I’m giving two generous stars for Shadow Work: The Unpaid, Unseen Jobs That Fill Your Day because it tackles an interesting topic, that of work that used to be done by others, in particular the companies that sell us stuff, but we are now obliged (and resigned) to doing ourselves: bus our tables, book our flights, type our letters. Alas, the author never manages to define what he really means for shadow work — or rather he does, then proceeds to joyously drift outside of the definition he designed himself. There is a very big gap, I think, between work we do “for the master,” as he says, and arranging a play date for a child, which is simply a choice we have made as a society not to let kids roam free — nothing shadowy about that.
So the book is messy. And the author’s repeated lament is that all these self-service options represent a loss of humanity. Perhaps, but how much humanity was there, really, in having to rush to the bank before 3pm? If customers are choosing the ATM over real tellers, perhaps there is not much humanity dispensed by the tellers, right? I would have liked to read a more detailed analysis of when we choose to perform certain tasks because it’s faster, cheaper, or more convenient to do so, versus when corporations force us to do it. And while jobs are undoubtedly disappearing through automation, it may be a good thing, sometimes, to remove the so-called specialists and allow consumers to access previously expensive and therefore inaccessible goods directly? Again, I would have liked to read an analysis of the pros and cons, rather than a simple pining away for those jobs in the typewriting pool….