Not an out-of-office-reply type of guy
The night before our little experiment, I did something I had never done in my life. I activated my personal Gmail account’s "Vacation Responder," which sends out an automated reply to anyone who writes me. My message to would-be recipients was cryptic, if not entirely absurd: "I am reachable this week instead on my cell phone. Call 202-XXX-XXXX if it’s time-sensitive to this week." I wrote something similar for my out-of-office reply on my Post email account.
Worried that I was coming off a bit mysteriously, I wondered what my colleagues, sources, friends and relatives would think. Would they suspect I had been fired, losing my job and email account? That someone hacked into my personal email account? I fretted that, by the week’s end, I’d have a dozen emails from friends wondering if I was up to something shady. How is it possible that I’d have no email access, yet I was still able to use my cell phone to make and receive calls?
On Monday morning, my first day as a web-less reporter, I felt confident that I could last the whole week without the Internet. I was doing a story about horse farms, after all. Reporters have written stories like this for centuries. Surely, I could do this.
The first two days were aggravating but I managed. I spent most of the time in rural Maryland, hanging out with horse farm managers, walking around hay and manure, chronicling the decline of local breeding operations.
On Tuesday, I started losing confidence. My wife asked why I had not been responding to an email conversation among friends who were planning dinner with us later in the week. I revealed our reporting team’s secret project and she laughed. Her response: No way are you going to make it.
She had good reason to be pessimistic about my chances. Sometimes, she hides my cell phones in her purse when I am driving us around because she knows I’ll check for texts or emails at a stop light. Frequently, when we watch complicated television shows — such as "Lost" or "24" — I flip open my Apple laptop and scan the web sites of major newspapers and my hometown paper, The Courier-Journal in Kentucky. But on Tuesday night, it was my wife who was watching "Lost" and surfing the web at the same time. I gently needled her. It felt good, for once, not to be the person glued to two screens simultaneously, not to be the person hitting the remote control’s pause button and asking annoying questions like, "What just happened?! Why did the smoke monster just kill all those people?" (Fans of "Lost" will understand.)
Feeling fairly confident, I began Wednesday knowing that I’d be finishing my reporting soon. One major problem, though. I needed figures demonstrating the fall of Maryland’s horse industry and the rise of Pennsylvania’s. I needed to look at state reports showing attendance figures at race tracks in those states, and the amounts wagered on live races at those tracks.
I could have called state employees or industry advocates to tell me the figures over the phone. But I needed to see the full reports to make sure I had the most relevant numbers. I was leery of asking someone else to look at the reports and make the decision for me. Besides, even if I made that request, no doubt someone would say: Here’s the link to the report. Do it yourself.
Other reporters on our team, thankfully, started grumbling too. Finally, on Thursday, we were given a choice to opt out. I thought about it. For about 10 minutes. And then I double-clicked on the orange Firefox icon. Freedom.
But I didn’t rush to the Maryland Racing Commission web site first and download that report. The journalism thing could wait. I needed my email fix.
So, I went to my Gmail account and pored through about a dozen messages. I was about to click away and search for that Racing Commission annual report. But I remembered something. First, I had to turn off that stupid vacation responder.
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