Log on, Clock in

A former Harvard Mag scribe looks at our hidden second shifts.

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Shadow Work by Craig Lambert

Published by Counterpoint, 304 pages, $26

Your nine-to-five job—the one with the paycheck attached—is but a sliver of the work you actually do, says Craig Lambert, a former writer and editor at Harvard Magazine. Here, he susses out the metastasizing situations in which we perform unpaid work for businesses. Take self-service checkouts at grocery stores, food-dispensing kiosks and sterile ATM machines that have replaced paid jobs behind the counter. More human, but still time-consuming, are the Little Leagues and other youth sports teams organized by parent volunteers—worthwhile, but comodifying what was once kids’ joyous back-lot play and pleasure.

Lambert finds lots of shadow work online. Businesses increasingly rely on user-generated content,
and while you surf on Facebook, the company makes your “likes” available to hungry commercial entities. Proliferating medical, legal and travel information makes us all “mini-professionals,” lessening actual professionals’ power—sometimes good for us, though not always, and it’s always time-consuming. And as “meeting” online replaces face-to-face connecting, with both pluses and minuses, dating sites double as data mines. With wry wit and interesting tales of this tectonic (or should we say techtonic) shift, Lambert laments the loss of human connection this screen-gazing entails—the time wasted, the expertise compromised and the money unearned by both shadow workers and would-be employees.

From page 182: The ceaseless marketplace also puts a certain psychological dynamic in play. Where there is a chance to buy, sell, trade, research, review or otherwise connect with the marketplace, that possibility preys on your mind. Maybe you are not transacting, but part of your brain knows that you could be.

 


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