The First Thing About Work Is Getting Out of Bed

It is good for people to work together. It is good for people to get out of their beds, bedrooms, and houses to associate with different people for part of the day in order to do something, maybe even something creative.

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

As a child, my summer vacations were a week with my parents at my grandfather’s farm in Connecticut. One of its attractions was that my grandfather had a large record collection, including something exotic I’d never seen before: 78s. My Aunt Jean would often send me home with some.

I recalled one of them this week, a tune called “I Gotta Get Up and Go to Work!” It’s about a man jumping out of bed, rushing through breakfast, and getting out to his workplace because “I’ve got a job, so help me Bob! I’ve gotta get up and go to work!”  

The website La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana reported August 9 on a disturbing phenomenon on the rise in Italy: marcire a letto, literally, “rotting in bed.” By that term, author Paolo Gulisano means 

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

Email subscribe inline (#4)

staying in bed by choice during the day, which would not be intended for sleeping or rest. Hours that become full days, and for several days a week. Stay in bed even to eat, talk on the phone, scroll through social networks, watch television. The bed as a privileged place to spend the day.

As the father of a teenager, I am not unfamiliar with some manifestations. Bussola suggests it’s a coping mechanism for the “anxieties” contemporaries suffer, from the “existential threat” of climate change to pandemics to performance.  

Let me suggest that the full toll of our societal shutdown from Covid, especially on young people, is still not entirely apparent. Children deprived of their primary vehicle for socialization—school—especially in places where the public-school establishment long milked shutdowns after Catholic schools risked life and limb to return to in-person learning, are now demonstrating not just learning but psychological and developmental deficits.  

And while most people with normal jobs long ago went back to the workplace, elite opinion still frets about return to full-time, in-person work. A cursory survey of The New York Times’ pages shows ongoing mulling about whether the in-workplace job is the way of the future.

I worry that these intellectual musings by our policy and opinion makers, seemingly divorced from the realities of most Americans who long ago realized “I gotta get up and go to work,” is the 2020s equivalent of decision-making that prizes the “virtual workplace” over the real one like their 1980s and 1990s peers prioritized “information jobs” over manufacturing ones. Then the elite could order their “made in China” shoes online. Now, however, some real person still has to be in some real workplace to make and deliver their real Mucho Grande Foamy Latte to their virtual sanctuaries. Captain Picard’s replicators are still in the future.

Is the extolling of the “virtual workplace” the next installment of our gnostic flight from embodiment into atomized, isolated individualism, celebrated as an expression of vocational “choice?” Does that “choice” prioritize the “I want to arrange my schedule this way” against the “you’re not taking responsibility for this enterprise’s success, so…no?”   Is the extolling of the “virtual workplace” the next installment of our gnostic flight from embodiment into atomized, isolated individualism, celebrated as an expression of vocational “choice?”Tweet This

Is this another example of the radical individualism that infects so much American thought rearing its ugly head? Two incompatible ideas are on a collision course: individual “control” of “lives” versus the “team ethos” of the workplace. Few jobs are solo products: most work has to be done with others. And because human beings are creatures bound to space and time, that labor normally occurred in a common place in a synchronous time.

The virtual workplace seems to imagine that synchronous work in a common place was just an accident of the times which modern technology renders moot by enabling the job to be separated from place and time. To some extent, that may be true and, to the extent that it creates elasticity for human needs (and not just desiderata), good.  

But is there a tinge of our unbridled faith in technology here, the influence of “if we can do it, we may?” All the limitations of life are not just obstacles in search of technological solutions. Some may actually be good for us.

It is good for people to work together. It is good for people to get out of their beds, bedrooms, and houses to associate with different people for part of the day in order to do something, maybe even something creative. It is good for people to have to dress up and “appear in public.” It is good for people to see each other at a water cooler rather than through a Teams screen.

Marcire a letto is not just laziness, not just anxiety, not just a “choice.” It’s a phenomenon—a disturbing one—that our flight from work and public space is exacting a toll on people and their healthy, interactive functioning. 

When Congress first made Labor Day a federal holiday in 1894, labor unions fought to limit the workplace: the eight-hour day was an early priority. Until not that long ago, the struggle remained one against what one analyst called “greedy work,” the proclivity of the workplace (often enabled by technology) increasingly to encroach on workers’ time to the detriment of work/life balance.  

In our post-Covid world, however, we might ask whether the pendulum has swung to the other extreme, at least in terms of the way some leading opinion thinks about work. Defending the workplace against its export—not to China but to isolated and detached homes (which increasing numbers of workers can’t afford)—may not just be an economic or time management issue. It may be a labor health issue: it’s not good for man to be alone…nor to rot in bed.

[Image Credit: Shutterstock]

Author

  • John M. Grondelski

    John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is a former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are his own.

Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Email subscribe stack
Share to...