Chris Nostrand had uploaded his information, including his driver’s license and other documents, to become an Uber driver (“It’s pretty streamlined,” he reported), and had been approved. He was ready for his first fare. He hoped “to make a little extra money,” he said later.
Last Thursday afternoon, June 29, at three o’clock, six people — the small-city equivalent of a media scrum — were waiting on the corner of Wall and North Front streets in uptown Kingston. They were ready to go, too. They were waiting for a press conference with Kingston mayor Steve Noble. One of them was Cesar Fernandez, senior public affairs officer for Uber.
Some time before three o’clock, Eddyville resident Nostrand had taken his first call for service on his Uber app. He headed to Monkey Joe’s on midtown Broadway. Mayor Steve Noble and his confidential secretary, Lynsey Timbrouck, got into a grey Jeep Cherokee. It turned out that they were Nostrand’s first fare.
A few minutes after three o’clock, the people waiting for the mayor glanced toward a sheriff’s vehicle turning the corner from Clinton Avenue to North Front Street. “There’s a police car,” one person said. “Maybe that’s him.”
A moment later, Nostrand’s Cherokee pulled up to a parking space.
The mayor and Timbrouck got out. The trip from Monkey Joe’s had taken six minutes. The Uber fare was $7.06.
With the mayor’s arrival, the scrum had swollen to ten. Everybody shook hands and chatted. Then Fernandez and Noble stood before a fake-wood podium and spoke briefly. With his app, the mayor said, he knew where his driver was, how long the trip was, and how much it would cost. “It was really close to what they said it would be,” the mayor, a well-known tech aficionado, said approvingly.
Chris Nostrand is a native Kingstonian who attended Saugerties High School, got his college degree in radio and tv production from SUNY New Paltz in 2011, and earned his master’s degree in integrated media arts from Hunter College in 2015.
Just like Uber Technologies is not just another automotive transportation business, so Chris Nostrand is not just another Uber driver. Nostrand Productions provides pre-production, production and post-production services to the video and film industries. His current office by appointment is in the Coykendall Science Building on the New Paltz campus, and he sometimes uses a satellite office on Albany Avenue across from Academy Green in Kingston.
Last year he became a member of the adjunct faculty in the Department of Digital Media and Journalism in New Paltz, teaching audio and tv production in both the fall and spring semesters plus field production and digital storytelling in the spring. This coming fall he expects to be teaching field production and digital storytelling.
“Production majors learn the importance of engaging storytelling, solid research, and careful attention to ethical considerations,” explains the New Paltz undergraduate catalog. “They likewise learn how technology allows them to communicate effectively.”
Nostrand’s most recent documentary is “Destined to Fly,” a 41-minute film about the late Cole Palen, founder of the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome. Palen’s family, which shares his lifelong passion for vintage aviation, carries the founder’s torch. The filmmaker is hoping to enter this work in film festivals this year.
Young people starting on their career paths have since time immemorial pursued a wide variety of routes. What’s different in this generation is the emergence of the gig or sharing economy, an evolution of the labor market characterized by last-minute scheduling, freelance work and short-term contracts. What’s different is the disappearance of the regular paycheck.
Mayor Steve Noble gets a not-too-shabby regular paycheck, awesome benefits and will get an excellent pension if he hangs around in public service for a decade.
Chris Nostrand is a member of the gig economy, easily the fastest-growing part of the American labor market. He is an independent contractor with irregular income from his services. He is an adjunct faculty member with meager benefits and no job security. He will be supplementing his income as an Uber driver.
The number of independent contractors, freelancers, consultants and on-call workers like Chris Nostrand are increasing in number. A recent Federal Reserve study found that 36 percent of the adult population undertook informal paid work activity either to supplement or to substitute for more traditional and formal work arrangements. Using an expansive definition, a recent survey by Upwork and the Freelancers Union concluded that 35 percent of the labor force engages in contingent work (non-permanent employment). Economists Larry Katz and Alan Krueger have found that contingent work arrangements accounted for all the employment growth in the American economy in the past decade.
A Pew study cited by Nathan Heller in the May 15, 2017 issue of The New Yorker found that 72 percent of American adults had used one of eleven on-demand services and that a third of people under 45 had used four or more.
“The American workplace is both a seat of national identity and a site of chronic upheaval and shame,” wrote Heller. The social effects of gigging, untried by time, were uncertain, he said. What troubled Heller most seemed to be that the gig economy only exacerbated the already markedly accelerating economic inequality in American society.
How should the society change a system that distinguishes so starkly between employees who fill out W-2 tax returns and independent contractors who fill out 1099s? Heller cites three possibilities. “Lifelong benefit accounts” could keep track of benefits carried over from one job to the next. A “universal basic income” could replace all welfare and unemployment programs. And a status of “independent worker” awarding some quasi-employee benefits but not others could be established.
It’s great to be your own boss, acknowledged Nostrand, but he added a cautionary note about the gig economy.
“You need to stay disciplined and continue to put in the hours you would in a full-time job to be successful,” he advised in an email. “The gigs will pay great, but without putting in the unpaid time of marketing, networking and ironing out the continuous small details of your business you will soon find yourself in the nine-to-five rat race once more.”