It is not really conceivable why anyone anticipating any occasion on any planet would script an "out of office" message to go to every email in one's "sent mail" at least since 2008 (that was the most extreme case I heard from) but, well, if you sent me an email since 2008, you probably were informed this past week that "CATHY DAVIDSON IS ON VACATION." It's a bit like that routine on the Ellen Degeneres show where she sends Dennis Quaid into situations with an earpiece and he has to say whatever she tells him. The Actor grandly walks into a Starbuck's and announces to all in high Shakespearean intonation (because this is what Ellen is commanding in his ear), "DENNIS QUAID IS HERE." Yep. Something like that. Davidson took her one week vacation and, well, wasn't that important enough for everyone near and far, from spammers to the beloved widows of dear friends who had passed away to the president of my university and various generous philanthropic agencies to, in fact, the White House, yes, for every one of them to receive a copy of a message they had sent me some time in the past and then my proud pronouncement that I was going to do the unthinkable and unplug for a full, grand six days. Surely that significant fact was worth announcing to the world?
Within three minutes, my assistant came back into the office and had seen hundreds of messages piling into her inbox as fast as they could. I, out of the country at the beach and not quite as unplugged as I had imagined, was online briefly and saw the same nightmare unfolding, the Undead of Emails Past Looming Back into my life, over and over and over, you can run but you cannot hide, you can try to stop them but you will not succeed! She had turned off this insane script within three minutes and the messages kept coming, including second generation automated responses to my vacation message.
One friend and colleague at Duke to whom the same assault had happened on her vacation last February immediately recognized the problem and both sent a shuddering note of empathy and some saving wit, describing what was happening in my inbox as an "opera of vacation messages twittering back and forth to one another like so many summer techno-locusts." Yes, something like that. I posted a "Deep Apologies to Anyone Who Has Emailed Me Since 2008" message explaining the Vacation Message Scripting Debacle on Facebook and, as is the saving grace of Facebook, my delightfully waggish friends immediately began reporting on vacation announcements they received to various emails dated months or years ago. One called it the "BP of Email Glitches." Exactly.
So that is what happens when you try to unwire for six or seven days. To HASTAC friends who have dared to email me in the past, my apologies. We have duly reported this to our Office of Instructional Technology friends who are determined to find the problem so that it never happens again. In the meantime, I may follow the advice of my fellow victim (the woman who offered the opera of locusts metaphor) and simply never use an "out of office message" again. But being unplugged for a few days? I highly recommend it! And herewith thank the wonderful HASTAC team who made it possible . . . yes, it was worth it, even with the plague of email locusts.