Back on my first newspaper reporting job, covering a small local government in the mid-1990s, I was given my first symbol of work responsibility: a beeper. Theoretically, it would go off in the event of some critical breaking news. In reality, it usually beeped around dinnertime, when a copy editor had a minor question about a story. Nonetheless, attaching it to my belt made me feel important. I needed to be reached.
Now, I am reachable via an array of much smarter electronic devices, and my perceived-importance-to-actual-importance ratio is about the same. At least 70 percent of my e-mail inbox is coupons, special offers, and LinkedIn invitations from people I’ve never met. But I still compulsively check my e-mail, whenever a screen is in reach, to see if someone wants to be in touch.