Do you remember when gas stations had attendants to pump your gas (assuming you don't live in New Jersey or Oregon)? How about the time before ATMs when you had to go inside the bank and wait in line to see a teller?
Has your grocery store or local pharmacy put in self-checkout machines? Do you print out your airplane boarding pass online? Did you throw away your own trash the last time you went to the coffee shop?
If you've pumped your own gas, used an ATM, gone through self-checkout, printed your own boarding pass or cleaned up your own table, then you're performing "shadow work." Sounds ominous, doesn't it?
Shadow work is a new concept gaining traction in economic circles, and it basically means that companies are shifting work from their employees to you, the customer. That's a potential problem for a number of reasons.
The biggest problem is that if you're doing the work, businesses need to hire fewer employees. Those positions I mentioned above are traditionally the entry-level positions, which usually go to younger workers or workers without experience. If those workers can't find a job to get experience, they're stuck.
On the other end, you're stuck doing "work" everywhere you go, and paying for the privilege. As machines get smarter and replace more positions, you could find yourself doing more and more work.
The only party benefiting from shadow work is businesses. They get to buy a machine once and save on salary and benefits for years to come.
If that leads to lower prices for you, then that would be a benefit, but I'm not sure that's happening. Actually, no one is sure yet of the full impact that shadow work has on our economy. It's such a new concept, that no one has done any serious number crunching. I'll be interested to see what comes out of it when someone does.
Do you think shadow work is a problem, or just the price of living in a high-tech society? Let me know in the comments.