What does an increase in gig, freelance, and contract work mean for the identities of people doing those jobs? The author, who drove for Postmates, interviewed other drivers, attended in-person and virtual company meetings, and reviewed and contributed to driver forums on Facebook, Reddit, and other websites, examines the narratives gig workers tell themselves about who they are and what they do. He also challenges us to consider how to make these types of jobs better, fairer, and more meaningful to all types of contingent workers.
Of course Friskies Shreds wet cat food was on the bottom shelf of the last aisle I checked. It was just that kind of day. As I crouched into a kneeling position to inspect the inventory, I scanned the customer’s order glowing back at me on my smartphone: “Any seafood shreds with and without cheese. Twenty cans variety of flavors.” But doesn’t “variety of flavors” contradict the more specific request for “seafood shreds with and without cheese”? Or maybe the seafood category includes multiple flavors? Am I overthinking this?
As a business school professor — and, importantly, not a cat owner — my experience that day was atypical. As a driver for Postmates, however, it was just one of the 238 deliveries that I completed for the popular food delivery platform as part of an 18-month immersive research project to better understand the strategies that drivers use to craft a meaningful work identity. During my time as a Postmate, I drove for 130 hours, interviewed other drivers who had collectively completed 170,000 rides and deliveries on similar platforms (Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Grubhub, Instacart, etc.), attended in-person and virtual company meetings, and reviewed and contributed to driver forums on Facebook, Reddit, and other websites.