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Light My Fire

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Dear Monte:

Forgive me for not getting back to you sooner.

But I’m sitting in a hotel conference room in Austin, Tex., punchy from PowerPoint, waaaay over-
caffeinated, surrounded by click-monkeys in power suits (moi?) thumbing through their BlackBerrys
checking e-mail.

The title of the conference, ironically enough, is “Always On: Executive Communication Strategies in the Age of Constant Connection.”

And for the privilege of sponsoring all this executive insight (which I’m beginning to suspect might be better communicated by one guy wielding an over-cranked bullhorn), I’m paying $250k, which includes lunch, cocktails, and my own scintillating PowerPoint presentation this afternoon (which I may yet scrap for that bullhorn). I also get my logo on the program binder, the security-badge lanyard, the book bag, the luggage tags, the golf tees, the mouse pad, and all sorts of other totems and tchotchkes of executive overlordship.

I just love it when people haul out of these things looking like upscale NASCAR drivers.

In any event, I accidentally opened my spam folder, and for some reason that I can’t quite explain (although I’m sure my new IT kid can), I found your last e-mail nestled among the offers for Canadian drugs, replica Rolexes, satellite TV, Saddam Hussein’s gold, and 27 security warnings that my checking account had been breached from banks that I don’t do business with.

And this was before I checked my inbox again, now updated with 289 new missives, salutations, CCs, newsletters, updates, FYIs, and other minor emergencies during the past hour — not to mention 16 invitations to “join up” on

Forgive the digression, Monte, but for the life of me, I’ve yet to see the personal value in any of these business networking sites — other than, perhaps, to know that I’m two degrees of separation from Good King Wenceslas, via our mutual “friend” Vlad the Impaler. Somehow, it all feels like digital name-dropping to me. Maybe I’m just a face-to-face guy in an “F2F” world. But for all the virtues of virtual networking, I’ve yet to notice a drop-off in the number of warm bodies at any of these conferences.

And the truth is, I’m overwhelmed by e-mail. I’m drowning in it. I wake up at 3 in the morning to check it. So I’m not surprised by the report in this morning’s New York Times about a survey finding that it’s made us all less productive.

What’s the solution, you ask? Disconnected Fridays? (Not if you want to stay in business.) Deleting everything? (Not unless you want to run afoul of the government’s new document retention laws.) No. Like it or not, I’m afraid that we really have become rhesus lab monkeys — forever clicking away on those buttons, hoping to be rewarded with a new piece of fruit.

Anyway, to answer your e-mail, sorry, but I can’t have lunch yesterday. As soon as this conference ends, I’ll call your office to reschedule.

I’ll be in touch —

The Biffster

PS: As I was typing away at this, a woman next to me looked over my shoulder and chuckled. Turns out she’s an old friend from college, currently a reporter for the Journal, interested in doing a story about you and AmSmelt. I say let’s go for it — so long as it’s face-to-face, and not by e-mail. Yr thoughts, pls.

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