We're rushing out the door to catch a flight when I get the bright idea to do what every sentient human and probably a few primates did years ago: program my computer to send an autoreply saying I am out of town.


I had not ever done it because I had not felt the need. It is just as easy to check my e-mail at airports, hotels, cybercafes, friends' houses, grocery stores, gas stations, hospital waiting rooms, jail, etc. If that doesn't work, I try something truly different: the telephone.

Yet, for some reason, on this particular morning, I dreamed up the aforementioned bright idea. How hard can it be? I ask myself. Everybody does it.

But I have this tiny voice in the back of my head that repeats, over and over, Bright ideas are bad. Leave well enough alone. Don't change. You'll only mess things up. Bright ideas are bad. Leave well enough alone. Don't change. You'll only mess things up. ...

Meanwhile, my rational self strides into the room like John Wayne and says, real confident-like: What are ya gonna do, be a yella-belly? Install the goldarn thing. Screwing up autoresponse is impossible, pilgrim. Everybody has autoresponse. Bright ideas are good. Go ahead - take a shot!

I listen to John Wayne Voice for two reasons. One, because it is John Wayne. Two, because I had become jealous of auto­repliers. What were they doing that was so important or so great that they couldn't get their e-mail? Leslie Notthere is out of the office and in Tahiti enjoying sun, surf, and international romance. She will return your e-mail when her tan wears off. Steven Goneaway is out of the office on extremely important but highly classified business. He will get back to you when his mission is complete.

I wanted to have too great a time or be too important to be bothered by e-mail. I wanted autoreply.

Which brings me back to my bright idea. Let me digress for a second to say that I know better.

More often than not, no good comes from a bright idea. Take, for example, the dishwasher. Whose bright idea was that? You have to wash the dishes before you put them in. Rinse, you say? Yeah. Right. You can have the fork with the splotchy, crusty thing on it. The bright idea was to sell everybody on the notion that these things are convenient.

People with bright ideas inevitably say that they only want to make things better or easier. No, they don't. They want recognition as the sort of person who has bright ideas. They also want the money that comes from people who buy their bright ideas.