Is Anyone Else's Life as Stupidly Complicated by Digital "Shadow Work" as Mine Is?

We seem to have entered a world of anti-leisure and anti-productivity in which the unpaid “shadow work” demanded to keep all the complicated digital bits in motion obliterate our leisure and productivity.

Is your life as stupidly complicated as mine is? Of course it is unless you’ve withdrawn from all engagement with the digital realm and all devices containing digital components.

To rephrase the question: is anyone else a boiled frog like I am? Yes, a frog slowly boiled by the steadily increasing burdens of the “shadow work” required to maintain a life that has become, without us noticing, dependent on constant unpaid effort to keep all the stuff we now depend on functioning. The Heritage of the South Early, Jubal A. Buy New $9.99 (as of 04:13 UTC - Details)

There are illusions galore in this mimicry of technological “empowerment:” the illusion that we “own” all the stuff that becomes a brick once a digital component fails or we fail to accept the new terms of service. The illusion that all these services and devices “free us” to enjoy more leisure. The illusion that performing all the unpaid shadow work needed to keep all the complicated stuff functioning is “worth it” rather than a form of digital servitude. The illusion that we have a “choice,” an illusion that’s broken once we “choose” to opt out of the shadow work and everything ceases to function.

Parody abounds in the digital realm. Pathetically wretched services and products are touted as “Progress” with a capital P. “Consumer choice” when your smart phone screen dies is reduced to buying a replacement phone from one of the phone quasi-monopolies. Do you really want to endure learning a new system, or would you rather bite the bullet and stick with the same monopoly so you don’t have to spend unpaid hours trying to figure out a new system?

Our dependence on the quasi-monopoly platforms is complete, and so we are wary of violating the infinitely capacious caprices of their terms of service, which mean exactly what we want them to mean, which means you can be sent to the Demonetization Gulag in Digital Siberia without warning or recourse.

Consider a typical experience of the stupidly complicated time-sink unpaid shadow work we endure on a daily basis. A payment platform that we depend on recently informed me mid-day on May 18 that I was required to update “business information” by May 18 or my ability to access my own earnings would be suspended.

Well, thank you very much for the advance notice. So I navigate their wretchedly confusing site to the “business information” page and discover it’s blank: there is literally nothing there. (Metaphorically, how apt.) Okay, so all of us busy digital shadow workers know the drill: reload the page–no dice. Okay, open another browser and try that–nope, the page I need to update to avoid being sent to the Demonetization Gulag is still blank.

It’s obviously hopeless now, but we continue to play along because we’re trapped in Kafka’s Castle, always churning 24/7 with busy-work that is completely unproductive. So we email tech support, knowing it will be useless.

And sure enough, it is utterly useless. The tech rep (or chatbot, who knows) apologizes for the inconvenience, but has no solution. All of us shadow workers know we have to enter the rat-maze again and hope the page loads so we can jump off the train taking us to the Demonetization Gulag. Perhaps our prayers to the Digital Gods and Goddesses are answered, or the Matrix self-corrected, who knows, but the page finally loads hours later and we dutifully enter the same data the platform already had on record. This seems to satisfy the Kafkaesque requirements, and we breathe a sigh of relief.

But wait, there’s more! No sooner do we get that unpaid waste of our lives done than we receive another email from the same platform demanding another update to our “business information.” Gee, is it really asking too much to send a single email with all your required updates instead of torturing us with a string of emails? The Geography of Nowhe... James Howard Kunstler Best Price: $1.17 Buy New $11.88 (as of 10:41 UTC - Details)

So back we go to the same page and re-enter the exact same information and click “update.” Um, is this a parody of technical simplicity and productivity, or is it simply a gigantic waste of time, a form of digital servitude we cannot escape?

Then the final slap of parody: the “how did we do?” email requesting us to waste even more time answering a questionnaire about their wondrous tech support. You mean the tech support I was forced to contact because your site was broken, the tech support which did nothing to address the problem? No thank you, I’m already boiled alive and don’t really feel like wasting more of life rating your “service.”

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