Eli left for work at seven yesterday and didn’t return until six-thirty last night. Sophie came home from a weekend away yesterday, popped out of bed this morning, her birthday, and drove off to educate a gaggle of kids in animal science. Susan, excused from attending work in-person, trades off remote work and managing our household, covering for a spouse who can’t leave the house and is avoiding the public spaces in our home—this particular job is twenty-four-seven. I sit on our screened porch, butt planted comfortably on a cushioned loveseat, feet propped up on a wooden bench, drinking coffee, laptop in my lap, goldbricking.
Goldbricking: Do you know this term? I learned it from the TV show M*A*S*H. Does anyone under fifty even know about M*A*S*H? It first aired when I was ten. Each week, my older brothers and I taped the episode on our (audio-only) tape recorder. We then laid around the family room relistening to each episode, trying to recount the action, milking the maximum enjoyment from the show. “I think this is when the helicopter landed in the field!” In every other episode, Major Burns would accuse an enlisted man, usually Corporal Klinger, of goldbricking.
From Wikipedia: Goldbricking is the practice of doing less work than one is able to, while maintaining the appearance of working. The term originates from the confidence trick of applying a gold coating to a brick of worthless metal—while the worker may appear industrious on the surface, in reality they are less valuable.
This term originated in the 1850s, and I would have considered it archaic, but I just read it recently regained popularity as a term for employees cyberslacking—appearing hard at work, but really watching YouTube videos.
In my first work-at-home experience, 2005 – 2006, I set up a functional office in a basement bedroom and continued my Washington, DC position of Vice President of Finance and Development. That fancy job title meant that I performed the accounting, budgeting and proposal editing for a fifteen-person technology company. I was remarkably productive. At eight, I’d clump down the basement stairs and stare at my flatscreen monitor all day with a brief break for lunch. Susan headed up an environmental education company—coincidentally the same one Sophie’s working for today—and the kids went off to daycare in a local church.
One Saturday, I told four-year-old Sophie to turn off the TV and find something else to do. “How come? You watch TV all day every day in the basement!” Clearly, she could see into the future. Cyberslacking (or goldbricking) costs U.S. businesses and governmental agencies billions (trillions?)* per year.
Every now and then, I enjoy a sick day from work. A nasty cold, a raspy, throaty cough. No one wants me at work. I read, I write, I watch a movie, drink tea and coffee and usually knock out a few chores. My Covid isolation feels different. First, I’m barely sick. I felt worse than this last week a few hours after I finished up an eighty-minute run—mildly achy, a little sniffly, the trace of a headache. I’m not even taking Tylenol.
But I’m also banished. “How about I empty the dishwasher?”
“No, I don’t want you touching the clean dishes.”
“Clean the Bathroom?”
I’m not even allowed to use the bathroom except the one in my bedroom.
“How about you just relax and get well?”
Sigh. This is boring for sure, and I guess it continues several more days, but so far, our strategy is working. My goldbricking is keeping me healthy and sequestering myself away from everyone else is keeping my family healthy. If no one else gets sick, I’m going to call this week a success.
* Sorry, I couldn’t get a reliable figure on the cost of cyberslacking. The most referenced studies were from 2002 and 2005—$85 billion and $178 billion respectively.