Not so solitaire in the desert

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For years now, as I've headed off on vacation, I've sent around an email to my work colleagues saying I'll have my cellphone—or more recently, smartphone—with me, and then delivered this smug caveat: “But I may not be reachable where I'm going.” You see, I like to get away from it—far, far away from it. And for many years I did succeed in falling off the grid, whether fly-fishing in the northern Michigan, canoeing in Minnesota or hiking in Texas' Big Bend country. Last month, I once again made my usual pronouncement before heading off, only to be brought up short by my publisher, who asked whether there still existed a place that was beyond the telecommunications pale. The area where I was headed—southeastern Utah, the region immortalized by Edward Abbey in his classic book “Desert Solitaire”—has long been regarded as the most remote in the lower 48 states. Here then was the place to test whether it was still possible to get away completely or, if one were so inclined, to always remain in contact with the office, even in the canyon country. So before heading off on a trail or upon returning, I'd check work email, delete a few off-the-mark PR pitches and make sure there was nothing that needed my immediate attention. It appeared I was supremely reachable at every trailhead. Not wanting to be haunted by Abbey's glowering, unforgiving ghost, I refrained from accessing email while in the backcountry. But I still wanted to know, in a way I could square with my conscience, whether I was in fact still reachable. Sitting on a rock high above Double O Arch in Arches National Park, I pulled out my smartphone and, yes, indeed, I could still get updates on the Tigers-Rangers game. A few days before I left for Moab, marketing agency gyro and Forbes Insights released a report that showed I was in good company in my frequent checking of email. According to their survey of 543 business decision-makers, only 3% said they don't tend to work-related emails or calls while they're on vacation. As for the remaining 97%, the overwhelming majority said that rather than feeling somehow shackled by the ever-expanding concept of the workplace and workday, they feel empowered. As for myself, after resisting for a long time I've finally bought into what gyro has dubbed the “@Work State of Mind.” Still, I wonder if there may be a place left in the U.S. where I can be truly incommunicado. The Utah desert proved not to be that place. I guess that means I'll have to give the Alaskan tundra a try. John Obrecht is editor of BtoB and Media Business. He can be reached at
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