Beware the Technology Police

I remember doing a pitch to some potential clients once, showing them how they could really bring their eLearning to life by including some rich, multi-media, case-based scenarios. They seemed genuinely impressed by some examples I showed them and I thought we were making real progress. They said they would like to have their eLearning follow a similar path, but that there was one little problem. It turns out that someone had decided that it would be a good idea to have multi-media capabilities removed from all computers within this organization. I can’t remember the exact reasons why, but it had something to do with concerns about preventing employees from playing games or wasting time on other diversions / entertainments while “on the clock.” After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I said thanks, it’s been real, and quickly found the nearest exit. At the time, and ever since, I have thought that the technology police within organizations are using such short-sighted technology bans to cover up a lack of actual management, not to mention foresight and imagination.

Since that encounter noted above, I have come across many other examples of similar technology-limiting edicts that are equally as silly. In my mind, if people are wasting time, or are not productive, or are not meeting objectives, this is a performance issue, plain and simple, and it should be addressed as such. Banning computer technologies that can be used for very productive purposes because some people are abusing the privilege, is not a smart move. It is akin to:

  • bricking in windows because some people are staring out of them while day dreaming on the job;
  • cutting off all phone lines because some people are making too many personal calls; or,
  • not allowing conversations among employees because some people are too chatty and waste others’ time.

These are, of course, extreme examples. However, I think it is equally silly to deny all of your employees the potential benefits of information and communications technologies that can enhance learning, build community and enable personal and professional growth because someone does not want to manage those who are not responsible.

Recent news stories tell me that the technology police are flourishing. In the last few weeks I have come across stories about school boards banning cell phones from school property and government departments banning use of Facebook, the social networking site, by government employees.

With respect to the first story, yes, it is highly disruptive to have cell phones going off in class, and this should not be allowed. However, part of the stated rationale in banning the cell phones was to stem cheating (enterprising students were, apparently, text messaging test answers to each other). I do not condone cheating, but perhaps the bigger problem here is that schools are still giving memorization tests in an age of instant access to information. Why not give the students some real challenging questions to answer that cannot be condensed to yes or no, true or false, 1812 or 1867? And then encourage them to surf the net with their phones and to text message each other (even reaching out beyond the confines of the school), collaborating on some big and meaningful problems. This will more closely resemble the world into which they will be entering.

With respect to the second story about government employees “wasting time” on Facebook, why not encourage them to establish Facebook contacts with public sector workers across different departments, and across different governments around the world? What could be learned by hearing about how others are tackling public policy issues? What kinds of connections could be made? What kinds of sharing and learning could take place?

If people are slacking off / goofing off / not doing their jobs, by all means manage this. But having the technology police make across-the-board bans is not managing. It is pure laziness. Worse than this, it is forsaking the tremendous benefits that such technologies can bring because one does not wish to manage performance.

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