Encroachment of self-serve U.S. economy fogs statistics by soliyer


Encroachment of self-serve U.S. economy fogs statistics

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									Encroachment of self-serve U.S. economy fogs
I'm getting tired of working for the man. Not The Baltimore Sun. I mean my job with Capital One, the
credit-card company.

And all the work I do for Verizon and M&T Bank. And Southwest Airlines.

Verizon signed me up as a broadband network technician. When the router or modem goes out on my
Internet service (rare, it's true), the guy who fixes it is me. I'm a data-entry clerk for Capital One. They
make me key in my card number and other stuff when I call so they don't have to. I check myself in for
Southwest flights and serve as my own teller at M&T's money dispenser.

What's next, running a cash register? Oh, yeah - I do that for Home Depot.

Perhaps the Labor Department's calculation that only 5 percent of American workers are multiple
jobholders is a little off.

True, I'm not being paid for this kind of multi-moonlighting, and neither is anybody else. But we're working
for these companiesjust as surely as the employees and contractors in their books.

It's another reason to suspect the official economic statistics peddled by Washington. American workers
boosted their hourly production per person by a phenomenal annual rate of 6.9 percent in the fourth
quarter, if you believe this month's Labor Department figures.

But if the bean counters measured all the off-the-clock work that companies are foisting on their
customers, the national performance might be a lot less impressive.

"Companies are asking, 'How do we get consumers to do more work for us - for free?' " says Kent
Grayson, an associate professor of marketing at Northwestern University. "And 'How do we attract
consumers that actually enjoy doing that extra work?' But on the other side, they're also asking, 'How do
we save on customer-service costs?' One way to do that of course is to ask consumers to do more work."

The phenomenon of "prosumers" - consumers morphing into cheap labor for companies they patronize -
has been around for decades. Self-dialing a long-distance phone call ceased to be a novelty long ago.
Diners have been waiting on themselves at places such as McDonald's and cafeterias at least since the
1950s. Self-serve gas took off in the 1970s.

But the communications revolution seems to have pushed prosumption to a new height. It's not just data
entry, typesetting and bar-code scanning that have been taken over by unpaid or poorly paid consumers.

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