The history of work is one of realizing certain skills are important–and then exploiting them.
BY HENRY COWLES [4 MINUTE READ]
Work is hard. But we don’t always realize how hard it is or, indeed, that some forms of labor are work at all. If you stand on your feet or stare at a screen all day, you can point to bodily strain. But if a task is something more mental, the difficulty is often invisible–which can make it hard to evaluate or celebrate those who perform such tasks.
Jobs defined by their cognitive contributions tend to gain attention when other forms of labor are perceived as threatened. Anxieties about being innovated out of a job or being replaced by machines tend to bring into focus those skills and states of mind that are irreducibly human. No job is physical or mental alone, of course. But cognition plays a special role in how work is valued. Take “emotional labor”: historically underpaid jobs in care industries held mostly by women. Recognition of emotional labor has grown alongside fears of automation in other areas of the economy.