The out of office email - a novelty
When is the holiday of an office worker finally over? Not with the wretched queues at immigration; nor over the mournful unpacking. No, the real death knell is struck when the restive spirit logs into his or her work email, switches off the out of office autoreply - and finally submits to the harness.
Email has become a huge, hungry tide: it is estimated that 196bn messages are sent every day. Many, probably most, are spam, but others are from colleagues, bosses, contacts - and all expect instant replies. So constant, so demanding is the traffic that, according to Scottish research last month, over a third of workers find their inboxes a cause of stress. Some respite is offered against this by the email that simply asserts one is unavailable. Some go further, such as this message which bounced back yesterday afternoon: "Will be back in the office on Tue 4th Sept. If it's an emergency, call the police. Cheers."
The recipient may be irritated by stalling messages, but frustration is part of all modern communications, as anyone who has ever played phonetag knows. The out of office email is largely used when we really are out of the office. In the future, however, workers will also use it when they are busy or concentrating or simply want to hold back the communicative hordes.
In less than a decade, email has gone from near-novelty to daily deluge. As flood defences go, the out of office message is admittedly modest but, for now at least, it is the best available to most white-collar workers.
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