February 6, 2009
By Rupa Dev
New America Media
Chris Hutchins, 24, was a management and business strategy consultant when he moved from New York to San Francisco last November. One month after settling in at the San Francisco office, Hutchins was laid off. He wasn’t pleased, but he didn’t get upset about being jobless.
Just hours after “Bloody Monday” last week, when 65,000 people received the axe at work, Hutchins launched LaidOffCamp, a discussion-oriented, self-organized “unconference,” inspired by his desire to create a positive space for the unemployed and self-employed.
“I want to change the image associated with being laid off so people realize it’s not a tragedy,” Hutchins said, “but rather an opportunity to find something better or find something you’re really passionate about.”
Hutchins represents one of the many Gen Yers who have sought refuge in the Internet since losing their jobs. These unemployed young professionals are bright, ambitious, tech-savvy, and completely unsatisfied with just queuing up to collect an unemployment check each month.
LaidOffCamp is modeled on the successful, web-organized “Bar-Camp,” which organizes meetings where attendees present information to each other. At LaidOffCamp, those interested in presenting will be asked to write their topic on a white board and attendees will decide which topics should be presented from how to live on a budget to how to brand yourself. The purpose, Hutchins says, is “for community members to help steer each other in the right direction whether that direction is looking for a new job, starting a company, finding freelance work or becoming independent consultants.”
LaidOffCamp became an Internet sensation within hours of its launcheven before an event date or time had been announced all because of social networking sites. From Face-book to Twitter, tech blogs to Wiki pages, LaidOffCamp became the buzzword on some of the most popular social media sites last Tuesday.
On Twitter, some users informally proclaimed LaidOffCamp to be “the biggest ‘retweet’ of the day,” signifying that “tweets” about the Laid-OffCamp launch were the most frequently posted and discussed topic of the day. On Facebook, LaidOffCamp San Francisco, which will be held March 3, attracted more than 100 attendees.
Since the launch last Tuesday, Hutchins has received hundreds of emails from young people who want to start regional LaidOffCamp events.
One of them was Amanda Lee Anderson of New York. She learned about LaidOffCamp from the Facebook event page. Though Anderson, 27, is employed as a freelance copy editor, many of her friends have been laid off and are “really feeling the crunch right now,” she said.
LaidOffCamp intrigued Anderson because she said she saw it as a “productive use of the Internet, especially because it will bring together people who didn’t previously know each other to make good of a bad situation.”
She emailed Hutchins, who connected her with two other New York residents who also wanted to help plan an event. LaidOffCamp New York officially launched on Friday, and young people are starting LaidOffCamps in San Diego, Detroit, Los Angeles, Fort Collins, Seattle, and Chicago.
Young people say they aren’t wary about meeting and working closely with acquaintances they met online. Waving off any reservations, Anderson explained, “I’m a blogger, so I’m use to meeting up with people from the blogger community.”
Tania Khadder, a 29-year-old laid-off producer in San Francisco, also looked to the Internet for ways to use her newfound time off to be more productive and creative. Khadder and her former colleague, John Henion, decided to start a blog about being unemployed, titled, “Unemploymentality.”
The blog, which receives about 1,000 hits a day, has evolved into an “unemployment survival guide” for the young and savvy unemployed. Some pieces are farcical, such as Henion’s “The Baller’s Guide to Recession Dating,” and “I’ve been laid off - five responses and your rebuttal,” which advise jobless readers on how to maneuver through social situations while still holding their head up high.
“My main motivation for Unemploymentality was to start writing again,” said Khadder. “But I also wanted to use the blog as a platform to showcase the work I did while being laid off to future potential employers.”
Producing good work doesn’t always translate into cash. Hutchins is living off his savings and a few consulting gigs. He doesn’t expect to make money from LaidOffCamp. Khadder is doing some part-time freelance work and hopes the blog will generate revenue one day.
For now, however, wired Gen Yers like Hutchins and Khadder are establishing their names and skill sets online through self-starter projects. In an age when young people are measuring each others’ worth more and more by their online presence the number of hits your name receives on Google, the number of friends you have on Facebook, the number of professional recommendations you have on LinkedIn Hutchins and Khadder may be positioning themselves ahead of the competitive employment curve.