I frequently get emails with a signature line that reads, “Sent from my mobile office,” or some variation thereof. Of course my problem is that I start thinking about this one line more than the content of the email itself.

I envision a small wooden house, a version of an old fashioned Gypsy wagon, with wheels punctuating the ground to make the office mobile. Then I have really devilish thoughts and imagine how crowded it must be inside this office, the smart phone, from which the message is sent.
But the question is: Why do people have to declare this? I immediately want to resort to Bartleby’s “I would prefer not to,” as I am taken back to the days when firms had rows and rows of scriveners participating in the annals of business. They wore high collars, like those you've probably seen from one of the period pieces broadcast by Masterpiece Theatre. Sitting in an office, touching wooden desks, staining fingers with ink, the dip of the nib of the pen signaling the start of the workday, the first movement up and out and across paper, and the final moment of the nib landing to perch in its holder, the clock with gears calling for all business people to end their day.


I am not in the business of sentimentalizing how office work was done in those old days, when certainly no one had ergonomic furniture. By all means, recline comfortably in your turbo Volvo seat with lumbar support and text business communiques from your mobile office. And you are even allowed to talk in this future we inhabit—at the very least to Siri (iPhone's voice-controlled personal assistant) if you are stuck in freeway traffic along with other business workers in mobile offices.
But there is no ending the work day now. The workhouse of Dickens' times now lives like a haunted building we inhabit forever, even if it yields good to very excellent pay. We may be able to stop our Volvo to play golf on a Friday afternoon and send something from the links via our “mobile office,” but work now does not stop for us. Yes, this is a kind of twisted variation on Emily Dickinson’s famous lines, “Because I could not stop for Death / He kindly stopped for me.”
We are facing an eternity of work, in a world of leisure that people of earlier centuries could not have imagined. But is there really any kind of massage, fly fishing vacation, opera, even Abba song that will take the kink out of the “Sent from my mobile office” signature line and erect us from our stooping reality, as we emerge from the wagon of the minstrels in Bergman’s "The Seventh Seal" and remember the half-admonition of “You with your visions and dreams.”

By Ulf Kirchdorfer