So, a few things you should know upfront -- I do not drive nor do I have a state ID. My forms of ID include a Passport (insert cliche about academics here) and my university ID. This becomes important later.
Have you ever been broke? I ask as a once uberbroke graduate student.
Holidays can be stressful when you are broke. One winter I decided to become a Mechanical Turk worker to make some extra money. I thought it would be an easy way to pad out my savings account and have some pocket money for gifts.
I first learned about Mechanical Turk at a research talk. A scholar was talking about what it was and the labor issues that it might pose. I signed up for MTurk at first just to explore it and then starting turking because it seemed an easy way to make extra money.
If you are unfamiliar, Mechanical Turk is a "crowdsourcing" space where people can have individuals online do work for them. Work could be taking surveys, transcribing videos, or marking all the immoral things in a film.
It is work which can be mind-numbing and incredibly time consuming.
It is also work that you get paid next to nothing to do. You have to be quick on the draw if you want to get one of the jobs that pays a seemingly decent amount. During my time as a Turk I saw some jobs going for as much as $15, but most seem to be for pennies on the dollar. Because I was turking in order to add extra money to my bank account, not to live, I could be choosy about which jobs I accepted. I refused to do any job that paid less than a quarter. Jobs could take anywhere from a minute to 30 minutes; I think most of the jobs I choose took about fifteen minutes to complete.
I'd turk in the little downtime I had. While I had dinner in the oven or late at night when I could no longer focus well enough to work on my research but wasn't quite ready to go to bed. I sometimes did jobs with the TV on, although I did turn off all distracting media when the job required it.
In the two months I turked I made about $86 dollars.
That's after submitting 94 HITs -- a hit is a job in Mechanical Turk. None of my HITs were rejected -- the job poster can reject your work if they believe it's subpar quality -- or that number would be much less.
It's still sitting there, in my account. This is where the ID issue comes in because I don't have a driver's license linked to my banking account and, therefore, can't get the money deposited there. I could have that money transferred to an Amazon gift card, which I think I'm going to do now that I'm writing this, but when I ran into the money transfer issue I stopped turking. (The issue of sending pay to an Amazon gift card feels dodgy, especially if a turker doesn't have a bank account. Their only option is to spend the money they make in an Amazon platform in another Amazon platform.)
Honestly, though, that was just an convenient excuse. I was mentally spent after those two months. Looking for jobs was stressful. You could qualify for some really high paying tasks if you committed to going through extra training -- some of which could take hours and which you did not get paid for. I did not do any extra training.
During the research talk I attended about MTurk, scholar Bonnie Nardi pointed out that the space does attract people like me -- people who are looking to just make a little extra money, but that there are people who are trying to carve out a living from MTurk.
It can all feel very predatory. There is no MTurk without the labor, there is no MTurk without people who need the money they can make on the HITs. And, yet, they are treated as little more than cogs in a machine. The interface is stark. The space is impersonal. Staring at a computer screen, watching for a high paying hit can be stressful. Doing task after task can be mentally exhausting.
You are operating very much on your own, receiving little feedback although job posters can rate you, which helps you get better jobs.
It has been a useful tool for researchers seeking to create more generalizable populations for their studies, but I wonder how many researchers have tried MTurk as a worker? How many of them understand what it's like to be on the other side of the screen?
I'm glad I don't have to rely on turker pay to make ends meet, but there are a lot of people who do. I don't think MTurk is necessarily awful, but it can feel as though designers and researchers have forgotten that real, flesh and blood human beings are submitting all those HITs.
VIDEO: Turking for a Living
My Experience as an Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) Worker
Mechanical Turk Workers: Secret Cogs in the Internet Marketplace
Amazon's Mechanical Turk workers want to be treated like humans
My Brief and Curious Life as a Mechanical Turk