wifi3As computers have become laptops, and laptops have become smartphones, so has the working world become increasingly a 24-7 phenomenon.

It’s not just that most of us check email nights, weekends and on vacation, it’s that now bosses and clients expect it too. As a successful travel agent — yes, there are some of us still out there — I do answer after-hours emails when I can. I have, however, been struck by the fact that while many people still say things like “Hey, I’m thinking of this on the weekend but no rush,” or “If you happen to be online and have a few minutes,” etc, etc, that more and more people just assume emails will be answered nearly immediately. Emergency or not.

In fact, I had one email Thanksgiving evening about 10 p.m. about a proposed trip for next week (from a client who books a handful of flights a year) and then a slightly cranky followup at 9:30 a.m. Friday morning that I hadn’t sent her ideas. And a client earlier this year who sent me six emails before 7 a.m. on a Saturday, the last few incensed that not only was I not emailing her back, no one was answering the phone at our small office.

And I have no doubt that this 24/7 expectation goes well beyond the travel industry. Whether it’s being in a customer service business, or having a boss with high expectations, many Americans are increasingly electronically leashed.

Which is why, as much as many of us, myself included, may have a hard time hitting that “off” button when the airline door closes, it’s also still a moment of intense relief. For as little as an hour, and in the case of an international flight, ten hours or more, it’s offline time. In my case that means reading for fun without guilt, whether it’s a novel or a truly junky magazine.

While some of my clients take airlines like Virgin America that already offer wi-fi to work the entire flights, others, like me, relish the break. Along with the fact that the office just cannot reach you for a time.

And yes, while the voicemails and emails can back up in a hurry, everyone survives. And the rush to catch up almost never makes me regret the time off.

It wasn’t that long ago that travel meant being completely disconnected from work except for the occasional visit to a payphone. Or more recently, a visit to the hotel business center or an Internet cafe. And while I love my blackberry, there are moments I miss those days.

No doubt within a few years, Wi-Fi will be accepted as an everyday part of flying. And while I suppose eventually I’ll take advantage of it, I’m actually dreading the day it becomes ubiquitous.

(Photo: slambo_42/Flickr Creative Commons)