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Shadow Work

01 Feb 2019 << back to list

About 40 years ago the first desktop computers were starting to emerge. I remember we had one at school. They were seen as the new dawn. We were promised they would do all the laborious work for us, freeing us up to enjoy more leisure time. We would be able to pursue all sorts of interesting hobbies, sports and fitness, and we would be able to spend more time with friends and helping our communities.

This has not happened. We do more work, most of it through the computer. We spend many hours staring at a screen. We are transfixed by seeing what others are doing via their social media accounts, and we do less physical exercise and have less face-to-face human interaction.

So, what went wrong?

As described in Daniel Levitin’s book, The Organized Mind, instead of having more time, most of us have less. ‘Companies large and small have offloaded work on to the backs of consumers. Things that used to be done for us as part of the service, we are now expected to do ourselves. With air travel we are now expected to complete our own reservations and check-in, jobs that used to be done by the airline agents or travel agents. At the grocery shop we are expected to bag our own groceries, and in some supermarkets scan our own purchases. We fill our own cars at petrol stations. Telephone operators used to look up phone numbers for us, and some companies no longer send out bills. We’re expected to access our account via the website, retrieve our bill and initiate an electronic payment. In effect we are doing their work for them.

Collectively this is known as shadow work and represents a parallel, shadow economy in which a lot of the service we expect from companies has been transferred to the customer. Each of us is doing the work of others and not getting paid for it and it is responsible for taking a great deal of the leisure time we were promised in the 21st Century’.

Most of us shop online for anything from clothes to food to birthday cards and holidays. We do not have to traipse in to town, we can do it at our convenience, and for those of us with anxiety, it removes the stress of mixing with crowds. However, we are now bypassing the advice of a sales agent who has extensive knowledge built from weeks or years of experience and training in their chosen sphere. We must do our own research on review websites with questionable data, or maybe we rely on advice from the TV, newspapers, our friends, our brother-in-law, the taxi driver who dropped us at the airport, or some guy we met in the pub. Some of these sources may be reliable, but some may not.

Trying to filter all this information to make an accurate decision is very difficult. With so many different sources of information we do not know who we can trust, and we suffer from information overload. Our brain is built to focus on one thing at a time and its efficiency drops dramatically when we have so many distractions or information sources, and this makes for poor decision making.

In another quote from ‘The Organized Mind’, this was encapsulated by Stanford cognitive psychologist Amos Tversky in “The Volvo Story”. A colleague was shopping for a new car and had done a great deal of research. Consumer reports showed through independent tests that Volvos were among the best built and most reliable in their class. Customer satisfaction surveys showed that Volvo owners were far happier with their purchase after several years. The surveys were based on tens of thousands of customers. The sheer number of people polled meant that any anomaly – like a specific vehicle that was particularly good or particularly bad – would be drowned out by all the other reports. In other words a survey such as this has statistical and scientific legitimacy and should be weighted accordingly when making a decision.

Amos ran in to his colleague at a party and he asked him how his car purchase was going. The colleague had decided against the Volvo and bought a different, lower rated car. Amos asked him what made him change his mind? Was it the price, the colour options, the styling? No, it was none of these options his colleague said. Instead, the colleague said, he had found out that his brother-in-law owned a Volvo and it was always in the garage.

 From a strictly logical point of view his colleague was being irrational. His brother-in-law’s single experience was swamped by the thousands of good experiences.  But we are social creatures and we are easily swayed by first person stories and vivid accounts of a single experience. Although this is statistically wrong, and we should learn to overcome this bias, most of us don’t. Advertisers know this, and that is why we see so many first-person testimonials advertisements on TV. “I lost twenty pounds in two weeks eating this yoghurt, and it was delicious too”, or even “I should have gone to ……….”.

It is the Shadow Work that is killing High Streets up and down the UK. Instead of asking the advice of a trained and experienced advisor we are taking responsibility and relying on a variety of sources to make our decisions, and many of these sources have questionable motives. These poor decisions have consequences. An article in The Times on the 7th January stated that a quarter of the online purchases made between November 29th and Boxing Day will be returned. Clothes bought online are far more likely to be returned than those tried on and bought in shops. These returned items need to be cleaned and repackaged at enormous cost to the retailer, to say nothing of the environmental impact. 

Independent Optical Practices all over the country employ knowledgeable staff to offer advice to their clients based on their experience of hundreds of transactions. They rely on their reputation to survive with minimal marketing, and this means giving good, solid advice. In Christopher Young Opticians we have created a safe, comfortable environment, free from sales pressure. We can offer a private space where our clients can choose their eyewear in privacy with professional advice and guidance. We offer complimentary organic freshly ground coffee with lactofree milk, or a cup of tea or even an herbal infusion to make the experience enjoyable and relaxing. Worried about choosing the wrong glasses? We have a 60 day ‘Love Your Eyewear’ Comfort guarantee and we also offer interest free credit to make the eyewear more affordable.  Study the online reviews on Google (we have over 80 five-star reviews) and filter that against what the taxi driver says. Overcome the social bias and trust what most of our clients say.

Christopher Young Opticians – the antidote to the internet.

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Christopher Young Opticians
46 High Street,
Shepton Mallet,
Somerset BA4 5AS

T:01749 345259
F: 01749 345074
smile@cyoungopticians.co.uk

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