What happens when schools and universities train future professionals and contributors for a marketplace that is in flux—or doesn't exist at all?
That's the question Malcolm Harris and Neal Gorenflo, founder of Shareable.net, tackle in their new ebook, Share or Die: Youth in Recession. Thirty essays tell of an emerging workforce leaning toward collaborative cultural building versus traditional competitive workforce engagement. Part post-college guide, part groundbreaking analysis, Share or Die illuminates what it means for millennials facing the cultural and economic realities of today while providing resources and support.
Harris describes the context of the book well in the introduction. "If the traditional job market fails to accommodate so many young people, then the modes of living devised by and for our parents will remain impossible for us. I mean this both in terms of living lives centered on consumption, but also the physical habitats they’ve built. We will live closer to one another as we realize distance is not the same as safety. In order to survive and even have a chance to live, we will have to build communities of cooperation rather than competition. Learning to live together instead of merely in proximity to each other will be crucial."
We interviewed Harris about his new book; you can find it for download at shareable.net.
Jody Turner: Malcolm, how did you come to be involved with this book and why is this of topic of interest to you?
Malcolm Harris: I started working at Shareable.org in San Francisco about a year ago after graduating from the University of Maryland. In college I had done a lot of activism and writing around issues of student debt and educational accessibility, so when Neal Gorenflo, the founder of Shareable, came to me with the idea for the book, I knew it was a good one. We are in a generational turning point that is being felt around the world. It's a particularly fraught one, as we're beginning to see. It's a poignant moment of ecological and economic crisis, and young people are beginning to understand how much of the brunt we’ll bear. With that in mind, we assembled a group of incredibly strong writers and thinkers to address this poignant shift. Some were already friends, some acquaintances, and others strangers, but together they represent well the challenges for graduates today, while providing useful strategies and tactics for thriving in recession.
What are a few interesting teachings garnered from your involvement with the project?
Editing a collection like this is great because you get to see all the stories in context ahead of anyone else. There is a piece in the collection about being a nomadic journalist, and another from a young guy in Amsterdam who runs his apartment as a nomad-base. Together it’s a complete picture from both sides. Through reading this you will get to intimately know an inspiring group of people—almost all of them young, highly creative folk.
We've said from the jump that Share or Die is an experiment in both form and content. We brought together young designers and illustrators to give life to the interesting text, and it has taken off from there. It is amazing what a committed group today can produce with the tools available. The talent is out there, the passion is as well and with a little bit of organization and funding anything is possible.
Younger people are getting really good at conveying emotion through various new media, more easily developing professional relationships via virtual means. Will this only increase with the development and evolution of digital communication tools?
These days it's so easy to meet, work with and learn from a wide range of people from all over. It is also easy to stay in touch—even with people you've never met in person who are not even in your proximity. The quality of the engagement has been great, as a result people I have met through this project are connections I've held on to and will continue to hold on to over time.
The feedback on the ebook has been very strong. The P2P Foundation named Share or Die its book of the week and did a three-post series. Judging from comments and tweets and emails I've received, reader response is positive. It is leaning to an older demo also, which has been a surprise. The feedback has been so strong that we're working with a publisher now on an expanded print edition we are hoping to see in stores early next year. More is being added for this next iteration, we hope we keep seeing the same kind of enthusiasm among readers.
Since you know the content well, can you sum up the strategies from the book for our young readers here?
A recent piece in the Times discussed the difficult work-lives 20-something graduates are having today, which indicates that the mainstream media is starting to wake up to these realities. The question is, how young people are going to deal with these realities as they move into the work force and live in society? We need to realize what happened and act upon that knowledge.
But the current graduates are in an immediately bad spot, so in the book we show a new workforce attempting to become a part of the solution by solving their own problems. The essays we published provide frames for understanding what is happening and how to act on it. This includes how-tos on starting co-op housing and co-op businesses, a guide to collaborative consumption resources, cheap and easy seed-to-plate recipes, a peek inside the pack of a modern nomad, and instructions on how to find the best roommate.
In answering your question, I see the main strategy as increasing the density of communal living. This has a lot of different implications in practice, whether it’s the co-op businesses and homes I mentioned earlier, or the non-economic relations we establish with our friends, lovers, and family. It's not just a question of physical density, but of producing and using more resources in common. There's a big focus on do-it-yourself or DIY projects in the collection, but they should really be called do-it-ourselves projects; everything presumes we're going to have to be working together in a non-exploitative fashion. One good example is a piece in the collection about how to put on "stranger dinners," a potluck get together with people you don't know. It's not just about the food; it's about links and relations.
And of course, you can always download the book itself where you get a real sense of how it all fits together.
[Image: Flickr user JessicaMarie]