I’m thinking today about the value of time. I was surfing about and came across a picture of this new camera some guy invented. Instead of a photograph, it spits out a one or two sentence description of what was photographed. It relies on something called a mechanical turk, and in reading the blurb I learned that the camera creator paid someone $1.25 to write the two sentence description. The price was that high in order to get a fast result. I thought to myself, ‘I would be willing to write a two sentence description of a picture for a buck and a quarter’. So I went to the site and checked it out.
It’s an Amazon site, and seemed to remember everything Amazon already knows about me. It was trivially easy to take on little jobs, like checking the search engine rank of a particular url, with a particular search time or grading various machine translations by comparing them to a human translation. The job rewards range from as little as a penny to who knows what heights someone might pay if their request were urgent and complicated. I did a number of very simple jobs for 5 to 25 cents and made a few dollars. I plan to return from time to time to check and see what opportunities are available and to perhaps earn a few more pennies now and then, just ‘cuz it’s easy and I can always do with a few more pennies in my piggy bank.
I think I would really hate it, if I were in a position to have to be constantly doing these menial little human intelligence tasks, desperately trying to raise enough to pay the rent or buy groceries . On the other hand, even doing a simple task that will earn only a penny seems to me a better use of time than sitting around complaining that you don’t have enough money or haven’t anything to do. I also saw some listing where people wanted a mechanical turk to write a 300 or 500 word story and were only looking to pay 60 cents to a dollar and a half. Of course, having had experience on vWorker, I know that global competition has brought rates for basic writing down to the toilet, so sad though it was, it was no revelation. Honestly, I don’t know whether to be grateful for this new opportunity to earn a few pennies in spare moments or to despair that occupations I might once have aspired to are now outsourced in tiny little bits for tiny little bits of money.