Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"Are You a Shadow Worker?"

Up to the time I was 17 there were ushers at movies. And you could smoke in the lobbies. The first job I ever had I was a porter at a bowling alley, which was sort of a general purpose job - getting things for people, like drinks, and setting pins. I pumped gas, too.

I didn't mind any of those jobs. And they've gone away because of our crushing taxes.

These days, just about everything you do is for the government. Fortunately these days I can do my taxes online, but when I did them on paper it took three or four hours and I always had a headache.

By the way, you could smoke in fast-food places. I also remember the guy in the milk truck delivering fresh milk in a glass bottle to us every morning.

In some ways we are indentured servants. Sure we can withdraw but what? Where to go?

I once read an article years about about homeless men - many said they just wanted to be free and to be left alone.

One of the smartest writers I ever encountered was Eric Hoffer, who during the Depression traveled the country going from harvest to harvest picking crops. It's all he wanted do, since it let him free to think and write. As far as I know he never had a job. He spent his money on what he described as "brothels," which is a word never used anymore.

Because of automation and other things (the destruction of marriage) it appears society is going to be split into two classes - the highly-paid who serve the Machines and the poorly-paid who don't. But I'm starting to believe the poorly-paid, who might choose to work just enough to support themselves, might be more free than the highly-paid and their 60 hours a week.

As for treehouses, I built several as a kid and used to go up there and just sit and look out the window and observe things.

This article is from Dr. Helen and was written by her.


I am convinced I am after reading Craig Lambert’s new book Shadow Work: The Unpaid, Unseen Jobs That Fill Your Day The book makes the compelling argument that we are all doing unpaid work for businesses and organizations. I will add in that we also do a lot of work for the government (didn’t many of us just fill out our own tax returns and hire accountants?) but that is another long blog post for another day. Anyway, here is the the gist of the book:

With the exception of sleep, humans spend more of their lifetimes on work than any other activity. It is central to our economy, society, and the family. It underpins our finances and our sense of meaning in life. Given the overriding importance of work, we need to recognize a profound transformation in the nature of work that is significantly altering lives: the incoming tidal wave of shadow work.

Shadow work includes all the unpaid tasks we do on behalf of businesses and organizations. It has slipped into our routines stealthily; most of us do not realize how much of it we are already doing, even as we pump our own gas, scan and bag our own groceries, execute our own stock trades, and build our own unassembled furniture. But its presence is unmistakable, and its effects far-reaching.

Fueled by the twin forces of technology and skyrocketing personnel costs, shadow work has taken a foothold in our society. Lambert terms its prevalence as “middle-class serfdom,” and examines its sources in the invasion of robotics, the democratization of expertise, and new demands on individuals at all levels of society. The end result? A more personalized form of consumption, a great social leveling (pedigrees don’t help with shadow work!), and the weakening of communities as robotics reduce daily human interaction.

I often think of all the activities I do that consume so much of my time in “shadow work.” I needed to contact my bank but no one answered the customer service line so I got online and waited three days until someone replied. I recently went to Whole Foods where I picked up my own lunch off a salad bar, and went to the gas station to pump my own gas. We have no gas station attendants anywhere in our town. I spend part of my days deleting spam emails from companies wanting sales and then the other part deleting voice mails from telemarketers. It is eating up a good part of my day.

As the author points out: “In the 1950s, tasks like pumping gas, typing letters, researching products, checking out groceries, composing salads, disposing of cans and bottles, handling bank deposits, and driving the kids to school were handled by pump jockeys, secretaries, salespeople, cashiers, waitresses, garbage men, tellers, and bus drivers. Today, you have inherited these jobs. They have become shadow work.”

Are you a shadow worker? What tasks do you do daily that eat up your time and are annoying? Which are beneficial?

6 comments:

sth_txs said...

Ahh, but Bob, people love their slave status. I've pointed out to others over the years how government f's you thousands of ways but they still cling to the belief that government protects them.

I could believe there are some homeless who choose to be that way because working for an honest living is a losing proposition whether you are blue collar or white collar or whatever else it may be.

Mindstorm said...

You could always 'outsource' anything repetitive and cognitively undemanding to someone else. There is a possibility of that person messing it up and of course that would be not for free, though.

I don't see the point of this post.

Rusty Shackleford said...

"I once read an article years about about homeless men - many said they just wanted to be free and to be left alone.

One of the smartest writers I ever encountered was Eric Hoffer, who during the Depression traveled the country going from harvest to harvest picking crops. It's all he wanted do, since it let him free to think and write. As far as I know he never had a job. He spent his money on what he described as "brothels," which is a word never used anymore. "

Underground cartoonist/street hawker Ace Backwards made self sufficiency a big theme in his homeless survival book. If you're a good kid and you grow up believing every thing the schools want you to believe, you'd probably think life ends if you don't have a college degree and work a 9-5. I've always taken a lot of consolation in the fact that human life can continue unabated and very happily even below the lowest economic rungs.

Bob Wallace said...

We spend so much time working for the government (look how high taxes are) that there are no kids able for those easy jobs that we available when I was a kid. Usher in a movie theater? They don't exist anymore. Pump your gas? Not for decades (I actually enjoyed that job).

Black Poison Soul said...

In NZ we still do have some things like ushers in a movie theatre.

Kids pumping gas - no. Partly because theft became quite high. (At least, that's the excuse.) It's easier and cheaper for the business to make people pump their own gas.

Thought-provoking.

Eddie-in-Mexico said...

I lived in Mexico from 2002 to 2013, on the Gulf Coast. Guys pumped gas, kids bagged groceries; we had a laundry-girl and a housekeeper - sister-in-law had a cook (her husband was a senior exec in communications). Woulda' been a great middle-class lifestyle if I could only have gotten used to Noblesse Oblige and the Cartels.