n the early twenty first, there’s an app for everything. Indeed, some people seem to think that if you don’t have an app, you aren’t for real.
This week the Freelancer’s Union (I’m a proud member since 2015) released a new ‘app’. As their web page puts it, “Solidarity? There’s An App For That.” This isn’t my grandfather’s union, that’s for sure!
OK, I’m game. Let’s do some more close reading here.
First, let me be very clear. The Freelancers Union is doing important stuff, and I strongly support them. You can’t talk about the future of work without talking about the future of workers.
But that does not mean that I will not do a close reading of their narrative or their recent forays into digital products.
Looking At The App
Just what exactly does this ‘Solidarity Forever: The App’ actually do? Does it connect us to our brothers and sisters in the Union? Does it help recruit more members? Does it host digital rallies? Does it ping our elected representatives about legislation? Could there possibly be a playlist of inspiring songs? Dare I hope for live sing alongs with our comrades around the world?
Maybe in version 2.0.
The current version does only one thing: connects you to legal advice. Sigh. Useful, I suppose, but not nearly as exciting as on could hope.
You App Reveals Your Psyche
While I think this app misses an opportunity to show off FU as truly the new way of work (see below), it does reveal some facts about the FU and our members.
First of all, the fact that there is an app at all, indicates the desire for conventional branding, especially, to be current. The Union is real unless it’s got an app. Box checked.
Second, we find confirmation that the backbone of the union is in the ‘digital creatives’, especially in NYC. The release is accompanied by a social promotion campaign (standard fare for digital advertising), and the instructions simply say,
“Post a photo of yourself holding up the app, with the caption “I stand with freelancers because [write your reason!]. #FreelancersUnionApp””
It is obviously assumed that we know what “post” means, and think that posting selfies is a meaningful political act.
We also see clearly what is at the top of the worries for the union and the membership. The app does only one thing: it refers you to a lawyer. Glancing at the app, we see a list of the common categories of problem, and the number one suggested topic is “nonpayment”.
The FU has been pointing on its #FreelancingIsntFree campaign for more than a year, so we get the picture. The same bastards who hire temps instead of permanent employees, also find it cost effective to not pay the temps.
Another glaring point is that, like much of the union’s activities, this offer is only available in NYC initially. The Union is open to everyone, even schlunks like me out in some cornfield, but they are effective on the ground only in a few cities, and mostly in NYC where they HQ. I’m pretty sure that the union would like to spread the goodness everywhere, but it tends to be a perennial disappointment out here in the cornfields, where we can read about, but not really get much real union action.
Anyway–see how much we can learn from close reading an app!
Let me try to be clear. There isn’t anything really wrong with this app, and I certainly support the FU and the purpose of this app. The point is to see what the app really is, and think about what it could be.
Please let me go one more step and make some suggestions for version 2.
First of all, there could be a specialized social network, with union themed features. The network should be totally flat, because everyone is in one union. PMs should be limited to pings that say, “I got your back” (forget about “like”—we don’t have to “like” each other, just fight for each other :-)). The union might circulate petitions and calls to contact politicians.
Second, there could be solidarity themed ‘togetherness’ activities. Simple ways for the Union to organize flash crowds, marches, or picnics, where feasible. Other activities might include walkabouts that alert you when union members are near (a la Look Up or even AR Pokemon).
In cases where, we can’t meet in person, lets have digital solidarity. Digital sing songs. Digital dance alongs. Casual games
One game I can think of is a simple trivia game to learn about the union an dits members. Flash cards with simple (non-invasive) information, like where, what you do, and a tag. Remember the most Union members and be famous! High multipliers for locations outside NYC, and for statistically unusual tags (rare occupation, older worker, etc.)
If we want to go Augmented Reality, then we could make union badges that are AR markers. When you encounter someone with their badge on, point the app at her or him. Poof, they are surrounded by halos and unicorns! Or some other magic, magic that only happens when two union members are together in physical space.
The point is, if you make the app cool enough, people will want to join the union, just to get the app! Let’s put the union in the lead of social technology.
Join the union.