Saturday, September 09, 2006


I read somewhere not long ago that people who read blogs tend to be middle-class white-collar workers who surf the web from their computers at work. They have time on their hands, in the sense that they don't make widgets and so don't have to be 'productive' every minute of the day. I suspect many Locus Online readers are like that too.

But I have this friend, see, who called me the other day to complain about his workplace situation. Apparently his company got sold from one big-name corporation (a well-known West Coast-based manufacturer of passenger aircraft, as it happens) to another (a somewhat lesser-known East Coast-based conglomerate, whose subsidiaries manufacture, among other things, jet engines and elevators) about a year ago. The change in corporate culture has been dramatic. "These people are uptight and paranoid," my friend complained. "They're obsessed with regimented procedures, with labels on file cabinets and bookshelves, and they wear suits." I sympathized; I can't remember the last time I saw anyone in a suit in my own southern California company.

"And basically," he went on, "these new corporate overlords of ours are just not on our side. They don't trust us. They've said so explicitly. They filter our e-mail for key words--like 'breast' !--and if they find something, you get a Phone Call to ask what's going on. They're watching us every moment. And of course, they're blocking the Internet."

Blocking the Internet? Well, my company has always taken a dim view of surfing porn at work.

"Oh not just that," my friend went on, "they've got three guys sitting in a room scanning web access logs and manually blocking anything they find that they don't consider work-related. I went to Salon the other day and got this big warning on my screen instead-- THIS SITE HAS BEEN BLOCKED PER CORPORATE POLICY.... It's classified as an 'entertainment' site, see, and obviously entertainment is not a suitable activity for the workplace."

Well, I responded, that's not unusual corporate policy, is it? I mean, you're supposed to be there to work, right?

"Yeah well, sure, like the admin next to me who yaks for hours on the phone every day with her friends isn't supposed to be working too? Like we can't just take a break once in a while?? Anyway the Internet blocks are in effect 24/7. I used to spend my lunch hours surfing the web, reading blogs and other websites -- like Locus Online -- but lately so many sites are blocked, I've given up. They've won. I don't even try anymore. We're in a lockdown situation here."

He sounded so forlorn. Well, that's rough, I agreed, but there's not much you can do about it. Get a cellphone with internet access perhaps?

"They can't win!" my friend agreed. "Technology can't be suppressed!"

Well just don't risk your job over it, I advised. Thinking about it, I suppose I would be greatly inconvenienced if that happened to me; I mean, suppose I were running a website, say, and were used to spending my lunch hours gathering content for it. To be cut off like that would really hurt. I'm not sure what I would do. There are only so many hours in the day.

Coincidentally I saw an article recently claiming that younger jobseekers

will think twice about employers who lock down work internet access.

"These kids are saying: forget it! I don't want to work with you. I don't want to work at a place where I can't be freely online during the day," said Anne Kirah, Microsoft Senior Design Anthropologist. ...

"Companies all over the world are saying, oh, you can't be on the internet while you're at work. You can't be on instant messaging at work..." she said. "These are digital immigrant ideas."

Kirah defines 'digital immigrants' as people who were not born into the digital lifestyle and view it as a distraction rather than an integral part of life. The younger generation of workers have been using computers and mobile phones since birth and she calls them 'digital natives'.

Microsoft obviously has a vested interest in letting people use computers, but I'm not surprised that young people might think this way.

The final condolence I offered my friend was that, maybe without the distraction of the Internet at work, he might really become a lot more productive, and be suitably rewarded in coming pay raise cycles.

"Yeah, right," he said. "I'll let you know."
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Mark R. Kelly

The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Mark R. Kelly, and do not reflect the editorial position of Locus Magazine.
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