In recent years, websites have emerged where individuals can buy micro-labor: small, discrete tasks that can be performed by workers with internet access, usually for proportionately small sums of money. This work aims to highlight the layers of obfuscation inherent to crowdsourcing and virtual labor markets—anonymous employers hiring anonymous workers to perform tasks in a context vacuum.

Virtual Labor: post-place / post-identity

This nascent workforce is effectively invisible, widely distributed, and largely unregulated. We can think about these workers as existing post place or post identity. Unlike the offshoring of manufacturing with its anchored labor force, virtual workers can be anywhere—a hot workshop across the globe or just as likely sharing your air conditioning, and you wouldn't know the difference.

Of course, we may be inclined to see this anonymity as a form of power attributed to the worker. Afterall, individuals should control their privacy. But it's also true that invisibility privileges the powerful, and we should question who has choice in these contexts. Where platforms have power—in an absence of regulation—we should expect exploitation.

Certainly there are benefits to virtual and anonymous labor. But it is worth considering how we as social beings will respond to conditions that have become increasingly predicated on invisibility, anonymity, and social isolation. It's also worth thinking about how we will tell the stories of people and histories that have been marginalized by forces that have gained power from our growing attraction to the fluidity of virtual and anti-social life.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: 0OOZCXkR8ATcG9m, 2022 Backlit fabric display 30x42x3 inches (76x107x8 cm)

Project Description

I became aware of virtual work through my own attempts to supplement income as an adjunct professor. Curious about the factors driving others to this kind of work, I decided to simply ask. I posted a task and paid a few workers to tell me what their lives looked like, the challenges they faced, and what brought them to virtual work. After collecting a number of stories, it became clear that many are driven to online work out of need rather than choice: individuals facing precarious financial situations or supplementing wages, family members stuck at home acting as caregivers, those unable to work traditional jobs due to physical impairment or neurodivergence, and so on.

As an artist concerned with the ethics of representation, I am interested in the philosophical quandaries that emerge here: In the context of a predatory system that confines participants to a social black box, how can we document, visualize, or tell the stories of these inaccessible individuals? How do we access the made invisible, where the only possibility for interaction is via platforms that aim to leave no trace of an authentic identity? Displaced from networks of reciprocity, how do we know these stories require attention in the first place?

Through this work, I aim to do the improbable, to reify and reimagine the original storytellers, to visualize and give voice to the individuals whose stories I collected but who have otherwise vanished. But rather than attempt to circumvent these platforms to do so, this work serves as a mirror, at once reflecting the real challenges these workers face while simultaneously illuminating the inherent problems that antisocial and for-profit platforms create, as well as the biases and limitations of related systems reliant on algorithms, data and training sets, AI, or simply the desire for efficiency.

In this way, the work should be read as specifically dystopian rather than an earnest journalistic record. Each is an assertion of identity and subjectivity from an unreliable narrator, reflecting the biases, limitations, and representational distortions inherent.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: 0OOZCXkR8ATcG9m (detail), 2022

I collaborate with virtual workers as a way to collectively imagine who these real, but inaccessible, authors are. Workers create artificially generated photographs ("forensic face composites") of the authors they imagine using a proprietary research system that I have been given access to. The initial low-res portraits are then given to a worker who uses AI-driven software to create a photographically real, high-resolution picture. What we are left with are works that assert truth and indexicality even though they are evidently fictions composed from the images and effort of numerous real people.

Traditionally, photography's power lies in its ability to claim some connection to its referent. In this work, I want viewers to be attracted to those same impulses of familiarity and the uncanny while simultaneously being repulsed by these likenesses' failure to represent and their inherent alienation from the person who wrote the initial story.

On the one hand, I am magnetized—as we all are—to indexical representations. On the other, I am responding in this work with illusions and engaging processes that are prone to failure. We could think about these as impossible attempts to create evidence. Though it's hopeless to know what the original storytellers look like, the images (some made hastily and others with care) are an attempt by someone in a parallel circumstance to visualize someone they imagine. This is its own form of truth.

These works are layers of real but ungraspable circumstances and experiences materialized in these speculative identities. In this way, this work isn't simply about truth and evidence, but the desire for it. It is a collaborative act of translation that conveys the growing agency gap in virtual labor marketplaces as one's ability to work comes at the expense of one's humanity.

This work isn't simply a critique. It is primarily about the questions that arise: "Is this the way we want to live our lives; or the way we want others to live theirs?" The workers' harrowing stories, whether true or fiction, open the door to questions around wage standards, labor laws, moral alienation from the product of one's labor, and so on. It speaks to the precariousness of building markets and community upon systems that make us, at best, hyper-accessible avatars and, at worst, anonymous and inaccessible outside the confines of virtual transaction.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Installation view, 2022 Backlit fabric displays
Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Installation view, 2022 Backlit fabric displays
Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: Q0EdHgyAW4Nv9jK, 2022

I thought I was doing okay in my fifties, making a good income, raising two children, and having fun trailer camping with a group of fellow campers. However, what I didn't notice was that private schools and late-night social outings was erasing any saving for the future. All it took was my wife's spinal surgery and the end of my lucrative programming contract to drive me to bankruptcy. I withdrew all my IRA savings to pay hospital bills, and wound up losing much of it to income taxes! I had borrowed thousands of dollars on credit cards, and refinanced our house up to its entire value. So although I found new work, at a lower salary, there was no way I could make all the payments. We wound up having to short-sell the house, and lease space in a manufactured-home community, borrowing money from my sister-in-law to make it very livable and things settled down. Then recently I lost the new job and was unemployed for six months! I was terrified we would become homeless, and borrowed from my brother to live. I now worry daily that we will not be able to survive on my retirement benefits, and that I will have to keep working at least a menial job until I die. Not many people know how we wound up here, just that nowadays we have little cash. I put on a brave front, always saying I will inherit my mother's and brother's money eventually and will do okay. I have a dream of relaxing on a beach someplace someday. But every day there is fear of harder times.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: 4PAWm7J1BFobY6e, 2022

My boyfriend and I just had a baby in March. It's a girl. His first and my second. I have an 8 year old daughter that lives with us 5 days a week. Anyway I just went back to work part time last week but I only get 16 hours a week and my boyfriend works full time but it isn't enough. We are having a hard time with our bills. I have no idea how we are going to pay our rent next month. We need $800 total for rent and we need to figure out a way to come up with $400 so we have enough and don't become homeless. Which is part of the reason I am here on Mturk trying to earn some extra money. I'm scared and I never want to be in this position again.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: 6kMITgP0Ws89E51, 2022

My life has changed in ways I never imagined just a few short years ago. I am the sole caregiver for my wife who has a degenerative neurological disease called Neuromyelitis Optica. It will be three years since she was stricken in September. It came without any warning at all, and has no apparent cause. It took a month in the hospital before it was diagnosed and now she is paraplegic and has no control over her bladder or bowel function. So I spend my days at home with her—thankfully my employer allows me to work at home, and I'm close enough to go in to the office for occasional meetings. She needs my assistance every 4 hours, at 2am, 6am, 10am, 2pm, 6pm and 9:30pm. I haven't had a full, uninterrupted night's sleep since March of 2016. The process takes about 15-20 minutes each time. I am also trying to keep up our house as well as cook, clean and do laundry. I also put in a full day's work. I am tired all the time and catch naps when I can. She is in as good spirits as she can be, given how much her life has narrowed. We get out of the house every other week or so—it takes about 3 hours for her to bathe and get ready before we can roll out of the house in her wheelchair. I have learned many things I never imagined before, gained skills I never thought I'd need, and have developed a whole new level of patience. But I'm so tired.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: wjwGaO35sW9eRI5, 2022

I fear others may discover just how poor I actually am. Things like laundry, oil changes and gas are normal expenses that are killing me now. I can't remember the last time I did something fun for myself. I fear I will die alone and poor like this. I struggle to make ends meet on my own, down to food even. I am also challenged to foot bills for school and hold down a delivery job. I have so much debt. My credit is shot now. I live alone in a tiny apartment in a ugly part of town. There isn't anyone to talk to and family is 90 miles away. I want to clear my debt and leave the US. I want to go live in Asia somewhere or South America. I want to own my own business and never look at the prices when ordering food ever again. I want to retire my mother and always have a full fridge. I also want to bless everyone that ever gave me money when I needed it. I feel like I'm stuck in an endless loop of mundane anxiety. The debt never ends, the worry never ends, and I only have the walls in my apartment to console me. I have to finish school but the motivation is no longer there. I'm too worried about chasing the next buck. I am getting older and there is no way out. I wish I was born to wealthy parents and other times I wish I hadn't been born at all. Religion doesn't soothe me the way it used to. I feel so old for my age and have been out of the loop on trends for a while. I am ashamed.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: UIPMTQV0QNKWu6s, 2022

I am a 47 year old woman who up until 5 years ago lived a very troubled life, due to domestic violence and alcoholism, till finally those issues caused me so many problems that I became homeless. After 5 months of homelessness, I hit my bottom and went to rehab. After rehab I went to a transitional living program for over two years. I not only gained sobriety, but also gained job skills and a sense of accountability.

After I graduated from my transitional living program, I moved to private housing in the suburbs where I have remained in the same apartment almost 3 years (I used to get evicted every 6 months). I have remained sober and continue to go to AA and am employed. I also bought a new car about 2 years ago, manage multiple lines of credit and have a savings account for emergencies.

I also met a man 3 years ago who I will be marrying this June. He also has a similar past. We appreciate everything life has to offer. It is hard to believe that not only are we getting married, but have a cabin rented for a whole week of our honeymoon paid for in advance. In our past lives we couldn't save .50 cents.

A very far cry from who I used to be. My personal mantra is Make Opportunities, not Excuses!

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: gYz60wuRhOSPDxC, 2022

I fear that others may know that I am constantly trying to improve myself because of an inherent need to be better than I was yesterday. In fact, I feel as though I am never going to be good enough to myself to accept any stage of my life that I end up at. I grew up in a law enforcement family, very encouraging and I had an amazing childhood, my mother is a therapist and my father a police officer. I always was encouraged to do what I wanted to do, but I feel as though I struggle to find anything that I find will bring me success. I have a drive to be wealthy and that is my main factor in life, whether that be towards jobs, or family or living situation. I can never settle with my current income. In fact, over the last three years I have doubled at least my income per year. When I graduated college, I was making 18 thousand a year, the year after I made 50 thousand and now I am making just over 100 thousand. Yet, I should be happy and fulfilled, but to both I am not. I struggle with the idea that other people around me are never going to understand the pain I go through on a daily basis with self acceptance. But I guess we will never know, for I won't stop improving and I won't spend much time reflecting.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: H07ikSUx08IKeFp, 2022

The most challenging aspect in my life is having the patience to build experience and resources to ensure that I will be successful in the future. I am saving rigorously, working side jobs, taking online courses, working out as often as I can, etc. None of these activities give me immediate returns; my satisfaction comes slowly and incrementally. Whereas my peers will spend lavishly and consume as much as possible, I stay my course in hope of a better future. My progress is looking great so far. I am above average in all major accounts I see relevant. I am in better shape than a strong majority of the population. My funds and investments far surpass my peers, who are mostly stuck in deep student and credit card debts. My income increases steadily every year. I believe that I have come very far from where I once was. I credit most of my success to my self-discipline, but also the internet. Whereas I am the driver, the car would definitely be the world wide web. All knowledge I have gained about health, money, etc. comes from the millions of human beings that have collected their knowledge together in one place. The internet is like an all knowing super parent—everything you ever wanted to know can be there. Research is a big part of the day-to-day grind; just one more task to complete to reach a very large goal. I think that eventually, I will be in a great place.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: IZ4TVOkhjK8eAm8, 2022

My life in a nutshell is one of depression, sadness, joy, and pain and suffering. I grew up wanting the world, and lived in the poorest neighborhood in my area. I had to deal with bullies and being so poor we had to eat rice every night. A good day was when we had salt and ketchup to put on the rice. I dreamed of being a magician and having a nice life with a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence and a great dane, 2.5 kids and a beautiful wife. I am now 32, I survive on my own with no family. I live in a shelter. I perform tasks on mturk in the hopes of saving enough money to improve my life and get out the shelter. I have to deal with many different people on a daily basis in the shelter, some have mental issues, some are drug addicts and some are highly violent individuals. There are bed bugs there, I've been there so long it doesn't even bother me that they are there anymore. It's horrible that I wake up some nights itchy with bumps from them biting me in my sleep though. I have attempted to find something to deal with that. I recently read something online about peppermint. When I get some money I will buy some and see if that will keep the bugs away. Life is hard. I hope to have my own business and house in the next 10 years. Although that may never happen seeing as I barely have enough to eat some days.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: jLGiEdXnDgbIJQ5, 2022

My marriage is challenging. My husband is autistic and we didn't know it until after we were married. Autistic people tend to not get married and if they do, it doesn't last long. We have been married 16 years which is very rare for an autistic person. This marriage hurts different aspects of my life and so few people can understand what it's like. I have a hard time getting or keeping friends because my husband is very dependent on me and I can't share a lot about my marriage to friends because they don't understand and give generic advice that would only work with neuro-typical husbands. My church requires each family to work volunteer hours but my schedule is very full and my husband is unable to so we had to leave the church. I lost one of my few social support systems. If my husband was at least trying, I could cope better. As he gets older I see his behaviors getting more and more pronounced, not better. He can't travel or do normal activities so a lot falls on to me. My health is failing, which is common in women married to autistic men.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: kB6I9BZlGxfdDHY, 2022

I really want to travel with my children. I traveled a lot as a child and I think it helped me become a better person. Financially we are not doing very well, so this doesn't leave anything left to spend on traveling. I am often jealous because my husband gets to travel with work and his family while we stay home. When he travels he doesn't even do anything exciting. He mostly eats at places he has been to before and stays in his motel. It seems like such a waste to have opportunities and not take them. It also seems unfair that he doesn't seem to care much about it, but has the opportunity while I would love to do it. I dream of spending a month in South Korea hiking. I would eat tons of good food and spend my time sight seeing. The kids and I would love this and it would be the perfect vacation. My husband isn't interested in international travel at all. Hiking isn't his thing and he would complain that he couldn't find anything to eat. He would also spend his time complaining about how people are different and not doing things the right way. Where I enjoy seeing how other people do things. I understand that the way they do things might be the best way for them. I don't think I will ever get to experience the things I want and I feel a lot of disappointment in it. I know that my kids are missing out.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: kcjcNOqHEX5dOHg, 2022

My life is pretty boring. I am a single mom of one. I am a metal fabricator and welder, but I am thinking of taking a step back from that so I can stay home with my daughter. I have some medical issues that also need to be addressed, but in my province we are in a health crisis right now. On top of that I have severe social anxiety and absolutely hate leaving the house unless it is with my child. My boyfriend is American, and eventually I would like to be with him in PA. There's 20ish hours between us and it sucks not being able to see eachother everyday. It's a lot harder to get over there with a trade, it isn't exactly what the government is looking to take in. I am also looking at taking a new course though. Funeral services and embalming. I think it will be a good fit, and it would most likely give me a better chance of getting into America. Plus I just think it would be a great career for me. I like being behind the scenes and kind of alone. Even though dead bodies kind of scare me. Once my daughter is asleep I usually play videogames. Xbox, actually. It's my way to relax I guess. Oh and there have been a lot of good stuff added to Netflix lately. Overall, I like to keep to myself. I don't really involve myself with people where I live. It's a very toxic and negative place now. Mostly because of politics and the health crisis I guess. But hopefully that will all change someday.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: NJQvtBv8fx7ycdF, 2022

Every story is different. That's how most start after all. I won't say that this will be revolutionary, but in a way I am warning you that my story is boring, especially this small portion. I was raised by poor parents in a run down 1930-era or so house in Michigan. My main points of interest were that I was tragically good at tearing myself down to soothe my parents' thunderstorms. I was tenacious enough to avoid bullying at school by presenting myself as scary, and that I loved a forest that I liked to imagine loved me as well. I was molded for many years through yelling, bipolar levels of religious fervor, being raised by a grandma who would later develop dementia, and a sister who did everything she could for me but made the "Major Sin" of having a child with a man she had been dating for nearing on forever and thus had to logically be kicked out. At some point, something in me broke, or was broken since the beginning, and I did not feel the "spirit of god." Oh did I try. You name it, I probably attempted to do it. Baptism, summer camps, Sunday school, volunteering, making religious friends, praying myself to tears, but it all was empty and there felt as if there was nothing. After that realization, there were many, many years of destruction and flailing, and finally I found myself where I least expected.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: pL2ikAEJeLga03E, 2022

My story begins with a faulty condom and a bottle of cheap wine. People know this. It's practically written on my face. Following in my father's footsteps, I lost my way. There's no rent to pay now that there's nothing to pay it with. I'm looking for my fifth job in 10 months. So many chances, all so meager and in want of promise. I find it fitting that my feet never cease to wear, the aching never dulling nor leaving calluses over the calluses that do me little good. The shoes I wore so poorly held to my feet that I must have left them behind some time ago. Since looking back, they're nowhere there in view. A day's distance walked. Turning back is pointless. I'd only lose them before getting as far as I am now. I dream I'll sleep after days of waking hour, one after the last, tiring for their failing me in my desire for these legs to give out for good. That's not a sign of hopelessness. I hope for this to end.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: 0OOZCXkR8ATcG9m, 2022

When I was 19, I married a guy and he had the idea that we should both do college ROTC. It came with a scholarship and a requirement that you do two summer boot camps. When you graduate, you're a commissioned officer, a 2nd Lieutenant, with a 3-year active duty requirement. I was a Music/English Linguistics student who often passed out in bright sun, and yet I bought the idea that we'd put in 20 years together and then retire while still relatively young and see the world. I was out of my mind, but it sounded like a plan. I didn't have a better one.

I graduated so the military took me. He dropped out of college in the last semester so they didn't take him. I divorced him. I hoped they'd assign me to the language school in Monterey, California, but I was assigned to a tactical battalion in the South. Those three years of active duty in the military were the most challenging thing I've ever done in my life.

I spent a lot of time in the woods, engaging in war games. I'm not going to say it was always pure hell, but a lot of it was. I was poorly suited for this environment, and one of only a handful of women in the battalion. It was very hard. I did some things well. I was in the Signal Corp and good on the radio. I was really good on the firing ranges. I enjoyed tossing grenades. I could take machine guns apart and put them back together. I got through the obstacle course. I could run five miles through the woods in combat gear. I rappelled out of a helicopter. I took scuba diving training from a Green Beret Master Dive Instructor. I received good performance reviews. I learned how to pack very quickly for who knows what. After 2 years, I was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. I also dated someone who turned out to be a brutal abuser. I endured aggressive sexual harassment. I survived it all.

They offered to send me to law school, which tempted me. I'd be promoted to Captain and be a JAG officer, more money, and supposedly a much less harsh daily life. I understood the military by that time, but accepting the offer would cost me another 8 years after law school. I turned it down and left after my 3 years were up.

It's like remembering someone else's life.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: ZBVX0yrZwa0BiS6, 2022

I was raised with nine siblings in a very strict religious group. The beliefs prohibited women from having many rights and we were forced to keep our hair long and pulled back and wear skirts. We also wore headscarves in church every Sunday. I left this religious group in my 20's, and that put a strain on my relationship with my family and community. I put myself through college while working full time and recently graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration. I have been struggling to find a job in my field of study and this has been very frustrating. I'm working part-time for low pay but it gets me out of the house. I have dealt with depression and anxiety since I was 13 years old and it is easy to become reclusive and avoid seeing people. Finding a full-time job will help with the depression, as it will bring with it an income stream. I am stressed about paying back student loans and wish I had been more cautious in borrowing the money in the first place. Hopefully having a degree will pay off in the end. It certainly has not helped me get a job at this point. I live with my boyfriend but things are not going so well and I am afraid that he might kick me out. If I end up living out of my car I honestly think I would do okay as I have done some research.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: zCRrkFBsosyZ9pZ, 2022

Several years I wanted to kill myself. I was married but on the verge of divorce, which I never wanted. 6 months prior the wife and I moved out of state to start a better life. Unfortunately, she wasn't happy anymore and wanted a divorce. I felt like ending my life because without her I felt I wasn't going anywhere. Fortunately I was able to overcome what happened and both the wife and myself sought for help. We went to marriage counseling (which didn't work) and in the end were able to work out our problems and stay together. It was a rough few years following what occurred, however, at times I feel like the marriage won't last forever. Although I admit things are much different then they were in the past, the thought of moving forward and our future from this point forward scares me. One of the things we are looking forward to is purchasing our first home together. We've both agreed that we will continue to work as hard as we can to save money and move forward with it. The scary part for me is when I hear or even see certain things around me, I get nervous and think about how things could go potentially wrong for myself in the future with huge emphasis on my marriage. I can easily say that buying our first home is a kind of a dream come true and I still really want that for us.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: Tg9GckipNxlosg1, 2022

It's a very bad time for me. I am 2 months behind on rent. My cat is refusing to eat and my dog has a tumor on his backside. I am getting a lot of help from my neighbor and friends right now. I have no car and must ask them for a lift more often then I like to. I'm trying to get things together but I can't work full time right now because I have congestive heart failure. So there are many things in my life right now that are not perfect but I am working hard every day to pay the people I owe and burden my neighbors less. It's a learning experience. I am figuring out how to spend my money in a wiser way and lowering my bills so less money falls out of my pockets each month. I know I am going to get things together because I have no other choice. I am losing weight and getting my health in better condition. I'm learning about money that will help me for the rest of my life. I am getting my animals in better health and getting them the exercise they need to get stronger. I know that I have much more control of my life than I thought I had in years previous.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: M2rGe7hPdA2l, 2022

We all go through challenges. Mine was accepting myself. I am mixed race black and white and I have always struggled with this in part because it was the main reason my father left me. He could not handle having a mixed race kid. It really hurt me and still to this day it stings a little. However, I have since grown and realized through all the relationships I have had that others really do like me and love me. Some have even told me point blank that it is because of my color and good looks that come from mixing the race that they love me. At least that's what my current GF says.

While I still struggle financially, I know I will be OK because I just know. I know I will pay off my student loans and my life will get easier and much better than it currently is. I at one point never thought I would be where I am now. I have lost 100 pounds, have a great girlfriend, and feel loved and am happy. While I am still working on a few things like self employment and paying down my debt, I know I will be just fine in the long run. My dreams for the future are simple: marry Faith, have a kid, and live happily ever after. While people say the happy ever after part is hard and I do believe them, I also believe that Faith is my soulmate and we can overcome anything if we work at it and look at it from a view of love and understanding.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: UEhFzo5yaSGq4Id, 2022

For the past several years I have been going through the most challenging time in my life. Three years ago I lost my life partner due to a sudden heart attack. I was extremely sad and went into a deep depression. Last year my daughter in-law went off with a friend for the weekend and never came back. She was murdered by her friend. He strangled her, raped her, and cut off her fingers with bolt cutters. We searched for her for 10 days before finding her in a tarp in her attic. Today, I find myself in a financial mess. My home has been foreclosed on and I am about to be homeless. I have a week left to find a place to live, and no money to get into a new place. The challenges I am facing are extreme and they just seem to keep coming, year after year. I certainly hope that things work out for me, I am trying my hardest to stay strong and keep fighting. I refuse to give up, I just keep reminding myself that I have made it through so much, that I can make it through this. Things have to get better at some point.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: nlANu24dKBd87yo, 2022

Life being as it is, I'm having a difficult time. You've got bills mounting where you end up having to delay them. Sometimes, you even have to delay a bill again. You start to learn which bills you can do that for. Utilities can be pretty lenient, telecommunications providers less so. But you need services that seem non-essential to others--like Internet service. My income comes from working online, so I actually do require access to the Internet, lest I wish to sacrifice my only source of income. It is super frustrating to have to constantly put bills off. Budgeting can be nearly impossible with fluctuating income. It sucks to be taxed at double the rate as everyone else, but there's nothing you can really do. School is also an issue. It's been very difficult for me. I've been in community college for just about seven years now. Or is it eight? I'm losing track. I've messed up a lot, skipped a lot, not cared a lot. I want to get ahead, but I have difficulty focusing and applying myself. Then I still have to go to a university. There's no room for error there as that costs thousands per quarter. Hell, I don't even know how I'll afford that. More debt for me. Joy. Don't forget about interpersonal relations. I'm married, and that can be pretty difficult. Disagreements galore. You don't just get to walk away from those like you might with others because you have to quite literally live with it. I really need a new job. I need things to start looking up. It's all quite overwhelming and frustrating.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: vOANqkxkExslhUH, 2022

The most challenging aspect of my life currently is dealing with my husband, whose health is declining (he is 63 and I am 60). He has worked two jobs for over 30 years and I've pretty much had to live my life on my own. He has begun to have health issues and is talking about retiring. It strikes fear into me at the thought of having him home every day. He is a workaholic but besides that, has no hobbies and I've always believed he was always kind of depressed. The thought of him being home with me is so disturbing because when I am with him, he is always down, always negative. I am a relatively happy person and I truly can't stand to be around him for too long. I know it's terrible to say but it's one of the major challenges I am being faced with currently. When he is home, even for a couple of days, as he was for Memorial weekend, I couldn't stand it. He is always so unhappy and I just feel he drags me down with his negativity. He was never one I could really talk to, so the prospect of his retiring any time soon, is the worst possible scenario for my life. I am used to my life the way it is and I want it to remain that way.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: hQLJmCMcIUa1tFn, 2022

I know I need to work, but I feel enslaved to wage-labor. When I do well in an interview I feel a sense of dread that I might be locked into that job for the rest of my life. There's no easy escape. You can't just flit from job to job. It's frowned upon and almost impossible with the shortage of jobs in North-East England. I fear others will think I'm workshy, which is at least partially true. I want to travel and find a place where I could be happy, maybe start a bed-and-breakfast. But you need money for that. I dread thinking that my only option for freedom is through inheritance and therefore a loved one's death. I feel financially secure because I don't spend much. I live my life on 'silent-running' mode, just waiting to surface. My surroundings are pretty miserable. I live in a dingy forgotten seaside town in what used to be an industrial-area in England. The industry is long-gone to China. I have my bedroom, my beloved computer, and my little smiling amphibians—called axolotls—for company. I don't want to be here. I would rather be almost anywhere. Right now, my challenge is to just keep living. Day by day. Tolerating the mundanity. To be fair, working online helps a bit. I appreciate the varied tasks and the little financial rewards. One day, I'll put this pocket-money to good use. Until then, step-by-step. Maybe the next time I ring Grandpa he won't answer, and maybe that will mean my freedom.

Forest Kelley, Virtual Worker Diaries
Worker ID: FhyAuGtcdN2ufo8, 2022

The most challenging part of my life is that I'm addicted to shopping. No matter how hard I try to stop I can't seem to. I know we don't have the money but I just keep shopping and shopping. I'm putting my family greatly in debt and I know this, yet I can't seem to control it. I keep racking up credit card debit even though I know it's something we can't afford. I get almost like a high after I buy something but then later I start feeling terrible because I know I didn't need it and that we simply can't afford it. I tell myself everyday that I'm going to stop and I won't buy anything today yet it seems there isn't a day that goes by that I don't purchase something. I think online shopping has made my addiction much worse. I don't even have to leave the house to be able to order things. Also sites like Affirm and Klarna have made this even worse where I can split up the payments over time. This makes it so much easier to justify big purchases that I otherwise wouldn't have been able to afford. I hope that I can overcome this addiction before it ruins my marriage. My wife is trying to be patient but I know this won't last forever. She will get tired of it and leave.

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