Automation was always supposed to take care of the tedious jobs, so we could enjoy more leisure time. In reality, it’s taken paid work away from humans, while also increasing their burden of shadow work, by transferring tasks from employees to consumers.
These days, we serve not only as our own supermarket clerks, but our own travel agents and airport check-in staff, our own secretaries and petrol station attendants, and our own providers of journalism and entertainment, insofar as we spend hours creating content for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. (Near me, there’s even a “self-service dog wash”, though I always think that’s asking a lot of a dog.)
There can be benefits to shadow work – saved time, increased autonomy – but as Lambert points out, one huge downside is that it’s socially isolating. That’s obvious in the case of the elderly person who’d struggle to book a trip online or collect train tickets from a touchscreen machine but it affects us all: every exchange between a shopper and a checkout worker, a bank teller and a bank customer, “help[s] glue a neighbourhood, or a town, together”.Why do we feel so busy? It’s all our hidden ‘shadow work’