Dark optimism: young people navigating work and digital technologies

Lucas Walsh, Beatriz Gallo Cordoba, Blake Cutler

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated previous trends of increasing precarity in the labour market and mediation of digital technology in everyday life experiences of young Australians. Young people weigh the benefits of flexibility – often afforded via digital technology – with precarity of contemporary work, exhibiting what Black and Walsh (2019) conceptualise as a tempered, "dark optimism". We focus on the widespread participation in the gig economy and how it connects with broader trends in the use of digital technologies in education, finance, civic participation and young people’s perspectives about the future. Using interview and nationally representative survey data from the 2021 and 2022 Australian Youth Barometers, we show how prevalent the involvement of young Australians on the gig economy is, with over half (56%) reporting earning income from gig work in the last year. This is connected with other patterns such as micro credentialing, with 60% of young people holding, or having been enrolled in, a micro-credential, micro-degree or micro masters; and feelings of worry and anxiety and pessimism, experienced by most young people (85%). We describe these connections as a combination of scepticism and deep concern about their present with a tempered optimism about their ability to navigate these struggles into the future. This critical understanding of young people’s experiences of work supports an interconnected policy environment as opposed to a siloed approach to labour-market policy.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2023
EventYouth + Work symposium 2023: Disrupted plans, digital modalities, and undecided futures - Monash University Caulfield Campus, Melbourne, Australia
Duration: 22 Jun 202322 Jun 2023


ConferenceYouth + Work symposium 2023
Internet address


  • Youth
  • Work
  • Dark optimism
  • Gig economy
  • Gig work
  • Young people
  • Youth Barometer
  • COVID-19
  • Scepticism
  • Employment
  • Education
  • Housing
  • Finance

Cite this