Often I’ve written here about my internal conflicts when it comes to use of Internet filters. While I’d love to open up YouTube, the cost in bandwidth and disciplinary problems makes it hard to justify. I may tend to be more liberal than my counterparts in allowing access to the Web, but I also know that filters, however flawed, are necessary, and censorship isn’t the only driving reason for blocking a site.
Recent conversations have shot holes in one argument which presents itself on a regular basis. I have teachers and media specialists tell me that the kids need more access to the web because they need to learn skills for the 21st Century workplace. I would argue that if we REALLY wanted to give them a taste of workplace policies, we’d tighten things down even further.
I’ve spoken to two friends in two different industries – one in research and development and another in a medical-related field. Both said that their Internet access is very tightly controlled. They have NO access to anything that might be construed as non-work-related.
Companies are concerned with more than just disciplinary problems. Time wasted on surfing the web during work hours means money wasted. There is also the problem of liability and disclosure of industry secrets. A quick Google search of “employee” and “Internet” brings up lots of sites with reasons why employers need to restrict employees’ access. Unsurprisingly, many of the sites and the studies I read are associated with companies that sell filtering systems. Many of these were written in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when the Web was still a big bad scary place, full of unknowns.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should block everything because that’s what industries do. I’m just saying that this particular argument perhaps isn’t the best. I think students need to be able to evaluate web resources, determine appropriateness, and understand the consequences of making poor choices. Blocking everything doesn’t really help with this.
Interestingly enough, some studies are indicating that allowing some incidental personal use of the Internet can actually help with production and employee well-being. I found the following on the New Scientist website…
The recent study in the journal CyberPsychology & Behaviour involved questioning 329 people on their use of computers at work. A statistical analysis of the results suggests non-work computer use fell into two categories, which the psychologists call “counter-productive” and “non-productive”.
The first category includes things able to damage a firm legally (breaking the law) or financially (giving away proprietry information). The second includes behaviours that are not directly destructive, but aren’t directly productive either. Think sending emails or banking online
But the team – from companies Genesee Survey Services and Kenexa, and Eastern Connecticut State University – also found a strong link between internet access and job satisfaction.
They argue that companies should be more tolerant of non-productive computer use: “As definitions of work activities evolve with changing technology, perhaps strict adherance to these work activities is outdated, unobtainable or even unwarranted.”
They reckon that we should embrace a future in which workers maintain their happiness and productivity through judicious non-work browsing, email and chat throughout the working day. Truly-counterproductive behaviour on the other hand shouldn’t be tolerated, they say. But they predict it will become less common as more people become familiar with the web.
Interesting. However, I’m sure that most companies will let the fear of lost revenue and liability color their policies rather than studies just as this. In much the same way, school districts are more concerned with potential liabilities and discipline problems that arise from students visiting inappropriate sites. So, we have filters and regulations requiring them if we’re to get federal funds.
With ubiquitous access to technology, however, filters may be moot. In a 2008 Computerworld article (Source:Computerworld 42.5 (Jan 28, 2008): p48(1)) Frank Hayes states that…
SAM ZELL just told the 20,000 employees at his company that he trusts them on the Internet during work time. “I have instructed that all content filters be removed,” he told Tribune Co. workers in a memo last week. “You are now exposed to the dangers of YouTube and Facebook. Please use your best judgment. Let’s focus on what is important, and go for greatness.”
Is this guy crazy–or is he onto something? …
Or maybe he figures that in the age of the iPhone, employees don’t need a company computer to kill time on the Internet. Heck, he probably understands that wasting time at work doesn’t require any advanced technology at all.
And there’s no technology that can force a worker to be productive.
What good is a filter if someone can get to the same content on a pocket device? Subsequently, we’re now getting policies on cell phones and pocket devices. It’s a never-ending circle.