Contingent Labor and Silicon Valley

Can we dispel with the myth that Silicon Valley invented and/or institutionalized “flexible” temporary work? The first contingent workforce agencies came into existence in the late 19th Century. Modern “temp work” was integrated into the economy after WWII with the Kelly Agency. And today’s digital temps owe their existence to desktop publishing agencies (MacTemps, now Aquent, and Artisan, founded in 1986 and 1988, respectively), which effected the transition of contingent labor from chiefly secretarial (Kelly Girl) to “creative” and “digital.” Silicon Valley’s chief contribution to this development consisted in 1) the Apple Macintosh (followed rapidly by the LaserWriter); 2) Aldus PageMaker. From the late 80s to the late 90s, these tools and the temp agencies erased much of the distinction between creative specialists and freelancers. Bit by bit (as it were), graphic design became website design. The arrival of high-speed internet sealed the deal. So it is far more accurate to say that the institutionalization of contingent digital labor invented today’s Silicon Valley rather than the other way around.

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