Logistical Labor: Stop doing companies’ digital busywork for free

A man from the back, in a striped dress shirt and blue jeans, facing a grey wall, hands on hips, looking up at a graphic of five white stars, four of which are filled in.

How much time and energy do people spend rating, reviewing and answering surveys?

Jordan Kraemer, New York University

Over the past year, I stopped responding to customer surveys, providing user feedback or, mostly, contributing product reviews. Sometimes I feel obligated – even eager – to provide this information. Who doesn’t like being asked their opinion? But, in researching media technologies as an anthropologist, I see these requests as part of a broader trend making home life bureaucratic.

Consumer technologies – whether user reviews and recommendations, social media or health care portals – involve logistical effort that means more administrative work at home. As economic anthropologist David Graeber observes, “All the software designed to save us from administrative responsibilities [has] turned us into part- or full-time administrators.” Companies may benefit when customers create content, provide feedback and do busywork once done by paid employees, but what about the customers themselves – all of us?

Many researchers recognize professional workplaces are becoming more bureaucratic, managing workers through documentation and quantification. But fewer acknowledge the expansion of this logic into private life. It might not feel like a burden to update your Facebook profile, review a business or log in to a web portal to message your doctor. But when you lose time answering customer surveys, setting privacy rules, resetting a password, wading through licensing agreements or updating firmware, it becomes clear how digital technologies increase managerial work at home. In my forthcoming book, I explore this phenomenon, which I call logistical labor. Continue reading