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Should We Outsource Emotional Labor to Robots?

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.