Posted by: emjb | September 20, 2007


My workplace is old-fashioned in many ways. Their love of IBM and Microsoft products. (And also Lotus Notes, which frankly, is ass). Their aging cubicles. The phones which are at least 10 years old (no customizable rings! No digital displays! Horrors!). Their Beige Modern approach to office decor.

And also, the generational/mental divide that separates those who barely dip their toes into the internet, and those who like to swim in it all day long.

Web surfing is not strictly verboten, but it is certainly not encouraged at the rate I do it. I work 20 minutes, surf 15, work 40 minutes, surf 10, work three hours to finish, then spend the last 15 minutes of my day checking email and news. I’m good at hiding my constant activity under windows, because I know the assumption is that I’m Not Working when I surf. But actually, it impacts my day about as much as listening to a news radio station, chatting with coworkers, or taking long coffee breaks (which are big at my office) does. Maybe less. And it keeps my brain alive when I’m feeling overwhelmed and bored stupid by insurance technicalities. Which is often. I do surf some pop culture stuff, but mostly it’s news sites, politics (much of it healthcare related, for that matter), general interest stuff, all of it harmless and none of it keeping me from meeting my deadlines. But that would not matter; were I more open about it, I’d get lectured and frowned at and considered lazy or frivolous.

But then, I got lectured in school when I’d finished the book the class was on and would bring in my own to read instead, tucked inside it. I got lectured in the bookstore when I read at my station even though the store was devoid of customers. Because if you let me get away with it, then you have to let everyone get away with it, and then there is chaos in the streets. Or something. I’ve never been clear on what happens then, actually. Something bad, and it will all be my fault.

So I sneak around like a little kid, in every office job I have, turning in good work but hiding my secret habit of learning things. I just can’t help myself.



  1. I’m sure it’s not limited to Texas and not unseen in NYC, but I must say I’ve noticed a stark difference in de facto policies regarding web surfing since moving to NYC. It didn’t matter what the job was in Texas, if I was slacking even for two minutes, I might as well have been burgling money directly from the company coffers. At my jobs in NYC, you may be seen as a social pariah if you don’t check your email, Facebook, IM, and Twitter constantly. Hell, all of my jobs have required me to have an IM account. It’s so much weight off my chest.

    Then again, I do work in the internet-related industry.

  2. Um, yes, I think the fact that you are an IT guy MAY…have something to do with it. But even my publishing job in NY (which I miss, sigh) was pretty relaxed, though I wasn’t watching videos all day by any means, and I did keep it to a responsible minimum. There, I knew the IT guy–I sent him Metafilter links–so there were no worries, he didn’t give a damn. He was probably playing Halo all day.

  3. It’s very dependent on the industry. I had bosses in NYC who surfed more than I did, and I also worked at corporations whose proxy servers would barely let in CNN and Oddly, one of the most restrictive places was one where I was doing QA on their website. They were probably a bit hypersensitive about the risk of people surfing the net all day, given that we had unfettered web access.

    I don’t think companies’ fears about lost productivity are entirely unfounded. I just wish it were enforced on a case-by-case basis. Some people can surf and get work done, and some can’t. Punish those who can’t, and let the rest of us check our lolcats, man.

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