I get paid by direct deposit now (on the last day of the month, unless that day is a weekend or holiday, in which case the money goes in on the business day immediately preceding), though I miss the days when I first began working and got paid weekly by check. This was at Market Basket, where every Thursday after one or two o’clock the paychecks would come in on a truck, and you had to go to the courtesy booth and tell the woman (it was always a woman) behind the glass your employee number, after which she would rifle through the stack of paychecks and slip yours through the slot between the glass and the counter. If you went right at one o’clock this usually took longer because there were still many checks to rifle through, but if you went on the weekend the woman was usually able to find yours without much time at all.
I didn’t think about this then, but having a physical paycheck and stub (in my case the kind where you tore off three of the edges and the stub came open, still folded on its fourth edge with the paycheck loose inside) provided a physical reminder of the work you’d done, and that you were being rewarded for it with money, the reason you went to work in the first place. Sure, the paycheck was only cheap paper with numbers and a printed signature, but the act of tearing it open, signing it, and depositing it at the bank linked the act of working with the reward of having money.
Now, though, the money goes directly into my checking account without my seeing how, and though I can check the same numbers on my computer or a deposit receipt, there’s no talk of money when I’m at work, or anything that associates money with work at all. When I’m at work now and people talk about money, they speak of the rewards of their labors as being disassociated with the act of work itself, as if the money was being deposited into their accounts on its own, as if work and money were completely separate. Though we all know that the money we receive comes because we performed work that month, there’s very little within the working experience to remind us that this is true.
When we forget that money comes because of work and that work leads to earning money, we start doing the work without understanding why, and spending the money without remembering where it came from. Work becomes an aspect of life rather than a chore done to earn a reward, something we do without thinking, that we’ve always done and continue to do, while the money flows in and out like the water from a tap that we know not to waste but leave turned on anyway.
Such disassociations are dangerous because they make it more difficult to leave a job we don’t like, or are ready to move on from. The more passively we view earning money, the harder it is for us to risk disrupting the flow. I try not to forget that, even if I don’t have a tear-away pay stub anymore.