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I have been seeing all across Twitter that “engagement” is down. Lots of people are locking down their accounts to see if that helps for some reason. And, for at least twenty-four hours, most of the conversation I’ve seen has been speculation about what is going on. This person did a thread to try to explain it:

I can’t say that I have personally noticed anything about this, because I really only go to Twitter to post my blog and then skitter away, or when Matt sends me a tweet he thinks I might want to blog about. Then I go look at it, scroll around, and flee like a dove whence cometh my help. I don’t like to make up tweets because it’s so hard to think of something out of the blue that might be interesting. It feels to me like I would walk into a room, shout something random, and then leave. I prefer to respond to what other people are saying in long-form blog post. Of course, responding to other people is literally what “engagement” is about. It is deliberately going and commenting on other people’s posts so a conversation begins to take place–but I am embarrassed by the idea of talking to strangers, so I can’t do that either. Boy, I really am living in my own tiny circle of hell.

Anyway, I’ve been slowly reading Ivan Illich’s book called Gender and trying to understand what he means by Shadow Work. I finally went around googling the term because I had a sort of a grasp of the concept but too tenuous to explain it even to myself. Someone named Craig Lambert says that (I’m not quoting him, I’m quoting someone else explaining what he says) Shadow Work is comprised of

the myriad tasks that used to be done by other people, which most of us now do for ourselves, usually with the help of digital devices. This includes everything from banking to travel bookings, ordering food in restaurants to bagging groceries, not to mention downloading, and navigating the apps we need to pay parking tickets or track our children’s school assignments or even troubleshoot our own tech problems.

I have totally noticed this, though I did not know what to call it. I’ve been muttering that my life is being swallowed up by “admin”–my word for trying to be a functional person. For example, I missed the surprising news that my doctor’s office had changed their “walk-in” option to be “by appointment.” This is a small thing, of course, but so irritating. You can “walk in” and walk up to the desk and explain that you don’t feel well and would like to see the doctor who is there for that reason. But when you do, the person at the desk will explain that you have to wait longer now, because you should have gone to the app and made an appointment, filled out your list of symptoms and the covid questions, and then waited in your car for the text. Why didn’t I know this? Well, I didn’t get online and look before I went. I just got in my car (shadow work) and drove to the place the way I used to. I, keenly attuned to the disapprobation of others, try to cover my tech shame with apologies and excuses. I should have known but I didn’t.

I don’t immediately go online, though, because I am super bad at the internet, and also so so bad at troubleshooting all the technical problems in our lives. I literally feel like I’ve died a little bit more every time I have to search around on Amazon for something we need. And, though I do like scanning my own groceries in the self-checkout–the little beep and navigating the touchscreen is vaguely satisfying–I absolutely hate having to do it while an employee of the establishment stands there, essentially idle, watching me labor under the weight of my task. I stagger out carrying all my items in my own arms because I forgot to bring my own bags, and I wasn’t able to avail myself of a cart because I forgot to bring a quarter (up here all the stores are adopting the Aldi way because so many grocery carts are absconded with by an increasing number of the stressed “poor”). I can’t even offer a quarter to some kid who needs a quarter to get him to carry my stuff for me because there are no grubby little kids standing around the entryways of any grocery stores. It’s too cold for them and they have to go to school and learn how to navigate all this tech.

And now, in these latter days, the biggest creators of Shadow Work are all these dumb social media establishments. Look! It’s Free! say Facebook, Twitter, and Insta. The only cost is your soul. A small price to pay. But also, we are going to constantly change the rules and do it quietly so that you are always having to start again from scratch. Elon and the Zuch don’t have to actually figure out how to get their posts seen. They have “people” to do it. They don’t have to live with the consequences of supposedly tiny algorithmic shifts. It is, to employ a biblical metaphor, like always having your straw taken away while you are trying to make your stupid bricks.

So anyway, have a nice day!

Photo by Alexandru Tugui on Unsplash

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