Thursday, August 18, 2011

Staying connected

I did not write any email during a vacation over the last 10 days. I occasionally checked my inbox for messages of the reply-to-this-or-you’re-fired variety, and so watched the inbox backlog build up, with the same kind of gruesome fascination with which I watched the stock market. Is this failure to reply to emails in violation of a social convention? Plenty of academic colleagues seem to send email while on holiday, but I reckon it’s a behaviour that’s fairly specific to academics.

In support of answering emails while on vacation, is the notion that you let the world know that you’re a virtuous workaholic, and (by being online at all hours) a truly modern academic. In opposition, there’s the point that we end up cultivating the expectation that we answer emails promptly, without in fact gaining any credit for workaholism. Email gets in the way of deep thought. I know one distinguished academic — now retired — who insists that he got all his best ideas while holed up in his vacation retreat, since it had no telephone. Also, while the post-vacation hangover is no doubt painful, email is most efficiently dealt with in batch mode rather that on-line. Indeed, some of the problems that were emailed to me had fixed themselves before I had time to assist (some feedback forms were lost, then found, for example), and some of the documents colleagues sent me got superseded by later versions that were re-sent a few days later. Finally, by ignoring your inbox you take a valiant last stand against the fate of being a truly modern academic.

(added later:) Recent article on “worliday” — not sure the word will catch on though.

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