"Hi! This is Kris Berg. I am away from the office right now, but please leave a message, and I will return your call as soon as possible!"
What a liar.
This chipper little voice mail greeting used to be relevant — in 1975. Today, my callers are on to me. The Internet ruined everything.
I am so not away from the office. Ever. As (hubby) Steve and I were knee-deep in negotiations with a plumber at one of our listings, I saw the caller ID belonging to an agent we are working with on another transaction. I made the decision to let it ring to voice mail, lest the plumber think I am rude.
Two seconds later, my husband’s phone was blaring. Same agent, same decision to defer. Soon, both phones were performing a little harmony number. This call was coming in on the "office" line which, thanks to the 21st century, has been programmed to play a very effective round-robin game of "Where’s Waldo?"
Ignore, ignore, ignore. And we weren’t ignoring her because we didn’t like her. She’s actually pretty nice, as real estate agents go. It’s not even that we didn’t consider her call "very important to us"; this much had been sufficiently communicated through our prerecorded messages.
It’s just that sometimes we are really, truly doing something else. Like trying to make hot water happen when the little handle is turned in the direction of the word "hot."
But we are always in the office.
Next came the text messages, which were quickly followed by the e-mails, and all found us courtside at the guest bath showerhead, which had a mind of its own.
Now, I know what you are thinking. Why did one showerhead require that both of us be present in the guest bath during surgery? Duh. We work as a team. Moreover, Steve is the one who knows the most big plumbing words — like "cartridge" and "washer" and "that pully-up thing that makes the water come out someplace else," so he had to be there. But that’s not the point.
The point is that we can run but we can’t hide. And this whole predicament of living with our heads in the digital "cloud" — always connected to that computer server in the sky, wherever we may go — is not just a real estate issue. It seems the Internet is even messing with our children.
The ol’ "dog ate my homework" excuse has already been relegated obsolete, unless of course your dog can swallow a MacBook and live to tell about it. Now, it seems even snow days — those days when the weather forces cancellation of school so children can stay home and, well, go outside in the weather — are threatened.
It’s just wrong. One by one, our excuses are being picked off, a byte at a time. The result is that we are omnipresent, yet we lose a little something in the process. We lose the ability to truly be present.
My daughter, in the throes of final exams, announced that she is commencing a one-week "Facebook cleanse," recognizing the need to unplug this one distraction in order to focus on the priority du jour. But then, her client is not trying to sell his home and buy another while stationed in Kuwait. Mine is.
So far, her disconnect plan seems to be going swimmingly. My other daughter, on the other hand, failed miserably. Despite my 11th Commandment ("Thou shalt not use your smart phone while traveling abroad for anything other than emergency calls, and by ’emergency,’ I mean Westminster Abbey is on fire and you started it."), I watched her tweets roll across my screen faster then I could recalculate the dwindling balance of my retirement fund.
And as I chopped the onions and checked on the turkey on Thanksgiving Day, I did so with laptop and cell phone abreast. I forwarded an appraisal report, set the table, sent contingency removals for signature, stirred the gravy, and took several calls — including one from an agent who was on "vacation."
In fact, I have talked to this agent more during her time "away" than during the balance of our transaction. It’s an epidemic.
During our family get-togethers, my father-in-law used to say, "Don’t worry about the people who didn’t come — worry about who did."
The problem is that, like a bad Verizon Wireless commercial, our entire network is always with us — at the meeting with the plumber, in the kitchen, and on vacation. Unplugging is not always an option, not when there is a livelihood at stake and not when the Internet has redefined our social contract.
I wrote recently on my blog about rules of etiquette for agents and our clients. My thoughts were inspired by a California Real Estate magazine article devoted entirely to manners. And it’s not the goofy factor of the article that’s relevant here. (We should return our phone calls? Really?) Rather, what struck me was one of the comments.
In response to a remark I made about it being bad form for clients to pull a no-show at scheduled appointments, one reader had this to say: "(You) still don’t get what’s going on around you. In sales you service buyers. They don’t service you. If you are not willing to give them what they want, the market (other Realtors) will."
Oh, I get it all right. No snow day for me, then. Boundaries are for the Flintstones. Putting the needs of an entire generation — a world — programmed for instant gratification and the 24-hour drive-thru window on the backburner just because it’s a national holiday is for stooges.
Enlightened, plugged-in, modern-day girls need to act like the doormat they are and just lie down, already.
Or do they? I sometimes wonder if it all won’t become too much, and not just for real estate agents and other service professionals, but for everyone. I wonder if the face-to-face courtesies that have long been prescribed in our society might be rewritten for our new life in the cloud.
Beginning with that first "My child is a shining star" sticker we slapped on our bumper, we made it clear that it is all about them. Through our chat boxes, our smart phones, and our 47 ways to reach us this very minute, we have set the expectations-bar pretty high.
I wonder if we are too far down this road and if we can truly draw that line between personal and public, or business and pleasure anymore.
I wonder if there is an app for that.