Shadow work — book review

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What are the works that we do unknown to ourselves?

How do corporations push their work to the consumers and still charge for the entire service?

How do consumers, in the guise of becoming tech-savvy, become willing pawns in the corporations’ hands and spend their most valuable asset — Time — in enriching the corporations, with no benefit to themselves?

These and many items like these are covered in the book ‘Shadow Work’ by Craig Lambert

Take the case of the numerous user ids and passwords that we have to figure out on a daily basis. Why should we, the consumers of services, have to pay by way of our time and effort, for authenticating ourselves across multiple applications, while the need to authenticate the consumer is on the corporation? Unknown to ourselves, we the consumers, are becoming the shadow workers of corporations.

Take the case of self-service petrol stations or salad fixing stations in eateries. Why should the consumer do the job of a petrol pump attendant or an eatery worker? Not only many jobs are lost but also consumers work for the corporations, for free.

When postmen delivered mails, we got mails that we needed to get. We never got junk mails or spams. But with the advent of emails, we are the recipients of more spam mails that proper ones. And the work of sifting through hundreds of spam emails is on us, consumers. This is shadow-work.

Call any bank and you have to wait for some time to ‘familiarize’ yourself with their ‘changed menu options’. Why should a customer have to spend time to wait on a call to learn about some key punching sequences that have changed?

Take Facebook. The content that users write is in turn used by Facebook to target advertisements and earn for themselves. In terms of content generation, Facebook doesn’t invest at all. It uses consumer’s time, effort and intellect for free, while earning advertisement revenue for itself and its shareholders.

Every tech company has an online forum where users answer one another’s queries, removing the burden on the company to provide support and service to a large extent. If this would not have been the case, the company would have had to hire more support staff. With consumers acting as shadow workers, the companies stand to gain by ‘out-sourcing’ their support work for free.

The rapid automation of services — check deposit, teller transactions et al — has also resulted in lesser human interaction and increased human isolation. While man is supposed to be a social animal, the proliferation of technology and such shadow works have ensured that man is isolated from his society, with each catering to his own needs with no need to interact with fellow humans.

The book is well written, an eye-opener in many cases, and a great read.

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