It’s Easy To Blame Tech

For Naughty Images At Work

By ara c. trembly

I was sadly amused to see a news release recently about a Delta Consulting/PixAlert study that found more than 40% of the 500 largest U.S. firms have taken disciplinary action against employees in the past year for viewing “illicit images.”

The May 2005 study, done by Boston-based researcher Delta Consulting and sponsored by Boston-based PixAlert (which provides software to protect against viewing such images), reported that 90% of surveyed firms have procedures in place to deal with the viewing of such images, and 50% have had to use these procedures to deal with incidents in the past year.

Of the firms that pursued an investigation of the “illicit images” incidents, 44% fired someone from the company and 41% took some other disciplinary action, the study noted. And while none of the companies in the study was an insurance company, it seems na?ve to believe that the same kinds of things don’t go on in our own industry.

For the benefit of those (like myself) who occasionally like things spelled out for them, the term “illicit images” in this study refers to pornography, including child pornography, according to a PixAlert spokesman. He added that no one in the study who was involved in child pornography has been prosecuted–and that is a dreadful shame.

All of this is indeed a sad commentary on the state of our workplaces in this Internet age. But now for the amusing part: The survey also reported the sources from which companies perceived the highest risks from harmful images. These threats include the Internet, e-mail attachments, zipped files, Wi-Fi networks, cell phone cameras, memory sticks and even CDs.

Well isn’t that something? The risk isn’t some bored or overstimulated worker getting his (or her) jollies surfing Internet porn. Oh no. The real threat is the Internet itself, or any kind of electronic file, wireless communication or electronic imaging technology that might be used to view pornographic images. Let’s not acknowledge that it is the workers themselves whose surfing habits are damaging to the company and to themselves. After all, we wouldn’t want someone’s fragile self-esteem to crumble, now would we?

It reminds me of a phrase often heard on New Jersey Transit, which gets me to work most days. If a train doesn’t come on time, the apologetic announcement explains that it is due to “late equipment at origin.” You see, there’s the trick. Blame the technology, not the people. The train isn’t late because the conductor overslept or because the motorman dropped his Happy Meal into the controls. No, it didn’t come because the “equipment” itself decided not to arrive in a timely manner. Bad equipment!

And while we’re at it, why not blame printing technology for enabling illicit images to be reproduced as hard copy? Then we could blame logging technology for yielding paper on which nasty images can be printed. Heck, we might as well go way back and blame archaeological science for finding those cave drawings done in primitive charcoal that probably got the whole thing started! Bad charcoal!

By now, I’m sure you see my point. The Internet and associated electronic technologies are not a threat to companies when it comes to naughty images crossing their transoms. They are inanimate tools used by sentient beings with free wills. The real threat, the real problem, is the selfish needs that are inside all of us–the need to be entertained, the need to be stimulated, or even the need to self-medicate by using the “thrill” of pornography to mask the feelings of pain and emptiness that can come with the ups and downs of everyday life.

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be entertained or to have our personal pain reduced, but things become problematical when our wants and needs get in the way of our work or our relationships–or both. Many of us sublimate such needs at work with something relatively harmless, like clicking on a sports site to check last night’s scores, or walking to the water cooler to hear the latest joke. And often that’s enough.

In an age where technology that has enabled instant access to all sorts of entertainment is literally shoved down our throats, however, the struggle to stay balanced is one that many of us must endure. The fact that needs are easier to gratify thanks to technology is no excuse for a lapse of character.

But of course, we don’t want to admit that we might have a personal flaw or two.

Bad technology!

“Let’s not acknowledge that it is the workers themselves whose surfing habits are damaging to the company and to themselves. After all, we wouldn’t want someone’s fragile self-esteem to crumble, now would we?”