Friday, March 07, 2008

Weekend Warriors

On a recent Sunday morning, I checked my e-mail, and found one from one of the other consultants I'm working with on a client project.

I replied, and as I was hitting the "send" button, a message came in from one of the clients who was on the thread.

Five minutes later, one of other clients responded.

Of the six people on the e-mail list, four were working at the same time on a Sunday morning.

As a free-lancer, I don't so much mind the blurring of time and days, since my time is mostly my own. Working on a Sunday morning is an absolutely reasonable trade-off for staying in bed and doing nothing on a Wednesday.

But two of the four folks who weighed in on the e-mail are clients, who have full-time jobs.

What's with all of us?

Laptop. Cell phone. Blackberry.

Miraculously, we're untethered from the office - which is mostly a good thing. We can work more flexibly, etc. etc. etc.

But all of a sudden, vacations and weekends away are no longer the getaways they used to be. I took off for the weekend earlier this month, and deliberately left my laptop behind. It took me at least 24 hours to get used to the idea of not checking my e-mail - or just trolling the Internet - regularly. There was a business center where I could have checked in, and I did look at it wistfully a couple of time, but didn't succumb to the urge to log in and check.

What I did find was that I was making notes of things I wanted to Google or Zillow when I got home. Who, exactly, is Benny Hinn the evangelist? What's that McMonstrous McMansion on Westwood drive worth?

Although I have historically tried to keep vacations (at least) sacred (which I no longer do, now that I'm a blog-addict), through much of my full-time career I was a weekend warrior.

Originally, that meant you had to go into the office to get things done.

But I do remember the first "portable computers" I used. The company I worked for - which was still largely mainframe oriented when I was there - got a couple of these massive, unwieldy Toshiba "portables," which must have weighed 50 pounds.

They had couplers on the back, which you tucked your telephone receiver into and dialed into the mainframe at a rate that I believe was 96 baud.

Oh, miracle of technology, but it was so cumbersome, I almost always just went into the office when I had things to do on the weekends.

A few years later, the same company got a couple of Compaq portable PC's. They were khaki green, and had a screen that was about 9" diagonal - if that - but all of a sudden, we had a product demo machine to take on the road.

I remember one trip to Chicago with my boss.

We were there for a couple of days, each of us with a briefcase and hanging garment bag (or whatever they're called). And each of us prepared for Chicago in January, with heavy winter coats.

Too bad it was in the 50's and pouring rain.

We couldn't get a Friday-afternoon cab back to O'Hare, and decided to take the El.


There we were, Steve and I, trying to juggle all our stuff, most notably the deadweight Compaq, which not only weighed a ton, but was an awkward size and shape.

Sweat pouring off the two of us, I grabbed both briefcases and my suitcase, Steve took his suitcase and the Compaq, and together we trooped to the train station. By the time we got there, our heavy wool coats had sponged up, and we were sweating even more. The escalator was on the fritz, so we had to hump our baggage up the stairs.

Portable PC, my foot?

It's amazing neither one of us had a heart attack.

Then, blessedly, came the laptop, but - while certainly an improvement on the army-green Compaqs - these weren't all that gloriously lightweight, either - especially since, by this point, I was working on a client-server product and had to bring two machines with me to demonstrate the product. What a pain!

But in those days, we still weren't so dependent on e-mails that you felt you had to stay connected all the time. (I can't even remember when voice-mail became popular. At one point, you had to call back into the office for your messages, which were written up on pink slips.)

Over time, anyone who traveled at all got fully equipped with a laptop. You were good to go. The desktop-pers figured out how to get connected from their home computers. Secure remote access via VPN. Yippee! I can work from home! Life is good. Life is great.

Now, unless I make a deliberate decision to leave it at home, my laptop comes with me. Untethered from an office, I like to be tethered to the world wide web.

Yes, there's certainly a lot of positive things to say about the ability to be "always on". But when four out of six people on an e-mail thread are online on a Sunday morning at 11 a.m. checking their e-mail, there's something a little disconcerting about the picture, isn't there?

1 comment:

Mary Schmidt said...

Wow, that's just sad. Like you, I don't mind much if I work "after hours" or on the weekend. Nice trade-off for those weekdays when I feel like playing hooky, going for a long walk on a beautiful day or working in the yard.

But, really nobody should feel compelled to be plugged in on a Sunday morning. That's compulsion not commitment.