You may not know the definition of shadow work but you live it every day. Coined by author Ivan Illich, it is the economics of unpaid labor through self-service.

For example, when you use the ATM; or do self-checkout at the supermarket; or pump your own gas; or research your own travel plans and then book your own ticket through Travelocity or Orbitz.

Some might say that these ways of doing business give the customer more control, but at what cost in terms of time?

If you stop to think about it, shadow work is everywhere and growing. And in many cases this invisible job becomes an impediment to our real jobs, that is, getting to the real work at hand. How many times have you spent more time scheduling a meeting than the meeting itself lasted? Or spent more time trying to track a contract worker down than the value of the job itself?

Without the Internet, the increase in digital scanning and mobile devices, shadow work would be limited. But with the 24/7 world, there is no escaping this job that isn’t your job.

It may not come as a surprise to realize that technology has enabled this shadow work to flourish. Without the Internet, the increase in digital scanning and mobile devices, shadow work would be limited. But with the 24/7 world, there is no escaping this job that isn’t your job.

Now, however, we may be seeing a glimmer of hope. And, somewhat ironically, it again comes from technology. I’m talking about Siri, a software app from Apple that comes with the new iPhone 4S. Purchased by Apple in 2010 and now just available, Siri is a voice recognition software that has both input and output (that is, you can talk to it, and it can talk back).  It’s being billed as a ‘personal assistant,’ and works both in sound and vision (for example, if you ask for the weather, it will respond verbally but also show you a five-day forecast on the iPhone screen).

Siri can schedule meetings, with reminders, and keep your calendar for you. It can initiate phone calls and send messages. Because it knows your location, it can give directions, and recommend a restaurant or a Starbucks in your area. And because it optimizes your contact list, you can ask it to text or message anyone in there, from co-workers to family.

It can do other cool things too. For example, if you received a message but can’t spare the time to look at it, Siri can read it to you. Also, Siri is equipped with algorithms so it will learn your interests and needs over time.

This may not be a wholesale overthrow of shadow work, but it’s certainly a start. And Siri is pretty much still in beta form.

I imagine other future upgrades that would allow even more assistance, including integration with Expedia for those plane tickets, for example. And for staffing owners, operators, and recruiters, Siri can definitely free up time by helping with contacts, meetings and scheduling. This last gift from Steve Jobs is one that will keep giving.

Siri’s name comes from Scandinavia, and among other meanings, it can stand for “beautiful victory.” Perhaps a victory over shadow work is just what we need. And what you might need for the weekend is one of its special features – delete all alarms. No reminders or early morning wake-up alarm: perfect for that lazy, shadow-work-free weekend.

Are there aspects of shadow work that drive you crazy? Have you used technology to free up your time? Email me at jeff@http://staffingtalk.com with  your success tips!

Tags: Apple, Steve Jobs, Technology, IPhone, Siri, IPhone 4S, Shadow Work