Self-Service: A Sign 'The Robots Have Won?'

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When was the last time that you bagged your own groceries, cleaned your own dishes or pumped your own gas? Chances are, it hasn't been long.

But Craig Lambert wants us to think twice about why we spend so much of our time doing unpaid menial tasks.

He writes in the New York Times that as machines replace low-level workers at places such as gas stations, we're taking on an increasingly heavy burden of so-called "shadow work." Lambert says it's a sign that "the robots have won."

Lambert told Here & Now's Sacha Pfeiffer that as machines make some jobs obsolete, we're actually forced to take on more ourselves.

"We thought that robots and technology was [sic] going to free us of menial things, but ironically quite often technology actually gives us more trivial or menial tasks and actually throws these things back on our laps," he said.

Lambert says that not only are we more fatigued because of the extra shadow work, but we're also interacting less with each other.

"Doing things for one another is, in fact, an essential characteristic of a human community. Various mundane jobs were once spread around among us, and performing such small services for one another was even an aspect of civility. Those days are over. The robots are in charge now, pushing a thousand routine tasks onto each of our backs," he wrote.


  • Craig Lambert is deputy editor of Harvard Magazine

This segment aired on November 28, 2011.


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