Shadow Work

The Unpaid, Unseen Jobs That Fill Your Day

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Book Description

With the exception of sleep, humans spend more of their lifetimes on work than any other activity. It is central to our economy, society, and the family. It underpins our finances and our sense of meaning in life. Given the overriding importance of work, we need to recognize a profound transformation in the nature of work that is significantly altering lives: the incoming tidal wave of shadow work.

Shadow work includes all the unpaid tasks we do on behalf of businesses and organizations. It has slipped into our routines stealthily; most of us do not realize how much of it we are already doing, even as we pump our own gas, scan and bag our own groceries, execute our own stock trades, and build our own unassembled furniture. But its presence is unmistakable, and its effects far–reaching.

Fueled by the twin forces of technology and skyrocketing personnel costs, shadow work has taken a foothold in our society. Lambert terms its prevalence as “middle–class serfdom,” and examines its sources in the invasion of robotics, the democratization of expertise, and new demands on individuals at all levels of society. The end result? A more personalized form of consumption, a great social leveling (pedigrees don’t help with shadow work!), and the weakening of communities as robotics reduce daily human interaction.

Shadow Work offers a field guide to this new phenomenon. It shines a light on these trends now so prevalent in our daily lives and, more importantly, offers valuable insight into how to counter their effects. It will be essential reading to anyone seeking to understand how their day got so full—and how to deal with the ubiquitous shadow work that surrounds them.

About the Author

Praise For This Book

Praise for Shadow Work

"evocative ... his genius is in bringing together so many contemporary pet peeves ... a valuable guide to contemporary culture"—MacLeans Magazine

"Lambert's straightforward, lucid writing illuminates the many obvious — but often glossed over — aspects of daily life in which shadow work is intruding....the historical context throws our current climate into sharper relief."—The Boston Globe

". . .[Lambert] explores all the ways corporations and new technologies fiendishly generate new tasks for us—each of them seemingly insignificant but amounting to many hours of annoyance."—The New York Times Book Review

". . .he is right about the enervating cumulative effect of all the instances where personal service has been replaced with self–service. Being able to do one or two things for yourself can feel liberating; having to do everything can make you feel like a slave to the machine."—The Economist

"You doubtless feel too busy to read yet more about why we all feel so busy, but here's a short book to put on your long to–do list. Even if you have time only to skim it, you'll see your lack of leisure in a fresh light....[B]efore you can hope to rebalance your time, you'd better first understand how you actually spend it."—The Atlantic

". . .he gives so many outstanding examples from all facets of life that, as you read through each of the chapters, you will have enough data to notice exactly how you are spending your time and whether you would choose to keep spending it that way or to do something else.
Overall, I feel that 'Shadow Work' is a fantastic book for those who feel time slipping away and want to get the best use of the time they have."—Small Business Trends

"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."—The Improper Bostonian

"Lambert's guide to this phenomenon explains how the modern American's day has gotten so full, offering some unique insights into the ubiquitous tasks that lengthen the work day and creep into downtime."—Library Journal

"An appealingly different view of employment based on what people actually do and not just statistics."—Kirkus

"By exposing this phenomenon, Lambert may help readers become more aware of their choices and opportunities. His observations are both illuminating and disturbing, and well worth considering."—Publisher's Weekly

"An insightful and original book that lit up areas of daily life I'd never looked at before. Lambert does a brilliant service by explaining where our vanished, old–fashioned free time went, and why." —Ian Frazier, author of Travels in Siberia

"Increasingly, time is our scarcest resource. Craig Lambert's important book will change how you think about your days. Shadow work is a new and vitally important concept for understanding the new economy. Lambert's arguments need to be carefully considered by all who ponder our economic future." —Lawrence H. Summers, Former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Professor and President Emeritus, Harvard University.

"With precision, wit, and erudition, Craig Lambert identifies the invisible drains on our leisure time—and on our mental and emotional freedoms. None of us signed up for all of this pro bono overtime for corporations. How can we quit? This book shows the problem's economic and social causes—and even better, suggests an escape route." —Virginia Heffernan, author, Magic and Loss: The Pleasures of the Internet

"Without any debate or conscious choice, during the last couple of decades technology has radically changed the premises and nature of everyday life and work. We may know this, more or less, but reading Shadow Work still triggers multiple "D'oh!" moments. Craig Lambert lucidly, thoughtfully, and provocatively connects the dots of this profound, pervasive, and unfinished social and economic transformation." —Kurt Andersen, author of True Believers and host, Studio 360

"Who knows what larceny lurks in the heart of our economy? Lambert knows." —Roy Blount Jr., author of Alphabet Juice

"Where have all the sales clerks/bank tellers/travel agents gone? Long time passing, along with the secretaries, waitstaff, ticket agents, and so many more. Those jobs still exist, but now you, the so–called customer, are doing them—without pay, of course, and on your own time. As Craig Lambert shows in this mordant, mischievous book, our no–service gig economy gives new meaning to the phrase "free market." —Hendrik Hertzberg, Staff writer, The New Yorker

"Think you know how you spend your days? Think again. Shadow Work is a visionary book that will change the way you look at—well, just about everything." —Andy Borowitz,The New Yorker

"I've been enjoying Craig Lambert's work for decades in Harvard Magazine. He can make any topic clear, readable, and fascinating. And here he's got a great story: the excess "shadow work" we've all taken on in the modern age. From the first page, he'll have you looking at your life, and the world, in a whole new way." —Mike Reiss, Emmy–winning writer, The Simpsons

"Shadow work is all the things we do—from assembling our own furniture to booking our own travel—that has become the new normal. And like everything that becomes the new normal, it is invisible. Lambert's ambition is substantial: to make that invisible visible. His hope is that once we see where we are, we can make some choices about where we want to go. A deft writer; a compelling case." —Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology, MIT, and the author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other

"Craig Lambert combines his gifts as sociologist and detective to solve that perennial mystery: where has all our time gone? In Shadow Work he reveals how we unwittingly perform labors that companies used to do, but have offloaded onto us. Reading Shadow Work will be full of A–ha! moments for readers. It's delightful, surprising, witty, and smart." —Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence

"Shadow Work is an eye–opening expose of the countless subtle ways in which corporations and other large organizations are conscripting all of us to donate our invaluable time and labor to advance their economic and other goals, without our consent and often even without our awareness. By bringing this serious problem out of the shadows, this important book makes an essential contribution toward countering it." —Nadine Strossen, John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law, New York Law School and former President of the ACLU

"This book will revolutionize the way you look at how you spend your time—doing countless hours of unpaid work for The Man. Like Malcolm Gladwell, Craig Lambert brilliantly reveals the hidden currents of contemporary life." —Daniel Klein, co–author, Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes

Praise for Craig Lambert

"Craig Lambert captures the essence of rowing as a metaphor for life. Each stroke into ever–changing waters is part of a voyage seeking unity, harmony, and balance." —Deepak Chopra

"Mind Over Water is entertaining, wry, and wise. Craig Lambert does for the Charles River what Thoreau did for Walden Pond. Read this book not just for the fascinating insider's view of the art of rowing, but for what it says about the art of living." —Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence

"Lambert has finished the course well in Mind Over Water, which has the same attributes as the rowing he adores: precision, grace, and total immersion." —Boston Globe

"A thoughtful, lovingly drawn meditation." —The New York Times

"There appear to be three ways to row 2000 meters: on a river, which can be wet, cold, and very hard work; on an erg, which is just very hard work; or by gliding effortlessly through the pages of this perfect little book." —Andrew Tobias, author of The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need

"..this meditation on the art of rowing is oar–stroke precise. Its themes are distilled into tight, poetic summations; its autobiographical elements (including the portrait of Boston's Charles River rowing community) prove engaging; its feels–like–you're–there descriptions have an appealing immediacy; and the author's passion for rowing is conveyed convincingly." —Booklist