Should I be concerned with privacy? Nobody is lurking over my shoulder, perhaps preparing to copy my work or steal my ideas. That might be a compliment, but, in my case at least, it's not happening. Much as I might want to, I have no reason to fear that I have to protect my original work.
But it is a question of what might be called "work habits", and the way those work habits have changed in the digital era. Without implying any comparison, perhaps a (probably apocryphal) story about Albert Einstein illustrates the point:
But perhaps we still do. I had a game of Reversi (Othello) on my first computer (a Mac SE). The game had a wonderful screen called "quick, the boss is coming". Choosing that option from the menus made the game disappear, showing what looked like an Excel spreadsheet in its stead. This of course was before multi-tasking, when solutions of this sort might have been useful. Today I can keep a real spreadsheet open for just the same purpose and get to it with one click.
So I'm not really concerned here with questions of privacy, or someone looking over my shoulder, but of what is normally considered productive work. Or perhaps better put, I'm interested in how the definition of productive work changes as the internet becomes more and more a central part of our daily work schedule.
But this leads us back to Einstein. I'm (still) not about to compare his work to mine, but work that demands thinking is work that can't be measured by traditional standards of production. One day I can write something that hardly needs any editing, is clear and complete, and for the next two days I can stare at the computer screen without any clear idea of how to accomplish what I set out to do. On days like the latter perhaps it's more productive to surf sites than to simply sit in front of a blank screen. Someone glancing over my shoulder on days such as these would be right to scratch his/her head and wonder if I was really working. But a good case could be made that I had been busy assimilating information so that later I'd be able to put it to productive use.
But hey! It's May, 1998 already! Is there anyone still out there who's really worried about workers at computer-based jobs misusing their computers on company time to surf the web and in general "waste" time? I mean, I originally made a note to myself to write about this topic about a year and a half ago, but decided that it had become passe and that there was no longer any reason to write it. But apparently I was wrong - it's still a hot topic. At least I can write that in the last two months I've added three more articles on the subject to the file I have of them that had been laying dormant for a while.
If it is, once again, a hot topic, I'd like to know why. Have statistics
on "company time surfing" become so high that something has to be done
about it? Have CEOs suddenly discovered the internet and become fearful
of its capabilities? And maybe, in the spirit of the cartoon on this page,
companies have discovered that computers haven't boosted productivity,
and it's a case of blame the worker who must be misusing the tool that
has been put at his/her disposal. After all, the truth is that those of
us who have internet access at the workplace often use it for purposes
which aren't directly or distinctly related to our work. But we hope that
we work for people who understand that only through allowing a bit (or
more) of leeway are we able to come up with creative or original solutions,
find relevant examples to learn from, be in contact with useful information.
When immediate and traditional productivity is the bottom line, I doubt
that internet access can be justified as being of much use. But we can
hope that internet access helps to expand and redefine the boundaries of
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