this all happened with the financial crash.
[00:26:16] Steven Johnson:
[00:26:16] Juliet Schor:
2008, they couldn't find jobs. So you have that, uh, homophily, we call it, but, you know, love of same, uh, the customers and the providers were in the same class.
And then over time, as the companies start reducing what they're paying and making the conditions more onerous and so forth, it gets replaced by an immigrant workforce in ride-hail where you, it's you have a, a class and race, uh, difference between the customer and the provider. And that also undermines the personal dimension of it because of the insidious nature of class and racial relations in this country and, and domination.
[00:27:01] Steven Johnson:
You know, and it’s also that, in a sense, in those early days, you had this incredible influx of venture capital, which was enabling companies like Uber to pay these higher rates for the drivers. So it seemed like it was a great deal. They had, the drivers had more flexibility, they were getting paid good money. Um, and then companies like Uber go public, and suddenly, they realize that they actually have to theoretically make a profit. Um, and all of a sudden they start paying their drivers less.
[00:27:34] Juliet Schor:
You know what? It happens long before they go public. So, the early days, the money was fabulous, and then, they just realized, wow, they're paying far above market for skills that are pretty general in the population, like knowing how to drive or how to ride a bike to deliver food. And they just start squeezing and squeezing and squeezing and, you know, yes, they're preparing to go public, but the, the, the squeeze starts so many years before, uh, the companies actually go public.
[00:28:06] Steven Johnson:
Did you end up with a kind of a ranking in your head of, of the big platforms in terms of the ones that have come closest to living up to that original promise and the ones that have failed the most conspicuously?
[00:28:19] Juliet Schor:
Yeah, I think I call it the platform hierarchy in the—
[00:28:24] Steven Johnson:
There you go.
[00:28:24] Juliet Schor:
In the book, I mean, it, it's more about how lucrative is it, uh, who's on it, you know? So the, like, Airbnb is higher. Well, it's a capital asset platform, and the people who go on it are more privileged. They're whiter, you know, they have more money to begin with.
But, uh, yeah, so all the way down to the lowest paid of them is the, uh, food delivery. I mean, ride-hail’s above it. You have to have a car to do ride-hail. TaskRabbit was a very interesting platform because it was very heavily dominated on the provider side by people with college degrees, so they, they did pretty well in terms of the hourly wage.
Now they, they couldn't always get enough jobs, so we had the people who were trying to do it full-time could have a good hourly wage, but they were all making below the poverty line. But on the other hand, you know, Uber is just a predatory, predatory platform that has been just disastrous for workers, and that came out very clearly in our research.
[00:29:38] Steven Johnson:
So in our last section, I want to talk about this very interesting vision you have of a, a way to fix some of these problems. And the example that I'm really drawn to, which is just a kind of a new organizational form that has some echoes of older ones, um, is this idea of a, of a platform cooperative. Um, so just tell us what that is kind of in the abstract. Like how do you organize a platform cooperative? And then we can maybe get into a specific example.
[00:30:10] Juliet Schor:
Yes. I love the platform cooperative. So what is a cooperative? It's a worker-owned entity. All the cooperatives have management, but you know, the workers may vote the management in, but there's still the management function.
Now you don't need that because the software of the platform obviates a huge amount of management. You still have to make the decisions, like what is the algorithm that you're gonna build or what is the policy that you have? But the workers can do that. So the idea is that the workers own the platform. They determine, um, you know, the policies. Now, one difference with the traditional worker co-op to a platform co-op is these are all individual contributor kinds of services. Whereas if you have, you know, uh, the industry that you know, historically has had the most co-ops, worker co-ops in the US is sawmills.
So if you have a sawmill, right?
[00:31:09] Steven Johnson:
I didn’t know that. Interesting.
[00:31:10] Juliet Schor:
There seems to be a lot of them. But, uh, if you have a sawmill, you're all making the product together. But if it's a ride-hail or a food co-op or, or a, uh, house cleaning co-op or whatever, those are individual contributors. So that's a question about how they get paid? Do they just get the business that they bring in, or, but yeah, so that's what a platform cooperative is.
[00:31:33] Steven Johnson:
And you have a specific example that you talk about in After the Gig, which is, uh, the, the platform Stocksy.
[00:31:39] Juliet Schor:
[00:31:39] Steven Johnson:
Uh, which is a, is basically a stock photography platform. Is that the idea?
[00:31:45] Juliet Schor:
Yes, exactly. It's a stock photography platform. It's like Getty Images or Shutterstock or something.
[00:31:51] Steven Johnson:
[00:31:51] Juliet Schor:
And at the time I was doing the research, it was really the only one, the only big-ish successful platform co-op that existed. So it's a little bit different than say, a ride-hail co-op or now there are many, many, um, in food delivery, in ride-hail, but, um, phenomenally successful co-ops.
Um, they started with a th—about a thousand artists. Very, very competitive to get into it. Uh, you know, I think they used to say like, harder to get into than Harvard College. Um, and that makes it different than most other, uh, platforms. Most of these platforms are what we call open access. So anybody as, as long as you don't have a criminal record or you know, if you want to be a ride-hail driver, your car has to be a certain vintage or something, but, um, the artists themselves make the, uh, make decisions about the platform. They own the platform. Um, and it's been super, super successful.
[00:32:57] Steven Johnson:
And how… obviously one of the problems that these co-ops have faced: all the, the traditional platforms like an Uber have been venture funded. So you, there is some upfront cost obviously in creating the platform itself.
[00:33:10] Juliet Schor:
[00:33:10] Steven Johnson:
So, how do you get around that chicken and egg problem?
[00:33:13] Juliet Schor:
So you do need to be able to raise the capital. Um, but I think there's more and more opportunity for that. Uh, you have some municipal governments that are trying to support co-ops. You have crowdfunding. You have, there are some ways, and some of this technology has gotten cheap. The bigger problem for them is getting the markets, getting the demand. Stocksy was successful in part because it had, well, two things. One is because it was a co-op, it attracted people who would never have sold their photos on stock before, ‘cause it’s a kind of low-class part of the market. But, like, phenomenally successful photographers thought it's so cool.
So they kind of went upscale from Getty and developed a niche. It's a narrow segment of the market. It's not a bad place to start. And then you can try and expand into, to a bigger market share after that.
[00:34:08] Steven Johnson:
I think, you know, examples like Stocksy where you know, you can see it actually working, and it's a genuinely new model, and it's out there, you know, actually getting better returns for its members or you know, the, the participants in it, um, it's just really exciting to see, uh, and I think that we're in this moment where new forms of organization are on the table in a way that they hadn’t, you know, 10 or 20 years ago. That's, I think that's really exciting.
We have a, a bonus question that we like to ask our guests on the interview. Um, and, and that is, what's the unsolved problem in your field that you're most interested in?
[00:34:47] Juliet Schor:
So for me, when we've been talking about the future of work, and you're, you're working on the future of work, um, one of the things I feel really strongly about is that we have to connect this conversation to the conversation about the climate crisis and carbon reduction. So what are we doing in the world of work that is pushing decarbonization?
Um, obviously we're working on energy and so forth, but just in terms of our daily patterns and what households are doing and what businesses are doing, and so that's a big question.
[00:35:20] Steven Johnson:
[00:35:20] Juliet Schor:
And for me, most important about the shorter work time movement is what's the impact of the four-day week with five days’ pay on carbon emissions?
And that's one of the things we're studying. Are the companies going to shut down the light and heat in the offices on that Friday? Uh, how is that gonna balance out the people who are now in their homes turning on the lights and heating them where the homes might have been empty and dark? Um, are people gonna go traveling for three-day weekends because they have as much money as they did before and they're gonna get on a plane? You know, in Ireland especially, one of the things we're looking at is all those cheap flights. I mean, you can get on a, you can get—
[00:36:07] Steven Johnson:
Right. Would you like to be in Rome in two hours?
[00:36:07] Juliet Schor:
Exactly. And it costs you $19, or euros, but—
[00:36:11] Steven Johnson:
Right. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:36:12] Juliet Schor:
Um, so that's, you know, we're, we're gonna be looking at that.
[00:36:18] Steven Johnson:
Well, Juliet Schor, thank you so much for both your context and the history and, and the research, but also the optimism and the vision of how we could continue to improvise these new forms, um, in really concrete ways. I, I just really enjoyed it and find it inspiring, so thanks for being on the show.
[00:36:35] Juliet Schor:
Oh, thank you. It's been a really, really fun and interesting conversation for me.
[00:36:46] Steven Johnson:
The TED Interview is part of the TED Audio Collective. This episode was produced by Allie Graham. The show is brought to you by TED and Transmitter Media. Sammy Case is our story editor. Fact-checking by Taha Abdul Wasi. Farrah Desgranges is our project manager. Constanza Gallardo is our managing producer, and Gretta Cohn is our executive producer.
Special thanks to Michelle Quint and Anna Phelan. I'm your host, Steven Johnson. For more information on my other projects, including my latest book Extra Life, you can follow me on Twitter at @stevenbjohnson or sign up for my Substack newsletter, Adjacent Possible.