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You may of not have heard the term 'freeters' in the popular press lately. The idea comes to us from Japan. More information can be found here, here naturally, here and here.

Freeters, for those new here, are 20 and 30-something Japanese professionals who are underemployed (working temp or contract jobs) and effectively cut out of mainstream society. In a country like Japan which prides itself of long-term, stable employment and company loyalty, freeters are a black eye in the land of the rising sun.

Freeters live on the fringe's of Japan's society. Eating at street stalls, sleeping in Internet cafes, and juggling temp work and Internet storefronts for extra money, a freeter's life is not enviable.

Many move back in with their parents or hope to meet a gainfully employed potential spouse.

In Japan, some freeters are actively campaigning for better job opportunities and housing. On the other hand, some freeters are trying the opposite; they are embracing the freeter lifestyle as their own form of rebellion against traditional Japanese society.

According to some of the news stories online, many freeters essentially live in Internet cafes paying rent by the hour in between jobs.

When I first read about freeters, I immediately thought of the character "Hiro" in Neil Stephenson's groundbreaking and hilarious novel, "Snowcrash".
If you have not read it, make a point to pick up a used copy from Amazon or check you local library.

Snowcrash follows Hiro's adventures in the Southern California of the near future where the Mafia delivers pizza, the US Government is run by a hodge podge of franchises, computers are wearable and the skateboard riding couriers "poon" cars on the freeways.

Hiro lives in a storage unit with a Russian illegal immigrant rockstar, hijacks power and cellphone networks when necessary and practices Samurai sword fighting with virtual reality goggles.

The connection is Hiro's lifestyle, while far more exciting, closely mirrors freeter's lives in Japan. Hiro essentially drifts between freelance information technology and programming jobs which is enough to keep his cellphone active and an occasional shower at the nearby Scrub-up franchise.

Meanwhile, back to reality...

Since I live in the U.S., my question is "How many American 20-somethings are living the freeter lifestyle?".

I think there are some (perhaps in the Slashdot crowd) who find the life Hiro led in Snowcrash as sort of cool. However, I really wonder how many are living a life similar to Japanese freeters only with an American twist to it.

I think in the U.S., one is far more likely to find an underemployed and/or underachieving freeter back at home with Mom and Dad rather than sleeping in a Starbucks between tech support jobs.

I think the American freeter is more likely to have big plans ("I need to find a start up tech company I can latch on to, help design a product and get acquired by Google") yet still hold basically a cynical outlook on work and jobs in general.

I think the American freeter is more likely to be in school (university) or between schools (dropped out) rather than graduated and actively looking for full time work.

Unlike Japanese culture, work in the U.S. is often tied to "where" one is rather than one's hirability. Before the tar-and-feather mob shows up at Marketing Me, consider the tech worker in California as opposed their counterpart in Michigan. Most likely there are alternatives readily available in the Golden State which are not a possibility in Detroit, let's say.

Further, there is less of a social stigma in the U.S. (as opposed to tradition-bound Japan) against drifting between low-paying jobs and searching for one's self. In fact, in many cases it is encouraged. There is a glamour in the U.S. with "dropping out of the system" and living to the beat of your own drum.

I don't think the pure "freeter" lifestyle will appear in the U.S. any time soon. I don't think Starbucks will allow overnight squatters. But I do think that freeters are another manifestation of our global economy and how it is changing society.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting Analysis, I enjoyed it.

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