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Immaterial Labor: How to Make Money in the Digital World

10 min read

If you listen to or read about economic discussions, you may have heard the term “immaterial labor” floating around.

Immaterial labor is distinct from material labor, which is labor that results in the direct production of material goods. On the other hand, immaterial labor, as you may have guessed, is the often unseen labor that does not produce material goods.

The concept and theory of immaterial labor is nothing new. However, it has received increased attention in recent years with the huge shift toward digital labor. As an increasing number of jobs revolve around information, rather than material goods, the role of immaterial labor is changing. This has caused companies and workers alike to rethink labor in general, as well as how to make money.

This probably has you wondering, what are the different types of immaterial labor? And, how can you make money providing immaterial labor? Here’s a breakdown of what, exactly, immaterial labor refers to. Then, we will take a look at some of the most common ways to make money through immaterial labor today.

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What is Immaterial Labor?

Immaterial labor is defined as labor that produces nonmaterial goods. This does not mean that there is no actual labor involved, or that the labor is less than material labor. Immaterial labor can, and often does, require as much or more time and energy as material labor.

For example, immaterial labor can refer to labor that produces cultural, intellectual, or informational commodities. Within the broader category of immaterial labor, two further distinctions are often made: analytic labor and affective labor.

Analytic labor

Analytic labor refers to knowledge-based labor, or problem-solving. This can take many forms. For instance, a manager implementing new workplace strategies to improve productivity has performed immaterial labor. Additionally, a researcher developing a new marketing strategy, without actually producing a material product, has also performed analytic immaterial labor.

Affective labor

Affective labor refers to labor that is focused on producing emotional responses. The most commonly-used example of affective labor is workers in the service industry. Customer service representatives perform affective labor by guiding customers toward a happy and pleasant experience with the business.

Immaterial Labor and Digital Labor

We can view digital labor as another subcategory of immaterial labor. As the name implies, digital labor refers to labor based on technology, information, and communication. In addition, digital labor has taken on a much larger role in our society with the boom in digital platforms for all types of services.

Digital labor is often immaterial, but is essential in maintaining the digital labor that has emerged in recent years. Affective digital labor can take many forms, and is not necessarily restricted to online platforms. For instance, an Uber driver performs affective labor by transporting customers from one location to the next. That driver also performs digital labor by accepting ride requests, setting navigation, and coordinating the ride.

Digital labor has created a unique trend in our relationship with work. As more workers turn to forms of digital labor, they are, in a sense, taking on the role of their own manager. Many on-demand digital laborers, like rideshare or delivery drivers, set their own schedules and decide which jobs to take. These workers are not directly employed by their clients, or by the establishments they travel to and from. For example, a DoorDash delivery driver does not work for the restaurant they deliver food from.

There are pros and cons to these sorts of on-demand digital jobs for workers. But one of the undeniable benefits of digital labor is that it can be liberating for workers in terms of flexibility. Digital labor is often performed anywhere and at any time. This is a fact that appeals to a lot of workers, and has caused many people to seek out digital or immaterial labor jobs.

With that in mind, here are some common immaterial labor examples for those looking for new ways to make money.

Immaterial Labor: How to Make Money

Buying and selling products online

Manufacturing is a form of material labor. However, retail, or selling products, is immaterial labor. One common form of digital labor today involves creating and operating an online store. With the availability of services like dropshipping, the demands of running an online store are less than you might think.

When running an online store, your role is largely to facilitate customer purchases and ensure a positive user experience. The role of manufacturing, storage, and shipping can all be handled by third-party providers like Amazon or Alibaba.

Buying and selling products online is appealing to many for a few reasons. First, it has a low barrier of entry. And second, the income from running an online store is often passive, requiring minimal work.

Copywriting

Copywriting is an essential job in the digital labor market.  The digital economy is largely dependent on communication and information exchange. Companies often rely on copywriters for these tasks, whether it’s for website copy, content marketing, or other forms of digital media. If you possess strong writing and communication skills, and a basic understanding of SEO, copywriting could be right for you.

Graphic design

Graphic design is another essential job in the digital economy. Digital platforms rely on having eye-catching and user-friendly interfaces. While these components are dependent on several jobs, graphic designers are among the most important. Just about every industry in the digital economy needs graphic designers. Working as a freelance graphic designer is an excellent way to make money providing immaterial labor.

Rideshare or delivery driving

As mentioned in the example above, rideshare drivers perform a form of immaterial labor. Driving for Uber, Lyft, UberEats, GrubHub, etc. have all become popular jobs because of the freedom and flexibility they allow. The workers who perform these jobs are free to set their own schedules and act as their own manager. They work as much or as little as they prefer.

Translation

Translation has always been an important form of immaterial labor. But the rise in digital services has created even more opportunities for translators to find work. Digital platforms connect people across the globe. This global audience often necessitates multilingual accessibility.

If you are fluent in more than one language, finding work as a translator is an ample opportunity. Translation services fill a vital need, and you can perform them from anywhere in the world.

Virtual administrative assistant

Administrative assistants perform various tasks from day to day, ranging from responding to emails to balancing schedules and finances. The rise in digital labor has given way to the role of virtual administrative assistants. Virtual administrative assistants can perform all the duties of a traditional administrative assistant, but from the comfort of their own homes.

This is a great remote work opportunity for those with strong organizational skills who are looking for extra cash.

Website development or website tester

Nearly every company needs its own dedicated website in the digital world. Simply having a website is often not good enough. Companies often devote significant time and resources to developing a smooth and user-friendly website. So, this role often falls to website developers. Those with programming or development expertise can make good money working as freelance website developers.

If you lack all of the technical skills and experience required for development, some companies will also hire website testers. A website tester is responsible for testing website features for any bugs or friction points that negatively impact user experience.

Final Thoughts

These immaterial labor examples are just a few common jobs you can choose from. There are plenty of other ways to make money by providing immaterial labor, both digitally and in-person.

However, one thing that’s clear is that digital labor has created more value for immaterial labor than ever before. Understanding the new and emerging opportunities for digital labor can be a great advantage.

Helping you find innovative ways to make money in the digital world is something that Ecwid was designed for. Follow Ecwid’s blog for more helpful resources and creative business ideas.

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About the author

Max has been working in the ecommerce industry for the last six years helping brands to establish and level-up content marketing and SEO. Despite that, he has experience with entrepreneurship. He is a fiction writer in his free time.

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