Friday, May 04, 2007

Back to the Water Cooler

My students asked recently if I was on Facebook. I am not. They were somewhat surprised given my insistence on using the internet for all reference materials used in class, as well as for assignment submission, grading and communication. Our online system uses a technology called Blackboard which allows for communication, discussion, voice messages, etc. It is a great tool to meet the needs of our work and educational environment. I spend most of my day on the computer, whether it is doing research, writing e-mail, or writing this blog – technology is the vehicle and the computer is the arena. Almost daily there seems to be something I can do better or faster, or just something that is more interesting to use. I am not sure what Facebook could add to what our current program, Blackboard, already has – aside from the "cool now" factor.

That said, I have no idea of what value any government employee gains by having access to Facebook during the workday. I am not a fan of government interference in the private lives of individuals in Canada. Nor do I believe that any employer should have any more than "need to know" access to the private lives of its employees. But banning Facebook from the workplace is not an issue about interfering in private lives. It is not draconian. It may even save people from their own stupidity. The amount of personal information that individuals put on Facebook could very likely be damaging to career aspirations (think about getting "dooced" -- see my post from 2005, also see the Dilbert Comic strip for today's date).

There is no doubt that great volumes of time are wasted by workers everyday using technology for something other than work. This is not in the employer’s interest – and I am not convinced that there is anything about it in the employee’s interest. On the other hand, I am not a fan of micro management and indeed believe that stupid management may be the blight of the modern workplace. So, if it is not an issue in the workplace, it if is not a time waster, then leave it alone.

The law in Canada with respect to the use of technology in the workplace is that it is the employer’s equipment and it certainly has the right to limit access. The employer also has a right to require the employee to work while at work. This is nothing new. If employees are wasting time on Facebook, then the employer has a right to do something about that. But Facebook isn't the genesis of indolence in the office. Employees can find other ways to waste time -- once upon a time there was the mythical "water cooler" where workers gathered to share stories. Now, we bring a bottle of water to our desk and sign on to Facebook. Maybe it's time to go back to the water cooler.

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