On a typically drizzling afternoon, six bright red covered tables stood scattered through the white spacious entree hall of Amsterdam’s newest Public Library. Each table had a sign, ‘activist clown’, ‘the big dreamer’, ‘career switcher’, ‘doubter’. People entering and leaving the library had but to stop and see what was going on.
Looking at the sign, they then discovered the other person standing at the table. It was the ‘career switcher’ himself, now turning around the sign, displaying the six chapters of his life ‘what I wanted to be when I was young’, ‘eye-openers’, ‘insecurity is freedom’. ‘I can tell you the story about how I make a living, and what I think about the concept of work’ the living book said. ‘Just pick a chapter’. Before long, all red tables were buzzing with animated conversation.
The visitors were not only listening to the books they opened in this living library. They became storytellers about their working life as well, and books became listeners too. At nightfall, the books had inspired many strangers to follow their dreams, and relieved some from their worries. Stepping out into the drizzle, the activist clown felt taken seriously and the doubter knew her strength: she could do anything.
Zombies and Life Hackers united
The last day of the Transeuropa Festival in Amsterdam was windy and cloudy, but inside the colourful room jammed with activities to discover, people hardly noticed. At the adjacent cafe, I got a hot chocolate and walked back into the interactive exposition.
A young man greeted me and explained ‘at this event we bring together young people who are in a somewhat precarious working situation. We give them the opportunity to learn from each other’s experiences, and inspire them with creative ways of making a living’. I signed up for the workshop ‘Monetize Your Dreams’ and made my way to a clothesline with orange cards hanging in the corner. The cards said ‘I can tell you everything about …’ and ‘I want to know more about …’. I filled out ‘international development’ and ‘promoting events’ and wrote my e-mail address at the bottom. I took home a card from someone who wanted to learn about organizing.
At the ‘networking-couch’ I saw a group of girls talking passionately. I went over and met a girl who just started her own concept developing business. She was tired of the continuously disappointing search for a job, and had taken matters into her own hands.
During the workshop I was paired up with a guy. We shared the same opinion in favour of organic food, but had a very different skill set. By the end of the workshop we had developed a complete awareness event.
The afternoon went by. On the wall, a beamer screened documentaries about generation Y. Purple, blue, orange and green posters displayed different ways of coping with precarity. The people in the room listened to snapshot interviews with people making their living at the London Brick Lane Market. We played an online game, trying to make it through one month with minimum wage and daily challenging life choices.
At nightfall, I had a beer at the bar with the people I had met. I felt stronger. I was not alone in my precarity. We were a whole generation. The city offered so many opportunities to combine our skills and make a living. Together we could challenge the conventional office life.
Thanks to Maxime Hofman for writing this article!