A few weeks ago, I was unexpectedly thrown back in time into 2005. Into the dark, gloomy, non-real-time, Twitter-less, email-deficient days of yore. Into that cold, silent period before I got my first mobile phone with GPRS and email on it.
It was old-fashioned, embarrassing and most tension-inducing.
The moment I stepped out of the newsroom at 5.15pm—I put in several hours of work at home later—I would begin to break into nervous sweats.
What if something had gone drastically wrong in the office? What if some news of cosmological significance had broken—“Minister tweets typo! Calls Rahul ‘The dealer our youth needs!’ Crisis in party!”
And as these titanic events transpired I would be commuting in the Metro oblivious. As scoops and breaking stories passed me by, I’d be playing Snake on my vintage Nokia backup handset. Back in the office my KRA ratings tumbled.
The thought of being so disconnected with things so troubled me that I gave co-workers several contact numbers belonging to the wife, in-laws and the most sociable of my neighbours.
Just in case.
Despite these measures, I still shivered with fear during the approximately hour-and-a-half gap between when I went offline at work and went online again at home. Later, as my email inbox opened at home, I held my breath. (Don’t do this if you have a slow internet connection.)
Yet in those three weeks NOT ONCE did I ever get an email that needed urgent response. NOT ONCE was there a panic call from office.
If there was a unit of measurement for entirely useless tension, I had expended several millions of the thing. Needlessly.
Two things recently reminded me of those three weeks when I expected cardiac failure on a daily basis.
The first one was the news that a 51-year-old vice-president of a prominent South Korean company had been found on the ground outside his apartment building in Seoul. The man had left a note blaming work pressure, and jumped out of a window.
The second was a scene from an episode of a popular TV series. A senior manager in a firm suddenly disappears for weeks without warning or contact details. Then, just as suddenly, he returns. His angry colleagues ask him why he left without warning.
He looks around bemused and says to the effect of: “Why? The roof is still standing. The business is still running. I don’t have to be around.”
In TV-land, the manager smirked after his killer dialogue and walked back into this office. Looking as smug as a zero-bonus Marketing MBA outside the Lehman Brothers building.
(In the real world, the truant hero would have walked into his office only to find a replacement behind the table, and a photocopy of his “full and final settlement”, in an envelope.
Note: “Full and Final Settlement” holds the record for highest paradox density in a phrase. The bloody thing is never full, final or settled.)
He does have a point though.
Even if most of you reading this column were to drop dead this instant, your companies would recoup and return to normalcy within seconds. (Even mine. The drastic drop in circulation would be a problem. But marketing would hit the road in seconds.)
This, of course, is in complete contrast to what we think. In our minds we are the most vital things in our companies. Nothing can happen without us. They should be printing our photo on the Annual Report. In fact, our photo should BE the annual report. With financials on the back.
Reality, however, is nothing like that. In fact, reality can be a little depressing.
Those three weeks while I was AWOB—Absent Without BlackBerry—I was surprised at how everything and everyone seemed to get along just fine without my involvement.
And by surprised I mean a little disappointed. My inbox was full of the most routine, banal, “please don’t forget to swipe your card again” emails.
The most crisis-laden text message I ever received was one asking me to urgently book a three-bedroom flat in Noida while Conman Constructions was still giving 25% discount exclusively to the sort of people who buy houses because of a text message.
Meanwhile the office was getting by quite nicely without me. It was a moment of epiphany.
I have now decided to occasionally “give my phone for repair”. The lack of beeps, ringtones and vibrating alerts is refreshing. It reduces blood pressure significantly and you will be surprised how much reading and music-listening it will help you catch up on.
Why not give it a shot yourself? No emails, GPRS or instant messaging all of this weekend.
The roof won’t fall down. And if it did, you won’t know till Monday. Win-win situations, methinks.
Cubiclenama takes a fortnightly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org