The very nature of our capitalist society is that, for our labors, we receive monetary compensation. However, some work is unpaid. A breakdown of this unpaid labor might show that most are in the form of internships, where a person provides their services for free with the understanding that they will get paid later. The other big portion of “volunteer” labor would be forced community service, where doing work for free is a punishment for misbehavior.
There are some altruistic people who do unpaid charity work, like working with the less fortunate, but outside of charity people who do work for free are seen as odd, or being exploited somehow. With that in mind, here are 10 surprising jobs people in the world have done completely for free…
10. The Pirate of Massapequa
Two months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hyman Strachman was drafted into the Army, serving in an intelligence unit in the Pacific. Being so far from home, he remembered the relief that movie night brought. Fast forward 70 years later and Strachman thought he could provide the same service to the men and women fighting overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. So then at that time, in his early 90s, for free and at his own expense, he started pumping out popular titles of bootleg DVDs. To improve his output he purchased a professional DVD copier and soon he was sending hundreds of DVDs to an Army chaplain, who would gift the pirate DVDs to the troops. His work made him a hero in the military, and until the war wound down in 2013 he pirated over 300,000 discs and sent them overseas.
Since he bought illegal bootleg DVDs off the street and then made hundreds of equally illegal bootleg copies, he was known as the “The Pirate of Massapequa.” His work made him famous and reporters lined up to interview him. While the RIAA went after single mothers and teenagers for bittorrenting single songs, they dared not touch Strachman – a 90-something widower and WWII veteran supporting the troops. Even though he was committing a crime, he received many awards for his work and in 2015 Strachman was even honored by a Veterans Appreciation Breakfast hosted by Senator Michael Venditto.
Possibly due to the massive karma he received for his volunteer work, Strachman lived to the ripe old age of 97, dying on February 1, 2017, in his Massapequa, New York nursing home.
9. Maintain Guzzlers
Since the early part of the 20th century, in parched regions through Western America, the government set up water stations. Called guzzlers, these water centers support threatened animal and bird populations. Starting in the desolate parts of Oregon, they spread throughout the west, with 1,600 in Nevada alone.
They are often like larger, concrete versions of a water bottle in a hamster cage, and while some are filled with rainwater many regions are too dry and require top offs by someone who has to haul water deep into remote forests and scrubland. To keep away partying teens and unethical hunters that would camp out and shoot thirsty animals, the locations are kept top secret. Decades ago government funding for the guzzlers dried up, so now local volunteers keep them and the water they provide flowing. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) even has an “Adopt A Guzzler” program.
8. Professional Photographers Hate Him
In the age of smartphones, everyone has a camera. Already in war zones around the world, we can see citizen reports almost as soon as the incident takes place. The job of a paid photographer is changing and on the front lines is Gage Skidmore, a 20-something student who lives with his parents. Priceonomics’ Zachary Crockett calls him the “most prolific photographer you’ve never heard of.” On his Flickr account, he has over 50,000 photos that he has released under Creative Commons. Under Creative Commons, you can do whatever you want with the image, including reproduce it and sell it yourself, as long as you say that Skidmore took the photo (by the way, this feels like a good time to note that the picture used for this entry was taken by Skidmore). His most famous picture, a shot of Trump, is used on Trump’s MAGA web page.
Much like Deadheads who follow the Grateful Dead around America, Skidmore got his start following Ron and Rand Paul around the country. At first, he roped his parents into driving him around snapping shots of the Paul political dynasty. Then his friends and people with the same political beliefs chipped in, but what never changed was that he gave away his professional-grade photos. Along the way, he also took a number of shots of other candidates, further amassing his collection of public domain political photos.
Why does he give away his photos? Skidmore says, “as the Internet has become an integral part of our lives, photographers have had to adapt. Creative Commons is a vehicle that allows my photos to be received by a wide audience … I don’t need to sell my photos in order to have a meal the next day. In the long run, I’ll probably take a more traditional career path in the business world.”
7. Donating Pictures for Wikipedia and the World
Wikipedia thrives because its media, and even the text of every article, is in the public domain – meaning you can use everything on the website for free, with no copyright charges. This is fine for the text, but is telling for the visual images. Each picture has to be either donated to Wikipedia or already in the public domain. This restriction causes the quality to suffer as only very old or amateur, low quality images are copyright-free.
Evan Amos vowed to change this by, for at least gaming articles, taking professional grade photos of gaming systems. Each of his photos is carefully staged, backlit, beautifully captured, and then donated to Wikipedia at a high resolution (as you no doubt guessed, the above picture of a Sega Saturn – remember the Sega Saturn? – is one of his). He scours collectors across the country to track down rare, little know gaming consoles like the 1977 Bally Astrocade gaming system, and always donates the resulting pictures to Wikipedia and the world.
6. Man with the Golden Arm
When James Harrison was a young child he had a medical condition and had to get one of his lungs removed. Something happened during that operation, like Peter Parker getting superpowers when he was bitten by a radioactive spider. Harrison also received superpowers; not Spidey-sense, but life-saving blood. Harrison’s blood prevents rhesus disease – a disease that kills thousands of babies a year. Known as “The Man with the Golden Arm,” according to the Australian Red Cross blood service, Harrison and his special blood have saved over 2 million babies.
A wise man said that with great power comes great responsibility, and James Harrison believes this, too. He doesn’t charge for his blood or donate it for any sort of profit, instead donating it and his time free. Because, let’s face it… you’re not much of a superhero if you’re basically holding the health of babies for ransom.
5. Amateur Detective Hunts Down Marathon Cheats
To participate in famous running events like the Boston Marathon you need to be consistently fast, famous, or running for thousands of dollars for charity. The status achieved by just running in these races is huge, so there is an entire underground industry of cheaters that get people into these races even though they don’t have the necessary qualifying times.
One way to get into the big marathons is to cheat on qualifying races. By cutting the course or even taking public transportation for part of the race (which, believe it or not, has happened), a runner can cross the finish line with a fast enough time. Another way is bib swapping (the bib being the racing number). You can do this by either buying a faster runner’s number or just paying someone to pretend to be you and run the marathon in your place. The final way would be to just find some way to hack the results and enter a faster time for you. Seen as a victimless crime, these practices went on for years until people started to take action.
Cincinnati Business analyst Derek Murphy was one of those people. He spends hours tracking cheaters for free, and for the integrity of the sport. He developed an algorithm to investigate people who finished the race much slower than their qualifying time. He then used photos from the race to see if the same people ran both the qualifying race and the marathon. This was how he found that a high school educator had gotten someone to run the qualifying race for her. Eventually, from the 27,167 runners who started the 2015 Boston marathon, Murphy found 47 who cheated on qualifying runs. Of those, 29 were bib swappers, 10 were course cutters, 4 hacked their results, and another 4 got someone to run the race for them.
4. Sverker Johansson: Mr. Ten Percent
Swedish physicist Sverker Johansson is an impressive individual. Not happy with being an expert in one area, he holds multiple degrees including economics, particle physics, linguistics, and civil engineering. He also has a passion for spreading this knowledge and does so through the biggest online respiratory in history: Wikipedia.
Sometimes writing up to 10,000 articles a day, he alone is responsible for about 10% of all the articles on Wikipedia. Now, he isn’t doing this himself; he has developed a team of knowledge spreading bots that create and write the articles for him, but he still spends massive amounts of time supervising his bot army and making sure they stay on task. Which sounds like the origin story of the world’s nerdiest supervillain.
3. Dutch High School Student Creates Maps of the Syrian Conflict
For years the fabric of Syria has been ripped apart by civil war. At first, the media covering the stories pushed the narrative of a large group of rebels fighting the government. The reality on the ground is that there are dozens of groups fighting the government… and each other. Frustrated by this ignorance, Thomas van Linge, at the time a Dutch high school student, started making colorful maps that showed the shifting zones of control between the major Syrian groups. He then published his work on media sharing sites like Twitter for free.
Hours of his time goes into research and creating each map before van Linge posts his images. In an interview with Newsweek, he said he puts in so much time because, “I want to inform people mostly and show people the rebel dynamics in the country … I also want to inform journalists who want to go to the region which regions are definitely no-go zones, which regions are the most dangerous, and also to show strategic developments through time.” The public and the media see the value in his work, and his maps have been used and “cited on news stories in the Huffington Post, Lebanon’s Daily Star and Vox, as well as on the University of Texas at Austin’s website.”
2. Wikipedia Superstars
Wikipedia is probably one of the greatest resources of the modern age. A world of information at your fingertips. How big? Well according to the site itself, “as of 23 October 2017, there are 5,497,372 articles in the English Wikipedia.” With just a handful of paid staff, most of the work goes to editors who volunteer their time and expand the website, check the validity of its content, or more of the hundreds of daily tasks needed to keep the website going. However, the King of Editors is one man: Justin Anthony Knapp (username “koavf”), who was the first to do 1.5 million edits. In an article titled Seven Years, One Million Edits, Zero Dollars: Wikipedia’s Flat Broke Superstar, Knapp was asked why he works for free and he responded, “I’ve never accepted any restitution for my work on Wikipedia—it’s purely voluntary … Editing these projects is relaxing and rewarding—those are both premiums in any prospective job.”
Another Wikipedia editor with a mission is Giraffedata, aka Bryan Henderson. He’s in the top 1,000 editors of Wikipedia for the sole reason of changing what he views as the incorrect usage of “Comprised of.” Henderson thinks that instead of using “comprised of” people should use “composed of” and so he goes through millions of Wiki pages and changes each instance… one at a time. He doesn’t even use a bot or script. Which is admirable, but man… that seems like taking nitpicking grammar to an entirely new level.
1. Cajun Navy
The United States of America has a mythos surrounding its citizens’ independence and their can-do attitude. Pundits always talk about a golden age when Americans only had themselves and their community to depend on. They went out into the West and built whole towns themselves with little to no government help. Alone in the wilderness, when disaster hit they only had themselves and the community to get the job done. This attitude of coming together in times of disaster has no finer example in the modern age than the Cajun Navy.
When Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans and the surrounding region it also destroyed the local and regional government’s ability to help its citizens. Not waiting for the feds to reach them, people with small boats and local knowledge came to the rescue. Dubbed the Cajun Navy, this grassroots volunteer group used small boats and risked life and limb to pull victims out of the rising water. Now they and their boats are always on hand when disaster hits, deploying as recently as 2017 when Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston.