Monday, December 30, 2013

Working on Vacation

I switched on my laptop to check on my holiday resort reservation and a message popped on my screen, an accusing one at that: “What are you doing online on vacation ? Checking email or responding to some crisis that requires your intervention ? Or just that you cannot get work out of your veins ?”. I tried to justify to her that I was not checking mails, nor facing anxiety or withdrawal symptom disconnected from my mail. I was just checking on my bookings and that’s that. “Then why is your corporate IM on ?” she chided.

It’s that time of the year when everyone, well almost everyone (travel and hospitality industries excluded) is on vacation. Whichever part of the world you look at, across cultures, companies, industries, everyone is on vacation as evidenced by their “Out Of Office” messages. It’s like the entire world shuts down for a period of 2-3 weeks going out on trips, spending time together with family and/or friends, enjoying snow or the sun, and to that extent business for most comes to grinding slow motion if not fully shut.

Over the years OOO (Out of office) messages have increased during festive seasons and less frequent for rest of the year. Immediate conclusion would be that people are working harder through the year and then taking a good long well deserved vacation. It could also imply that irrespective of travel, vacation, weekend or time of the day, everyone gets their hands on their mobile devices and feel gratification giving attention to whatever came in or responding to mail, or just checking out or updating social status.

Our need to constantly check our smartphones has resulted in a situation that we compulsively want to stay connected all the time. It is now psychological and nothing to do with work or life or the balance that was a discussion in the past. To check my hypothesis I sent messages to about 600+ people in my list; CEOs, Head of business, friends, relatives, and loads of business acquaintances. I received about 200 odd out of office messages telling me that they were on vacation and not likely to respond to messages.

The subject line clearly indicated “Seasons’ Greeting” and thus was not urgent, important, a crisis or life threatening to merit immediate attention or response. Despite this, within 24 hours I received about 70 responses to my messages from those who had set OOO status ! Most messages carried a “Sent from a …..” footer. Was it an acknowledgement of the greeting or my hypothesis that we have become slaves to technology ? I now know which smartphones they use or service provider they have subscribed to.

There was a time when I would respond to every message that needed a response or I had a view on as soon as it landed in my inbox. Everyone loved it and commended my quick response; I was on 24 hour clock, not that it helped my life at home, I was thumb happy. Is it more to do with the way the stimulus response is changing rather than just work or life ? Are there any remedies available beyond old and simple willpower ? Is there a way out for the corporate bonded labourers armed with technology that keeps them in chains ?

Reality is that this is self-imposed nemesis of time, energy and expectations; if anything indeed merits response, do it, in most cases the urgent or critical will not land in your inbox, people will call you. Messages with scores in “To” or “cc”, rarely require critical review or immediate attention. A 24 hour cooling period is equally good in most cases and works well enough. Exceptions could be individually marked messages that may come to you from your Boss or a peer CXO for information or action.

Driving back from a vacation with the family comprising two teenaged kids, I noticed that both were constantly glued onto the small screen with rapid thumb movements and fleeting expressions as they deftly switched from screen to screen and application to application. There was little communication between us as I manoeuvred the traffic and they sent updates ad infinitum. I wonder how the new generation would behave during their vacations or work; would it be in anyway separable for them ?


  1. Electronic leashes are helpful, albeit at a severe toll on personal life...
    To get a different viewpoint, I would urge everyone to ask their teenage and 20-odd year old kids/nephews/nieces/friends/... if they actually consider this a "life" conundrum or just a way of life.
    For those among us (including me) who grew up in a compute-less teen-life and got introduced to screens and compute-capable devices past our youth, we think of how to "deal" with this situation; However, I would suggest that folks who grew up with compute-capable screens around them cannot fathom a life without connectivity and they would gape at folks who would want it otherwise. Just as I got impatient with my parents for not picking up the nuances of the desktop keyboard and mouse, the future generation is becoming impatient at how slow I read the screen!
    It’s the course of (un)natural evolution…

  2. True reflection of technology effect on current and next generation. Hats off to you for bringing this topic in your blog. It really required a deep understating and brave heart to accept and acknowledge encroachment of technology in our day to day life and specially in our near and dear relationship.

    Incidentally, I was observing my 12 year Kid on yesterday, while we were on long drive, he could hardly get off his attention from the small screen during the ride of 2 hours. I really shook deep inside with his attraction towards the small screen and encountered with the same questions as you. Now here everyone can debate about whose fault it would be (kids or parents), but at the end of the day small screens are getting prominent in everybody’s life. I have a fear for next generation, who may face challenge in communication because of lack of vocabulary and confidence to communicate.

    I believe this is an universal situation and it’s a time to go back and ask few question to self in a dark room; take a deep breath and recreate the picture of the world going back in last decade, which was equally functional/productive like one today without these small/big screens.

    It may so happen that, every one may not agree with this topic, but at the end of the day everyone wants a status less (online) vacation.

  3. Nicely Put Sir! It the engagement that the mind requires that is prompting each of us to transact every milli second if not every second. Its the urgency to prove ourselves somewhere - to show our meticulousness. People are turning out to be islands of their own and cant observe some one who is standing beside him. We are losing Ourselves. we send wishes to the person sitting in the next cubicle. We cant fathom the situation to stay idle - even for a minute - to just observe and watch our own actions or thoughts. Even in Sleep we are transacting. We lest forget our kids learn from us. I have a five year old son who observes me so much and one instance he mentioned with his toy laptop, "I am working- dont disturb me" when his mother wanted him to join for dinner. Another instance from his toy phone, he says he is speaking to his friend and imitates the way i speak.
    Initially I felt it was cool but overtime i realised my grave mistake.The minute you leave them to do your transactions at home, they find their space to be happy and stop interacting with us and are playing/chatting in their world. I decided to give importance to the ones around me rather than thinking about office or anything else.