Hyperemployment: Your Time Equals Their Profit

Hyperemployment: Your Time Equals Their Profit

Brian VanDenBergh

Staff Writer

You’re sitting at home on a Sunday night watching football. You log on to Twitter and tweet about the game using hashtags like #NFL #BillsvGiants #Cowboynation. A few plays later, you open your laptop and scroll through Facebook, and you notice an ad on the side from NFLShop.com for authentic jerseys. Without clicking the ad, you head over to Amazon and search for jersey prices, just to see if they are as expensive as people say. They are.

You close your laptop and watch some more of the game. Later that same night, you check your email and are greeted with an ad email from Amazon about authentic NFL jerseys, and just like that, one Tweet has turned you into a prime potential customer, swarmed with ads from all angles. Without even knowing it, you had worked for Twitter, Facebook, the NFL, Amazon, Google, the Dallas Cowboys, NBC, and Gmail all in a ten minute span.

Hyperemployment, put simply, is working outside of your normal job at many other jobs, most times without even knowing you’re doing it, and without getting paid. As Ian Bogost writes in a May 2013 article in the Atlantic, “the real cost of hyperemployment is time.” During the workday, and at night when we get home, we are constantly spending our time checking and re-checking our phone messages, emails, and various social media accounts.

From the accepted understanding that Millennials and younger generations are addicted to their phones and mobile devices, we have a unique stake in understanding hyperemployment. It’s become a need to check your tweets, Facebook notifications, Instagram likes, and email accounts incessantly. And from the seat of tech companies, that all amounts to unpaid—and thinly-veiled— work.

The more Instagram photos we post with location tags or hashtags; the more items we search on Google; the more data we create to be cataloged and analyzed in order to create ads specifically tailored to us. We are giving these massive tech companies all of the data they will ever need for free, in exchange for being seen, and for being a part of the larger social network.

The thirst to post, “like,” and check-in is almost unquenchable. To further exacerbate the neuroses of this technological hyperemployment is the way we can use social media, or social media-like platforms, to either earn money or delegate tasks to others. Enter: the sharing economy.

Too busy to go pick up take-out at a restaurant that doesn’t deliver? Log onto Postmates and have someone bring dinner to you—for a fee. Don’t want to stand outside, hailing a cab? Call an Uber driver. There is an entire world of business opportunities being packaged as trendy new apps for your phone. If you do need Postmates to deliver food from Red Robin, just know that the next time you log onto Facebook, there will be a Red Robin ad on your sidebar or in your Instagram feed, trying to entice you to order their food again.

Let me give you another example of hyperemployment and how it’s used. Take the presidential debates, for instance. You’re watching one on a livestream from YouTube; ads and promoted videos are on your sidebar, and you’re still subject to the televised commercial breaks. One of the candidates says or does something interesting, exciting, or terrifying, and you tweet it out using the debate hashtag promoted by Twitter (e.g., #CNNDebate).

Now, let’s also imagine that you’re a smart, possibly witty, person, and your tweet gets liked, quoted, and retweeted by a ton of people. The next day, you go onto the Buzzfeed homepage and see an article headlined Top 25 Tweets from Last Night’s Debate. There’s your (hilarious) tweet, right there in black and white. Did you get paid for that? No. Should you get paid for that? Who knows? But what we do know is that Buzzfeed is getting clicks and page views out of content you created.

Sticking with the debate as an example, let’s go back and look at the hashtag you used. It probably comes with a cool branded emoji next to it, so you know it’s real. If you look on the trending page of Twitter and click on the hashtag, you’ll see all the tweets using that emoji, including all of the ones from businesses trying to sell you things while you’re mindlessly scrolling the feed for your favorite standup comedians’ commentary on what’s unfolding. As Bogost describes in the aforementioned Atlantic article, “We do tiny bits of work for Google, for Tumblr, for Twitter, all day and every day.” He continues, “The idea is that all the information you provide to Google and Facebook, all the content you create for Tumblr and Instagram, enable the primary businesses of such companies, which amounts to aggregating and reselling your data or access to it.”

Essentially everything we do online is catalogued, stored, and used to sell us products and services. We work for the internet and not just the tech companies, but any and all companies that take advantage of that information and social media as a whole.

So, what does this mean for a mom and pop shop, or really, for any business? The answer is: opportunity. The number of active users on social media sites increases every day, and with that, so does exposure. If you’re a small business and you’re not paying attention to the international zeitgeist, you are sorely missing out on tons of free advertising. Last summer, when Pokemon GO was at its apex of popularity, many small businesses capitalized on that by offering promotions and specials to get players in the door, in the hopes that those players would use social media to draw in even more customers.

Businesses big and small can make use of this hyperemployment through Facebook posts, Google adwords, sponsored tweets, and Instagram posts. Why pay for expensive advertising blocks on TV, when a well crafted tweet can draw almost as much interest and exposure in your business, and costs absolutely nothing?

Small businesses may not have access to the metadata that Google and Facebook use to target specific customers, but they can use Google and Facebook to create ads that will, in turn, go out to those specific targets. Even further removed, having an active, regularly updated, social media presence is of the utmost importance for small businesses, especially ones attempting to attract Millennials. Taking advantage of this culture of hyperemployment is so easily accessible.

So during the next debate, award show, or big game, send out a tweet, use a hashtag, make a post. If you do it right, it’ll be seen. The more you get yourself seen, the greater your online presence grows. And when your online presence grows, so does your business.

Society at large wants to work for you. Put us to work.