All Commentary
Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Invisible Workers Change Your Life Every Day

Countless people you will never know have a huge impact on your daily life.

Andy Johns is the recording engineer none of us has heard of. And yet, he was responsible for the sound from Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and Van Halen.

He decided how many mikes, where to position them (like high or low in a stairwell), how to manipulate an echo unit, which sounds to combine… The list is much longer but you get the picture.

Although Andy Johns had a job that touched many of our lives, he was invisible.

So too are many of the workers that influence what we do everyday.

Invisible Labor/Jobs

One of my favorite invisible jobs is the wayfinder. Wayfinders enable us to…yes… find our way. Hired by airport designers, they are the individuals who use architecture, signage, lighting and color to take us from Terminal A to Terminal D. They create paths for people through angled counters. Or, in a mostly monochromatic space, they could use one color that pops to identify a crucial service.

At Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, Mijksenaar, a Dutch wayfinder, made it easier for us to remember where we parked. Instead of a letter and a number like B23, they used graphics:


Other jobs

  • The Apple start-up sound has been called rather zen but it wasn’t always like that. Few of us know that Apple sound engineer Jim Reekes realized we needed a “fat C-major chord.”
  • There once was a project called Lab126. Looking for a name, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos was said to have told a firm to avoid techie and trite and keep in mind the future of reading. Who knew that Michael Cronan suggested the “kindle?”
  • For the UN and G7 meetings, the diplomats are in the news. However, we hear nothing about the translators that let them talk to each other.
  • Puff Daddy (Sean Combs) said he wanted a fragrance that was Mediterranean fresh. But in the beginning someone had to figure out the smell he wanted and that took a fragrance house.
  • Symphony orchestras need piano tuners for perfect sound, skyscrapers need structural engineers to help them sway in the wind, and films need cinematographers to manage light.

The Bottom Line: Labor

Whether visible or not, yesterday was the day to celebrate the labor we use to make our economy’s good and services.

One of the three factors of production (land, labor, and capital), labor is considered a primary factor of production because it exists naturally. However, I like to think of labor as human capital. Like the tools and equipment that improve our physical capital, education and training add to the human capital that fuels our economy…

And creates awesome sound for Led Zeppelin.

My sources and more: Thinking about Labor Day, I took David Zweig’s Invisibles off my bookshelf and got some great facts. From there, I used this HBR article and econlife. All provided a new way to look at and appreciate labor.

Reprinted from Econlife.

  • Elaine Schwartz has spent her career sharing the interesting side of economics. At the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she has been honored through an Endowed Chair in Economics and the History Department chairmanship.