- Technology has helped rid the American economy of many of the routine, physical, low-paid jobs that characterized the workplace of the last century. Gone are the women who sewed garments for pennies, the men who dug canals by hand, the children who sorted through coal. Today, more and more jobs are done at a computer, designing new products or analyzing data or writing code.
But technology is also enabling a new type of terrible work, in which Americans complete mind-numbing tasks for hours on end, sometimes earning just pennies per job. And for many workers living in parts of the country where other jobs have disappeared—obviated by technology or outsourcing—this work is all that’s available for people with their qualifications.
This low-paid work arrives via sites like CrowdFlower, Clickworker, Toluna, and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, to name a few. Largely unregulated, these sites allow businesses and individuals to post short tasks and pay workers—in cash or, sometimes, gift cards—to complete them. A recent Mechanical Turk listing, for example, offered workers 80 cents to read a restaurant review and then answer a survey about their impressions of it; the time limit was 45 minutes. Another, which asked workers to fill out a 15-minute psychological questionnaire about what motivates people to do certain tasks, offered $1, but allowed that the job could take three hours.