In the most recent Sunday edition of the Washington Post, Ross Perlin's Intern Nation got an exceptional review from one of its own subjects, a member of the unpaid masses. Katy Waldman, an unpaid intern at Slate, describes the book as an "eye-opening" investigation into the otherwise under-studied world of internships:
Perlin is at his best when he relates internships to broader socio-economic trends. He traces the spread of interns working for nothing to the rise of the Internet's "ideology of free," which invites users to churn out unpaid content in return for exposure. Online entrepreneurs and interns speak a common language, he says, aiming for a presence, whether on a browser or in an office. The author also touches on the oft-deplored phenomenon of suspended adolescence, which he connects to internships that maroon 20-somethings in a widening gray area between dependence and self-sufficiency. (As a former "serial intern," Perlin knows well how one unpaid gig leads to another.)
In an original article for The National earlier this month, Ross Perlin discussed today's culture of internships and what the indubitable rise in internships says about modern society.
Just a few decades ago, it was virtually unknown for young people, or anyone else for that matter, to perform meaningful work for nothing. It was one thing to babysit for a relative or make dinner for a friend without seeking monetary reward—such "gift economies" are natural and commonplace the world over—but almost no one toiled in offices day in and day out without wages, waiving their right to be paid in return for a glimpse of a career, for references, contacts or a line item on their CV.
What is the difference between an intern and an apprentice? Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nation, tackles this question in the latest issue of Lapham's Quarterly, where he traces the historical lineage of "internships" from the medieval guilds to the crowded newsroom.
[Interns] are our favorite white-collar peons, often unpaid or paid a pittance, loaded with little indignities and unprotected in the workplace. Apprenticeships, on the other hand, represent a humane, professional model for training and beginning a career-the justified successor to the European tradition of craft apprenticeship, minus the cruelty, coercion, and familial arrangements, sensibly updated for the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries.
Apprenticeships, outside of the trades, have all but dried up over the last century. Gone are the co-operative relations between master and student, which once provided young people with more than a bullet-point on a resume. The trend toward grueling unpaid internships is a relatively new one, which allows "companies to save on costs and cut corners while millions of college students (and their families) scramble and sacrifice."