Nonstarters: turning your dreams into movies

Worst kickstarter video of the week.

Dreams, even when remembered, fizz away like sweets dropped in lemonade when the brain switches on for the day. I think there’s probably a good reason for that.

Israeli entrepreneur Liran Goldberg doesn’t. His kickstarter pitch sought to raise $80,000 for the Sleep Project, a website designed to collect users’ dreams, subject their descriptions to a social vote, and turn the most popular candidates into a TV series.

Goldberg enthused: “How many times have you woken up from a crazy dream and thought Wow! That would make a great movie!!"

Many times, Liran. But then again, I often get that excited about starting a sandwich shop called “Baguette about it!”. It doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

A person’s dreams are never as interesting to anyone else as they are to the dreamer. That’s why we tell proper stories instead.   

Upon waking, I often grip my wife like the ancient mariner stopping the wedding guest, and insist on relating twenty minutes worth of mental adventure (“you don’t understand, love - I taught a giant crab to dance!”), before realising she is only sweetly feigning interest because I seem so involved in the telling.

I certainly can’t imagine television execs being much more generous. Can you really imagine any channel agreeing to air episodes with synopses like: “I was with you and these other guys, I can’t remember who. We were in this kind of greenhouse place with a pizza buffet, and we were looking for a special rock, but it turned out the rock was actually a bucket of ants. But it was still a rock, if you know what I mean? And then we were sort of in Japan, and David Hasselhoff was trying to get the bucket off me and then I woke up”?

Of course, Goldberg’s project had a voting system to ensure only the most popular dreams would be filmed, but this creates a worse problem.

By voting the most engaging stories to the top, people would be actively selecting against honestly transcribed blurts of brainguff, in favour of stories augmented and edited in order to make the “dreamers” look like really deep and meaningful people.

All in all, the Sleep Project seems like a lot of effort to go to for the sake of a few weak stories.

If only nature had equipped us all with a machine that could not only create our own movies, tailor-made to our particular interests, from nothing, but put us inside them, surrounded by special effects budgets that would bankrupt hollywood ten times over. Oh wait, it did.

“Inside every one of us is a brilliant screenwriter” Photograph: Kickstarter.com

By day, Fred Crawley is editor of Credit Today and Insolvency Today. By night, he reviews graphic novels for the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.