Day Five

I suppose it couldn't last long. In fact, I'm surprised it took four days to have my efforts at multi-tasking between chuckling at Bill Bryson's Neither Here Nor There, trying to spot interference patterns in breaking surf and teasing pebbles from the sand for inclusion in ornate (and ephemeral) little mandalas interrupted to field calls to Britain and Germany, but I nevertheless feel quite good for having attained a new personal record where it regards not having to defuse some situation back at the office.

Still, one wonders if I oughtn't consider vacationing in remote locations like Japan or New Zealand, where I would be perfectly justified in keeping my K610i switched off to decrease the likelihood of incurring roaming charges, random bouts of irritation, or both.

Anyway, the incident served as a sour reminder that people expect you to be available all of the time these days, even while on vacation. Which is, I suppose, only to be expected (there are, of course, implied degrees of commitment on every level of the ladder of responsibility), but it is one of the many changes in work ethics brought on by the "knowledge worker revolution" and ubiquitous data access that I could personally do without.

After spending something like ten years trying to vacation and still keep track of stuff at the office via regular check-ins, e-mail and whatnot, this year I decided that I would forego my usual tactic of managing to occasionally forget I was on vacation (merely on a much nicer, wide-open office with seagulls and surf sidling up to my ankles), leave my Blackberry behind, painstakingly remove all traces of corporate connectivity from my iBook (fortunately, I am now at an age where keeping track of all the requisite Citrix and VPN server addresses is becoming biologically impossible) and make sure I only took my friend's contacts along.

My long-suffering iBook is, in that regard, the perfect vacation computer, since it is still (at least theoretically) as tough as your average motorcycle helmet, takes almost two minutes to boot to a usable state in Tiger and requires a great deal of persuasion (and patience) to do anything but the simplest of tasks - although it is still perfectly good for jotting down my thoughts, downloading photos from my camera, checking out the weather forecasts and trying to track down the address of the finest purveyors of regional pastries, it manages to do so at a slow, ponderous pace that renders its use for "serious" purposes (such as checking office e-mail) completely untenable, and for that I am (for a change) unashamedly grateful.

And yeah, I keep a blog (actually, this is a Wiki, but the idiots who usually point that out as "proof" of my being online can't really tell the difference). Which, as any 12-year-old can tell you, requires a zillionth of the CPU power required to run your average Office application, and, as my Disclaimer will tell you, is my personal space (and, as such, something I have every right to do on vacation, especially if the connectivity implied by my doing so is billed to my hotel room).

After all, where do you draw the line in this age of cheap, global, ubiquitous connectivity? If you know that your staff is somewhere within easy reach (which is anywhere closer than Mars these days) and that (s)he can fix something in much less time than you can be bothered to try to do yourself, do you pick up the phone and intrude into their vacation, or do you try to get someone else up to speed?

And how much of an excuse do people really have for not being able to provide feedback to so-and-so or call this-and-that when you do pick up the phone?

The two possible answers are, of course, as diametrically opposed as either side of the argument, and the nasty ones can only be mitigated by a good deal of patience and understanding that I seem to have gained over the course of the years. Still, it is a bit jarring to have my foray into the slow, cozy world of books and seagulls disturbed by things considerably more irritating than sand creeping up my shorts...

As a side note, I am amused at the amount of people that have so far SMS'd me asking whether I had read their e-mail, and more so at their incredulous, stunned silence when I point out that my Blackberry and my corporate laptop are locked away in a cabinet, oh... some 200Km away.

I wonder if next year I'll have the opportunity of making that ten (or nearly a hundred) times as much.

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