Microsoft Outlook’s “Out of Office Assistant” pop-up window.

Microsoft Outlook’s “Out of Office Assistant” pop-up window.


Out of office e-mail messages can be an art form all their own. We’ve collected some of the best from the Magazine’s in-box.

It’s a tale as old as the time stamp: you’re “out of the office” but the poor saps trying to reach you might need “urgent assistance.” Etiquette demands that you alert them to your absence and direct them to the appropriate assistant urgent assister. Hence, the modern art form of the autoresponse. Most read like they’re copied and pasted from a Microsoft template, but the genre’s more avant-garde voices deserve special applause and best wishes for their impending vacation—even though you know they’ll be obsessively checking their e-mail the whole time. Here are some of the staff’s favorite selections from the Magazine’s in-box.

On 3/27/12, 3:02 p.m., Douglas Kyle Hogarth wrote:

I am sitting on a beach. I’ll be back March 28. I may check e-mail by accident occasionally.

On 6/19/12, 1:41 p.m., John Levi Martin wrote:

First error was giving one son a tool kit and the second was allowing the other to assist me in putting everything back together. I think we mixed up parts from the panini press, the Etch A Sketch, and the pachinko machine with the computer and now unless you get the ball in the right place the Swiss cheese melts in that tray, and so it isn’t really working, and I have to hurry because this nice man in Starbucks wants his iPhone back. So my access to e-mails may be sporadic for some time. Influenced by Wolfram’s theorem of the universal computational machine, however, we are trying to arrange the sand between two rocks at the point off 55th Street to take over all tasks previously allocated to the Dell unit—the theorem proves that this can be done in a finite amount of time. I am expecting that we should be done by July 5. If you need to contact me before then, you must write your wishes in blood on a piece of bark, take it to the woods at midnight and burn it, make the ashes into a little ash cake with nectar and dew, put it by a lily for the fairy queen to snack on in the middle of the night, and she will let me know your thoughts when we next meet.

On 6/19/12, 1:40 p.m., Vijay Prashad wrote:

If you see the Monsoon Winds, you might catch a glimpse of me. I shall be wearing a red shirt, and, hopefully, a broad smile. It will take me a day or so to wave back to you.

On 12/20/11, 4:57 p.m., John Levi Martin wrote:

I’m off to placate my relatives by dragging my kids from one to the other for a while. Back around 2012, give or take a year. We’ll catch up then. Til that time, take care of yourself, your city, and your planet.

On 7/27/11, 4:06 p.m., Robert Ross wrote:

Along with the Sabbath and the eight-hour day, entitlement to vacation stands out as a recognition, recent to be sure in the history of work and employment, that even those who work for wages are fully human, and may, at rest, enrich their souls and expand their horizons.

On 3/22/11, 3:31 p.m., John Levi Martin wrote:

With deep regret I have to say
I am not here —I am away.
I had to leave, I could not stay
Will I come back? Perhaps I may.
Will I see you? I hope, I pray.
But now I’m off along my way
I can’t respond, I must go play.
Until I do return some day
(exactly which, I shan’t betray)
with pains in heart, again I say
I am not here. I am away.

On 8/24/10, 5:38 p.m., Boaz Keysar wrote:

Boaz went eastward. He claims that he will be back in touch in the fall.

On 8/24/10, 5:30 p.m., Patchen Markell wrote:

Thanks for your message. As of July 1, I have concluded my term as Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Political Science. Since it’s possible that the interwebs have begun to eat my brain, for the foreseeable future I’ll be reading and responding to e-mail somewhat less frequently than usual. Thanks in advance for your patience.