Should We Outsource Emotional Labor to Robots?

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Media Outlet: Slate

If you’ve ever been to Walt Disney World and seen the unnervingly consistent smiles and surface cheerfulness on the faces of the theme park’s employees, you have experienced the phenomenon sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild described as “emotional labor”—the performance of feelings that service workers must provide to their customers.

Disney workers are an extreme example, but emotional labor is a requirement in many jobs. Hochschild studied flight attendants and bill collectors, but in everyday life emotional labor is everywhere: It is the smile your waiter is expected to give you at a restaurant or the pleasantries the nurse exchanges with you during a doctor’s visit.

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Christine Rosen was a Future Tense fellow. She is a writer and senior editor of The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology & Society, where she covers the social impact of technology, bioethics, and the history of genetics.