Out of office … forever

April 25, 2011

I am so jealous. I wrote to Nassim Taleb this week. He is famous for writing The Black Swan and also has a section on his website devoted to his predictions of the 2008 economic crisis (which began in 2007 with the collapse of the mortgage market). Note the apt url if you decide to click on it. Anyway, the reason I am struck by admiration and envy is the auto reply I received:

(Please ignore this message if you are a regular correspondent).

Dear correspondent;
I am currently disengaged from the rest of the world (until September 2011).
 I had to stop replying to emails outside of the strictly personal (friends, 
family, citizens of Amioun, etc.), except for extremely important/urgent matters.
 Please note that, except for emergencies & appointments,  I reply to 
mails with an equivalent frequency to that of classical letters.

(REQUESTS: Also note that 1) I no longer do media interviews (except
 those scheduled by publishers), 2) can no longer endorse books, 3) do not  participate in documentary films, 4) will not give lectures in Asia,
 Australia, and other places entailing severe jetlag, etc. I apologize for the inconvenience.


Like many people, with multiple accounts and dozens of emails each day, I’ve often fantasized about how to make email go away and I thought Taleb’s auto reply seemed rather persuasive. But then I remembered Financial Times columnist Tyler Brule scoffing in his column last year at people who reply with what he calls the dreaded “OOOR”. The OOOR (out of office replier) is about as far as you can get from Brule’s thrusting entrepreneurial style and he called for the UK journal, The Lancet, to publish medical research about the kinds of people who are prone to be OOORs. Brule helpfully provided an abstract as to what such a paper could look like:

The article will prove that people who like to post elaborate out-of-office replies not only dislike their jobs but also tend to be less entrepreneurial, poor team-players and, in many cases, lazy. At the same time, it will also reveal that OOORs frequently end up making elasticated stretch trousers (Fast Lane’s international symbol for having given up on life) a wardrobe staple, and that these tend to be closely associated with an unhealthy appetite for daytime TV, eating biscuits from the packet and, ultimately, unemployment.

How to reconcile these two very different approaches from two such accomplished men? Looking at my husband, Joseph Stiglitz, who has a deep aversion to email and the telephone, I suspect the difference may lie in whether one is on the receiving end or the sending end of requests. Those who need to sell or build up their client list or organize events and conferences, resent those pesky people who don’t reply promptly. Those who are called upon to do favors, give talks and write things, find that every email they open requires another time consuming chore and would like to make it disappear. So while Tyler Brule has a point, I would like to take the Taleb approach and vanish for the summer, if not forever.

Bring on the sweat pants and package of biscuits, please.

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