Sideshow Monkey

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.


9 comments on “Sideshow Monkey

    • Indeed, at this point in time writing is one of the least lucrative things I know how to do. (And yet I beat on, working on the next release of my book….which has earned me about 12 bucks so far. Feh)

  1. Hi Alan – I’m intrigued by this take on the time/money equation. I signed up for an opinion poll site called YouGov- I thought I would be asked my opinions on politics (something I am willing to offer for free to anyone who will listen) and was going to get paid a small sum. Very small, actually. It takes about 18 months of one poll a week to get £50.
    And then I found that more and more of the polls were questions about my income/investments and what dog food I bought so I gave up doing it.
    I think the answer is if you get some enjoyment out of the task even if the financial reward is tiny, the answer is probably yes, it is worth doing. Better than doing Sudoku puzzles for the same degree of mental stimulation without getting paid at all?

    • Laura, several years ago I signed up for a number of panels and took consumer surveys for money. For a while it was fun and I earned a few dollars. They once snailed me a check for about 20 bucks as I recall. But after a time the surveys became much more sophisticated and I only rarely fit the demographic profile to be eligible, so I quit doing it since I was mostly wasting lots of time doing preliminary qualifying surveys but never be eligible for the paying surveys.

      I don’t know how much time I invested, but I earned about 7 bucks on the mechanical turk thingy. Given that they time I devoted, would otherwise only have been frittered away (reading, socializing or playing a game) it seems a reasonable thing to me. And it looks like I can very easily withdraw that 7 bucks from Amazon right into my bank account. It seems to me perhaps a better past time than some games I have been drawn into before, where I end up spending actual cash money to achieve game things 🙂

    • Like I said, it would really suck to be desperately doing these to come up with the rent, but as an amusement or a little mind game….it’s easy money 🙂

  2. On one hand, I know some researchers who have used Mechanical Turk to do jobs like identifying and sorting in such numbers (tens of thousands) that they’d never be able to afford if they hired research assistants. It would also take years.

    But, on the other hand, it seems clearly exploitative. It’s to the employer’s advantage to pay as little as possible to see if there is someone desperate enough. I guess it’s the epitome of capitalism.

    • Liz, it seems to me that it really is ultimately a bargain. One person says I will pay x if you do this and some other person agrees to do it for that price. The system per se does not seem automatically exploitative to me. Indeed, the reason I checked out the site is because $1.25 for looking at a photograph and writing a one or two sentence caption is decent pay in my own personal book of :”ways to make money by writing”. It would definitely feel exploitative, if I was sitting there trying to crank out sixteen cent assignments one after another, hoping to accumulate 50 dollars that I desparately needed. As something to do in a few idle moments…sixteen cents for about two minutes of effort…..seemed reasonable to me. Obviously, your mileage may vary.

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