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May 27, 2008
Am I Off? Oh Who Can Tell…: The New Vacation Not!

I called in and immediately got hit by "I thought you were off ..." Naturally, I responded with the knee-jerk "What does that mean?"

In a time of nearly impossible quality control, how could a CEO of a midsize PR firm actually go away and be away? I mean, I love my staff and all (this is public, right?) but I'm a realist: What place on earth would AT&T not make my BlackBerry go buzz?

This friend of mine went to Mexico for a week and didn't bother to check his email--fool. He returned to the bad word: "You won the contest of a Free Weekend in Amsterdam...Flight Included," but if he wrote back by week's end. Which he couldn't have. When my foolish pal begged in to say he was away, they scoffed, "Was there no copy shop/Net café/hotel center/person-with-computer where you were?"

I can turn off like the best of them. Yet isn't it better, I've come to realize, to not tell anyone you're on, off, or in between? Who would know? I'm here, I'm there, I'm used to it. If I run away for a few hours on a regular workday, or reschedule a meeting here and there, who's questioning where I am located?!

These "Out of Office" (OOFs) pronouncements are badges we wear like the "Sent from my iPhone" banner at the bottom of those I-got-one emails. It makes people go "Oh, who cares!" We chuck so much information onto our bounce-backs that I am waiting for John Carpenter's new one about the girl chased by the knowledge picked surreptitiously by an errant email responder. Lately I've been sending returns to OOFs with my own: "But please come back." It confuses people.

[I type "Sent from my freaking desktop" on outgoing emails too.]

We covered email. When it comes to phones I'm all set because like you all I listen to are voicemails anyway. Do you want people to hear the live sounds of your vacation spot? Way too revealing. Now I'm in the market for a good sound machine so I can put in New York-style traffic noises while lounging poolside. ("That splash? I pulled a Carrie Bradshaw!")

Then there's the infrequent in-person meeting we have to miss since we're, uh, away. You could send someone in your place, but that would be rude. Lately, I've been making excuses for not showing up in the vein of stubbed my toe, because I wonder if taking a break is seen as a sign of weakness in these uber-connected times.

What difference does it make if you're calling, writing, jotting a note down, sending a FedEx, Twittering, or tossing a quick text to check-in. You could be on Mars and I'm sure they have cell service by now.

Since I'm as self-important as the next guy, I have to wonder if Vacation means anything nowadays. It's either a proclamation you are way too busy to think about the sender; or the ability to say, Look, I have an assistant, dude! What would happen if everyone took a deep breath and said, "I'm not in; I'm lurking." Then you'd know how important you were 'cause someone responded to you when they were a little bit away.

Where was I when I jotted all this down, you ask? Outside a desert café, in office pretense mode...fooling no one. Turns out my assistant let it slip to someone in my office, who told a client; that guy in turn asked me how the dunes were in a call I was supposed to be in person at. It's a game that only the real fakers can win. I'm exhausted having to describe it. Time for a...

More from this on laermer.com and in the book “2011: Trendspotting” from McGraw-Hill. Buy one:

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Richard Laermer is CEO of New York's RLM pr, representing, among others, e-Miles, Epic Advertising, Yodlee, Revolution Money, Group Commerce, Smith & Nephew, and HotChalk. He was host of TLC's cult program Taking Care of Business and speaks on trends and marketing for corporate groups. You can read Laermer on The Huffington Post and on the mischievous but all-too-necessary Bad Pitch Blog. For more like this, follow him on @laermer.

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