I talked to a man on the beach the other day who was checking his company e-mail while his wife and kids played in the surf. Said he was on vacation, but something came up at work that he had to handle.

Unfortunately, it didn't seem that unusual.

How long can you go without reading your e-mail?

A day? A week? An hour?

There was a time, you know, when we could completely unplug from our jobs and disappear for weeks at a time.

All we told our employer and/or clients was that we'd be back. And they understood.

That, of course, was during those halcyon days of yore, back when your job ended when you walked out the door and didn't start back until you clocked in the next day.

Sadly, those days are gone forever.

You've got mail

Truth is, almost everybody's job requires that you keep in touch and stay up to date. Those cell phones and BlackBerrys your company provides are simply umbilical cords that keep you tied to the mother ship.

And because of that, you're never really off.

Given today's technology, you carry your office in your pocket, and you end up working part time, all the time. Weekends. Holidays. E-mail never sleeps. That little red light keeps blinking. You've got mail. Might be important. Might be junk. Better check.

And you're right if you're thinking this can't be good for us.

And you're right again, it's only going to get worse.

I remember when leaving a phone message involved someone actually writing it down on a little pink piece of paper labeled "While You Were Out," so and so called and said they needed to talk to you. Please call them back.

Chances were you might not get that person on the phone that day, but maybe the next, or the next.

Today we call it playing phone tag.

And guess what?

You're it.

Merry-go-round

Even when I take vacation, I don't change the messages on my e-mail and voicemail saying I'll be back next week. Mainly because I don't know how.

But if I did, I'd just return to find a thousand messages that would take me a week to sort through. And, quite honestly, I don't have time to get that far behind.

And neither do you.

Our world is moving so fast that nobody can afford to get off the merry-go-round for a minute, or they'll get left on the side of the road.

It's just more expedient, and frankly, more practical, to keep one leg on the treadmill.

The quicker you can answer a question, provide input, make a commitment, forward a message, put out a fire, or keep someone from making a terrible mistake, the better.

How long, for instance, will you wait for someone to return a phone call? How long to answer an e-mail? A text message?

If the answer to any of those is longer than 30 minutes, you're on the wrong train. The express to success left the station a long time ago. And if you're not on it, well, you're either retired, independently wealthy, or a monk.

Reach Ken Burger at kburger@postandcourier.com or 937-5598 or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Ken_Burger.