Thursday, November 17, 2011

Shadow Work


Well, that was a new one on me yesterday as I drove into St. John's with the CBC Q programme playing. Funny how we can accept things without thinking. We have a vague feeling something is wrong but it takes a guy like Craig Lambert, Harvard magazine editor to highlight it - riffing off on how we, the customer stooges, have taken on unpaid work since self serve gas pumps came into being. Shadow work he called it.

Even the term self service has been coined to evade the more realistic terminology:

Self service = no service.


Think about it: we are now our own bank tellers, gas pump attendants, checkout cashiers at the automated checkouts and our own travel agents.

Unpaid work. A sneakily implemented transference of labour from paid to unpaid.

He went on to talk about the number of hours we give away in deleting the spam in our inboxes every day. Not the sale pitch spam but the outright fraudulent ones from sorrowful widows in Africa offering us 2 million to use our faxes and bank accounts. Even two minutes a day would add up to 9 hours over a year and would be incalculable over a lifetime.

My daughter brought up a good point in talking with her about this on the phone today. The countless hours we spend searching for products which we are willing to buy with our hard earned cash in big box stores. I admit to wearying of this from time to time and spending more money in small shops (now few and far between) to receive personal service.

And hunting for pricing on something. Can I find an assistant? Or reach nine foot high shelves with ne'er a clerk in sight. I admit to taking a tongs off a shelf one time, unwrapping it, and reaching high for a casserole dish, in absolute frustration and with a dinner party that night staring me in the face.

Unpaid labour.

Meanwhile, most days we smell of gasoline after filling up somewhere, get frustrated at the out of service ATMs when we can't access our VERY OWN money from our VERY OWN bank accounts, and humbly lug our huge (often wobbly) shopping carts across the tarmac, offload them and THEN willingly take them back to the herding area. I remember bag boys who did all of this.

To add up all of this labour would frighten us, I'm sure.

And we know who's laughing all the way to the bank ATM, right?

22 comments:

  1. You do have a point, WWW. I haven't been inside my friendly bank for ages. As a matter of fact, they have moved and I wouldn't know where they are located. But I do think of the convenience of Internet banking and the instant power I have over my own money. We don't deal with checks here either, so that's nice. We don't have to wait for them to clear. All in all I think it's an improvement.

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  2. even worse than that - you have to actually PAY to use internet banking in Canada. Imagine paying extra to do the work yourself - the mind boggles...

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  3. Love this post! We have become so desensitized to being economically abused.

    For all the good it does me, I've told the manager at the supermarket repeatedly that I won't use the self-serve checkout until the store gives me a discount to do so.

    Oh, and this story made me laugh: WalMart is phasing out their self-serve checkouts because they are losing money on pilfered goods not making it from the shopping card to the check out barcode reader.

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  4. The corporates are very adept at saving themselves loads of cash at our expense, usually in small ways that are hardly noticed by the individual but add up to millions on a national, or international, scale.
    One of my pet peeves is Nestles' bottled water which suddenly appeared in wafer-thin plastic bottles with minute screw tops that won't open without spillage, and would be impossible for an elderly or arthritic person to use.
    The reason given was 'environmental'; the truth was more like a couple of cents saving on the cost of producing every bottle. 50 billion bottles of water are sold annually in the US alone (200 billion worldwide) - the saving runs into millions of dollars. Did the consumer see any benefit? No, shortly after the new bottles were introduced, the price of a twenty-four bottle case went up !
    This is just one example of many consumer fleecings insidiously injected into the marketplace by the corporates. The 'environment' issue has been a cash-cow for many of them.

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  5. Better where you are Nora, obviously. Here I have to take cheques for my business and deposit them in the ATM. But what about the rest of the issues?
    XO
    WWW

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  6. Conor:
    Where have you been? I've missed you! Yes the fees are exhorbitant. I don't have any due to my senior status but paid through the nose for years and years.
    XO
    WWW

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  7. Sharon:
    Oh anything that inconveniences Mallwart makes me a very happy woman indeed!
    XO
    WWW

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  8. RJA:
    I hope you're not buying this poisonous stuff which comes straight from the taps of some unfortunate towns and does not test very well at all.
    Nestle are a blight on the landscape.
    I do hope you have a good well (as I do) on your lovely property!
    XO
    WWW

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  9. We've never had bag boys in the supermarket and always had to bag our own groceries in the shopping bags that we brought from home. As to self service at the pumps, we are obedient citizens and probably think this is best for us. We think we aren't somehow being taken advantage of probably. We don't expect anyone to be nice to us the way North Americans do. XOX

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  10. You haven't mentioned how we're being persuaded to use our own resources. We access online services with our own computers, with our own electricity, and then print stuff out on our own printers and on our own paper. Must save a lot of money for the companies concerned.

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  11. This is a point I hadn't really considered - but yes, I agree!
    The original idea of self-service, I think, was said to be to keep costs down to the buyer, not make extra profits for the seller. Another bit of clever brainwash that has been going on for decades.

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  12. Nora:
    I don't think it is a question of being "nice" but of increased profits.
    XO
    WWW

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  13. Nick:
    Excellent point and there are probably others also that I've missed.
    XO
    WWW

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  14. T:
    It would be fine if we had other options, I still get distressed when I see an 85 year old try and pump gas, etc. The only pockets being lined are our overseers'.
    XO
    WWW

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  15. Good entry.
    How about the way we pay places like Costco to allow us to spend our money at their stores? Or buy those Direct-Buy memberships so we can spend our money at *their* stores? Or the way we pay for cable or satellite TV so we can sit through all the friggin' advertising that is done so that we can spend money at *those* stores?
    Oh it sucks, bigtime. I won't pay Costco for the "privilege" and I won't pay Direct Buy either, but I still haven't quite given up the satellite TV. Only because there is a TV addict in the house. Otherwise, screw them and the commercials they rode in on.
    I still live near a small town where the grocery bagger not only packs my groceries but pushes the cart to my vehicle, loads them in, and takes the cart back into the store. Love it.
    The service stations in town all have someone come out and pump your gas, too.
    Obviously I need to start appreciating these businesses for providing service that is apparently in short supply these days.

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  16. I'll remember this and leave my grocery carts all over the parking lot so the kids working there don't lose their jobs! I was nicely bringing them back or lining them up in the corrals. And you're right, the bank should pay me for downloading and printing out my bank statements instead of making them do it.

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  17. I live in India, where the self service culture has indeed come in in the form of large retail shops, but has not yet percolated to the gas service stations. I personally do not visit the big retailers and prefer to phone in for my groceries from the local small grocer who delivers at home. I however find the ATM a great blessing, rather than the old system of obtaining a token and waiting for the teller to call you to collect the cash.

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  18. I live in New Jersey - one of two states where you are forbidden by law to pump your own gas. I've pumped my own gas all over, and I prefer not doing it. I refuse to use self service check-outs at the supermarket. I used to bag my own groceries. Now I let a clerk do the work. Small ways to protest, but still...I read the same article, and it's spot on. The entire (world)culture has shited. "Customer service" is now an oxymoron.However, the ATM is the greatest invention of the twentieth century; I've had too many bad experiences with tellers.

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  19. SJG:
    Well, I don't have TV but I really resent sitting like an idiot in my movie seat being assaulted by 30 minutes (I've timed 'em) of ads and previews and and.
    AND when I buy a DVD it is loaded with previews.
    And not to mention free billboards on our sneakers, et al.
    XO
    WWW

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  20. Sharyn:
    One of my "sins" is never, ever returning my dishes or cups in a no service restaurant.
    XO
    WWW

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  21. Ramana:
    Oh don't get me wrong I do love internet banking and ATMS. And I truly envy you calling in your groceries! I had such a service in TO where I could order on line and delivery next day.
    XO
    WWW

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  22. Marc:
    I've always felt the gas pumps are the most lethal of all "no service" situations. I mean a quick flick with a lit match, etc. NJ banning them is excellent.
    XO
    WWW

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