Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Ms. Theologian Isn't Watching You, But Something Else Might Be

Dear Ms. Theologian,

I'm graduating in a few weeks, and I'm starting a new job, and I want to be able to keep in contact with my friends via email during the day. I know I shouldn't use work email, but what about gmail?

-Weirded Out By the Thought of Monitoring


Dear Weirded Out,

Congratulations on graduating!

Ms. Theologian was under the impression that all the "kids these days" texted their friends constantly and that email was very old school. So she thinks your letter is probably fake. ;) Nonetheless, she will address answer it in good faith.

God help us all because you should probably assume that that all of what you do at work can be tracked in some fashion, which includes work email, web sites visited, phone calls, even time in and out. A little research shows that employers can monitor your activities with at least five general methods: packet sniffers, log files, desktop monitoring, phones, and cameras.

Feeling paranoid yet? Or perhaps safe because you work for a small company or a non-profit that doesn't go in for that much monitoring?

Ms. Theologian advises never saying anything via email that you wouldn't print on a postcard (or the New York Times) for that matter. She tries this, and mainly succeeds. Occasionally, she fails. But it's not a bad place to start.

She is depressing herself by writing this, but for a decade, she was monitored in both corporate and non-profit settings (depression is one of the consequences of monitoring). Here is part of what is wrong with monitoring. Ms. Theologian believes that monitoring and surveillance has a direct affect on her own creativity, which in turn undermines her ability to do her work. So she actually finds monitoring her activities negatively affects that all important God of Work, productivity.

Here is where the rest of the problem is (and she will attempt to describe it without going all Kant on you as this journal article does:

If you think of your work as a contract between you and your employer, you should be informed of any conditions, including monitoring, that will be imposed while you do the work. But few of us are. Which means we are essentially monitored against our will.

Additionally, arguments in favor of monitoring are always about "increasing productivity" and you know how Ms. Theologian feels about productivity. The very notion likens our bodies and minds to that of a machine. And we are not machines. We have hearts and souls and we love and grieve and cannot be expected to work as machines.

Now, Ms. Theologian has probably made you paranoid. But keep in mind just because everything you do is recorded, well, that does not mean a human being is paying attention. This information is stored for use later if you become a problem child.

There is a solution. To be on the safe side, you should not use your work computer for anything other than work. You should not use your work phone for anything other than work. You can use your cell phone for your non-work calls and texting to your heart's content (just not near a video recording device). Go outside and do it on a formal break.

Welcome to the wild world of work,

-Ms. Theologian