Over the past two decades, the U.S. labor market has undergone a quiet transformation, as companies increasingly forgo full-time employees and fill positions with independent contractors, on-call workers or temps—what economists have called “alternative work arrangements” or the “contingent workforce.” Most Americans still work in traditional jobs, but these new arrangements are growing—and the pace appears to be picking up. From 2005 to 2015, according to the best available estimate, the number of people in alternative work arrangements grew by 9 million and now represents roughly 16 percent of all U.S. workers, while the number of traditional employees declined by 400,000. A perhaps more striking way to put it is that during those 10 years, all net job growth in the American economy has been in contingent jobs.
Around Washington, politicians often talk about this shift in terms of the so-called gig economy. But those startling numbers have little to do with the rise of Uber, TaskRabbit and other “disruptive” new-economy startups. Such firms actually make up a small share of the contingent workforce. The shift that came for Borland is part of something much deeper and longer, touching everything from janitors and housekeepers to lawyers and professors.
After arriving in Tromsø, I was terrified at the thought of the impending winter. Months of friends and family telling me how they could “never move some place so cold and dark” because the winter makes them “so depressed” or “so tired” had me bracing for the worst-case scenario.
But it didn’t take long for me to realize that most residents of Tromsø weren’t viewing the upcoming winter with a sense of doom. In fact, to many locals, the original question I’d planned to ask—“Why aren’t people in Tromsø more depressed during the winter?”—didn’t make sense. Most people I spoke to in Tromsø were actually looking forward to the winter. They spoke enthusiastically about the ski season. They loved the opportunities for coziness provided by the winter months.
If novelists are relinquishing the very things that are exclusively the province of the novel, then they are complicit in the demise of the novel. If they don’t want to save the novel, why should anyone else?