The Tech World is Not the Whole World

techglassesOne the the things I noticed when I started blogging largely about tech topics is that there is a clear and consistent tendency on the part of tech developers and tech writers to view the world through tech-colored glasses.  By that, I mean to believe that the values and trends in the tech-sphere are representative of the values and trends across corporate America.

I can tell you as someone who reads and writes in the tech world, but lives and works in the big-business corporate America world, that the tech world is not representative of the whole world.  I wish it was, but it isn’t.

APC Magazine has an article today about the effect of internet restrictions on employee hiring and retention.  It quotes Anne Kirah, Microsoft Senior Design Anthropologist (another job title for my job title hall of fame), who says:

“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.”

I would try to respond with a kind and gentle hand if not for the following quote that made me wonder if I had accidentally clicked over to The Onion:

“Kirah cited a Norwegian psychologist who claimed that young people were now so reliant on digital communication that ‘taking a mobile phone away from a teenage girl is the same as child abuse.'”

Obviously, that’s ludicrous on its face to anyone who have ever raised a child or worked one day at a real job, but let me try to address my point and let that softball float on past.

Would employees in corporate America prefer to surf the internet all day instead of working?  Of course they would.  People would spend countless hours chatting, surfing the personals, gambling, shopping on eBay, playing flash-based games and having a grand old time.  All at the expense of their productivity.  And, of course, in the process they would answer emails from strangers that say I Love You with a virus.

What was designed as an at the desk coffee break would grow into an obsession for some.  Hours upon hours would be wasted.  Jobs would be lost, resulting in the loss of mobile phones.  A vicious cycle would engulf America until we were a nation of zombies clicking obsessively on our inbox, trained by intermittent reinforcement that an email or chat request would soon arrive.  OK, well maybe not a nation of zombies, but you get my drift.

The internet is addictive.  There’s no doubt about it.  And it’s fun too.  But so is beer and whiskey and nobody’s lobbying to let employees guzzle Maker’s Mark at their desk.  At least not yet.

The level of internet control that companies place on their employees varies.  At my office, only sites that are security risks or are obviously inappropriate (such as porn sites, etc.) are blocked.  At one large company I work for, Flickr is blocked.  I know of one company where news sites are blocked.

Does is suck at times? Undoubtedly, but companies have to make policies that apply to hundreds or thousands of employees.  Just because one person is responsible enough to check CNN and still get his work done doesn’t mean the guy in the next office is.  And non-uniform policies are invitations to a lawsuit.

The tech world did one great thing for corporate America back in the nineties- forced a lot of companies, including mine, to adopt a business casual policy.  I’d love to see the tech world do it again with internet access and the acceptance of new technology.

But it ain’t gonna happen.

Corporate America and the tech world that we read and write about are not the same.  You can’t view the world through tech-colored glasses.

I don’t care what some quack in Norway says.

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