We can finally say goodbye to our offices following us wherever we travel. Three Icelandic horses have typed—literally, on a giant keyboard, surrounded by green slopes and sparkling waterfalls—an e-mail that anyone can use as an automatic response against any work requests while on vacation. The stunt is part of a new tourism campaign launched by the government of Iceland and focused on digital disconnection: “Things to do in Iceland while a horse answers your e-mails.”
After two years marked by pandemic travel restrictions, getaways, festivals and holiday celebrations have returned. Three out of four Europeans plan to travel this summer, according to the European Travel Commission. But neither the brilliance of a concert in Barcelona nor the water of the Norwegian fjords can extinguish travelers’ resentment for the encroachment of work into their free time.
According to the Infojobs report on Digital Disconnection, published in June this year, 75% of Spanish workers stay connected to their work emails outside of working hours, and 64% do so while on vacation. The percentage has been rising since 2020, when the pandemic turned the dining room table into an office and blurred the lines between work hours and rest time. According to the study, most workers do so because they feel obligated to respond, despite the fact that they are legally entitled to digital disconnection during their time off.
According to Beatriz Carrero, a psychologist who specializes in anxiety, disconnecting is difficult for many because we increasingly evaluate ourselves based on productivity. “We think that being present through any means makes us more responsible and valuable for the company. If it is something time-sensitive, the consequences are not usually serious, but if it becomes a habit, we will find ourselves on constant alert.”
A survey recently carried out by the government of Iceland shows results similar to those of Infojobs: more than half of people say they check their inbox on vacation. The data, according to Sigríður Dögg, director of Visit Iceland, has led them to ask how Iceland can offer a solution.
Their solution: three different e-mails written by horses walking on a keyboard. Litla Stjarna Frá Hvítarholti writes fast, but she might take a nap. Hrímnir Frá Hvammi is assertive and efficient. Hekla Frá Porkellshóli is trained in the art of corporate buzzwords.
On the Visit Iceland website, the user chooses their favorite profile, selects the dates they will be traveling, and the system creates a note: “John Smith is currently on a holiday. In the meantime, John has OutHorsed e-mail writing duties to Litla Stjarna frá Hvítarholti, an Icelandic horse who writes emails on a very large keyboard. Here is Litla Stjarna frá Hvítarholti’s response: ‘Öööö WE4KJUI ytswbx5sefj68l hl7r.uwe aerhht.’ John will be back to work on July 30, 2022.” Such a message is sure to get clients and colleagues to leave you alone.
“No one person is essential,” says Carrero, encouraging travelers to take a break from work. Now that we know that we can so easily be replaced by animals, it may be easier for us to disconnect.