We have seen the future, and it sucks.

Our Unpaid, Extra Shadow Work

30th October 2011

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The conventional wisdom is that America has become a “service economy,” but actually, in many sectors, “service” is disappearing. There was a time when a gas station attendant would routinely fill your tank and even check your oil and clean your windshield and rear window without charge, then settle your bill. Today, all those jobs have been transferred to the customer: we pump our own gas, squeegee our own windshield, and pay our own bill by swiping a credit card. Where customers once received service from the service station, they now provide “self-service” — a synonym for “no service.” Technology enables this sleight of hand, which lets gas stations cut their payrolls, having co-opted their patrons into doing these jobs without pay.

2 Responses to “Our Unpaid, Extra Shadow Work”

  1. pjt Says:

    We’ve got the techology. 30 years ago the attendant at gas station used to check your oil level. You had to change your oil every 10 000 km or 5 000 miles or something.

    Now you don’t need to. Your car checks your oil level for you all the time and if you fail to take it to service in time, it will eventually go to a limp-home-mode that prevents further damage. Your oil change interval has increased to at least 15 000 km or more, with many new cars simply deciding (based on what kind of trips you drive) how often you should change oil.

    Overall, cars have become remarkably reliable. There’s less service to do. There are exceptions of course. if you crash them, you can’t fix them except by replacing large components, because the crash protection technology of passengers is based on deforming the chassis, but that’s another matter.

    And behold: this is good. I don’t miss cars that needed servicing every 5 000 km.

  2. RealRick Says:

    I put myself through college working in a gas station. (Well, that plus tending brick, painting, washing dishes, etc.) Changing oil wasn’t a particularly big money maker. Fixing tires, replacing fan belts, and making various misc. repairs to broken cars kept us busy. Customers didn’t have to get out in the heat or cold to pump gas and they got the windows cleaned and the oil and tire pressure checked. It didn’t add much to the price of gas, but it sure did help some of us get a start in life.

    Have a car problem now and try to find a “service station”. Good luck.

    There is, to the best of my knowledge, one real full-serve station left in Houston. My son’s car happened to break down as he was delivering something in the area and he pulled into that station. The area it’s located in has a lot of very wealthy folks. There are photos on the wall in the station with various attendants posing with Barbara Bush. (I asked about the photos and the guys working there were very fond of her.) They had a self-serve pump, but most people used the full serve. The owner told me that many of his older clients had never pumped their own gas and probably didn’t know how; the younger folks were too busy with their Blackberrys to take the time to get out of the car.