This is a short, easy to read, and provocative book by Craig Lambert (more info. at recommended books column at the left), that claims that our leisure time is being eaten up by doing work that used to be done for us. The reason for this is partly technology (the computer), partly because business has discovered that by off-loading work to customers it can cut its payroll (pumping our own gas), and partly because we honor work in our culture.
This book got my attention because everyone I know seems to be bemoaning the loss of leisure time, even though supposedly the information revolution is helping us by taking over increasing amounts of work, and because I have just blown away a ridiculous amount of time in first of all, going to an outrageously complex multi level password system needed to use the Stanford server (the university was badly hacked a while ago), and having my computers be encrypted (which of course required "upgrading" the operating systems, which required "upgrading" apps, etc. etc. etc. )
Lambert defines shadow work as work we do without labeling it as work, and for which we are not paid. One example is the constant mucking around we do with our computer(s), as manufacturers keep “upgrading” them to sell us even more features we don’t want (and remove some we do). I hate Apple’s new “Photos” program, a supposed improvement over IPhoto. To me it is a step backwards enshrouded in meaningless changes and crowned with the loss of useful features. Even worse, once one allows one’s computer to make the change (mandatory with OS 10-10-3 on), one can’t go back unless one has the latest version of iPhoto on the machine—apparently not known by my favorite IT person who knows everything. Dumb move by Apple. And lots of Shadow Work upcoming for me, as I am going to bail out of their photo organization software so I can organize my photos the way I want them, not how Apple thinks I should. In fact, maybe I'll bail out of Apple.
The book has many examples of this phenomenon. The replacement of travel agents by web sites, for instance. Granted one has the ability to compare endless flights, hotels, rental car deals, etc., but the time and effort spent as contrasted with letting a travel agent do this (at one time paid by airlines, hotels, etc) can be huge. Another is shopping, especially in big box stores, or even large grocery stores, in which it sometimes seems impossible to either find what one wants (especially if everything has re-arranged to be compatible with the now popular marketing technique of forcing the shopper to pass by everything in the store) or find a person to give one a helpful clue. Another is the time spent figuring out all of the non-standardized kiosks, credit card readers, and other digital “aides”, all slightly different. I just had a brand new-looking gas pump consistently refuse my credit card, and upon complaining to the one attendant, was told that I had to withdraw the card slowly. Interesting after years of being told to withdraw it rapidly.
Lambert also goes into topics such as doing one’s own taxes, legal work, and other activities formerly done by others. And the time we spend filling out medical forms, and providing information on ourselves to internet vendors so that it can be sold in the Big Data world. He agrees that many of these activities are cheaper and maybe faster than hiring professionals, and perhaps our time is less valuable than that of the doctor who wants the information, but his main point is that we do an increasing amount of “work” that used to be done for us, without realizing it, and the result is perhaps more frantic lives and less human interaction. Definitely describes me.
He also talks about the incredible time and effort spent by parents outside of the home that did not used to occur. When I went to school in the dark ages of education there were no organized kid athletics, no summer camps, no parents driving us to school or helping us with our homework (not much homework), no PTA or other volunteer groups, or parents organizing campaigns against teachers and administrators (too much homework—not enough homework). I look at my children and the time they spend chauffeuring their kids around and attending events, and I think Wow. I learned to play sports and did well in school without parent involvement, and it worked. In fact, we would have been uncomfortable if parents were hanging around our ball games and attending out school productions.
And finally, his argument again reminds the reader of the loss of paying jobs awaiting us in the future. I went through a divorce many years ago. It did not include large estates, criminal behavior, or anything that would result in a novel. In fact it was even called a routine divorce by the judge, who chided the two attorneys for making it into a war and not coming to an agreement. But they did earn money for a whole year. An example where computers could have done better, but we do have a lot of attorneys to support.
I recommend the book. It is an easy read and will make you wonder how much “Shadow Work” you are doing.