Shadow Work

Shadow Work

When you answer a series of menus and get left hanging for an hour or two to speak to someone at, say, the bank you are working. The bank could have had people ready at each branch of the journey to deal quickly with your question. But that would have cost them money. Why should they spend hard-earned cash when they can have you sitting on the other end of the line costing nothing? And even have you listening to their self-promoting advertisements at the same time. Their ‘economy drive’ is working. They are making you pay for their time. This trick has now been dubbed Shadow Work – presumably because when you have suffered it you emerge as a shadow of your former self.

A queue of people is Shadow Work, too. Instead of the suppliers, airlines, chemists – or whatever you are waiting for – having the resources to serve you promptly, they offload the time cost of service from themselves (the server) to you (the served). Some queues and some waiting times are inevitable. You cannot expect a taxi to sit by your front door in case you may require it ‘sometime’. Booking doctors and expecting them to be on time is a foolish hope. People do not get sick to order. There is give and take in all relationships. Where there is a reasonable predictability of a workload and its timing you should not be obliged to spend your life, which is just as valuable as anyone else’s, on Shadow Work.

One of the causes of Shadow Work is specialisation. The old bank clerk who knew it all has given way to the specialist in, say, ‘attempted malware injection as a result of faulty card function at the type 2X ATMs’. For each of these there are hundreds of other specialisations. Arguing with a bank robot the other day (I still have much to learn) I tried to explain a slightly complex situation. The robot very robustly told me to restrict my answer. So I replied “one”. I’m not sure what the question was but the robot almost whooped with joy at my response. When you think about it, ‘one’ is a very good answer to almost anything.

Unfortunately, ‘one’ will not satisfy every robotic question – but then, nor will any of the answers you can, in all honesty, give. The life of each individual is different. We celebrate the fact and call it ‘diversity’. You can almost go to prison for not lauding it. I rejoice in the tremendous range of people we come across. Each has something valuable to teach me. Every single one is a valuable jewel on the planet. So why do we try to shuffle them into conformity? They are not the cement blocks of an inanimate building, they are Personalities with Abilities, Skills, Dreams, Ambitions and Qualifications.

In the business of ‘processing humanity’ we isolate them. Watch the table next to you when you are in a restaurant. Six people, perhaps, all devoted to their mobile computers, apparently desperate to talk to anyone other than the people sitting with them. All of them missing the opportunity to engage with another fascinating human being. People describe it as ‘lost for words’. They certainly aren’t that. They are lost for questions. Distancing themselves from the physical presence around them they can creep off into their own universe. Or, as they have now named it, metaverse. 

If we face the question ‘what is life for?’ we may find that our priority of money is not the best answer. If we ask the question ‘what do I want for my life?’ we may discover our true aspirations. If we seek joy for other people we will likely find it for ourselves.

A ridiculous idea? The only problem about that is that it actually works.

Better than Shadow Work, anyway.

Good morning

John Bittleston 

How would you solve the advent of Shadow Work? Do please tell us, we are genuine seekers. 

3 February 2023