Employers Clamp Down on PC Play

Article excerpt

NEW YORK -- Just how personal is the personal computer?

A little too personal, when it comes to using the PC on the job these days -- at least in the eyes of many bosses.

Employers, whether in the federal government or the private sector, are cracking down on the use of computer games, personal e- mail and recreational Web surfing, which they see as undermining the productivity that the PC was supposed to bring to the world of work. The management measures include monitoring employees' computer files, tracking their electronic footprints across the World Wide Web and even sponsoring congressional legislation that would ban PC game- playing in federal offices. Many workers, meanwhile, are devising retaliatory measures of their own. Consider Don's Boss Page, available on the World Wide Web and offering features like "Stealth Surfing: secret tips and tricks from the pros on how to look busy at work while you're cruising the Internet. No bosses allowed!" Don Pavlisch, a graphic designer who created the site and who admits to browsing his favorite on-line magazines as a way of unwinding on the job, sees the issue as a matter of worker rights in the digital age. Bosses "can crack down, they can get tougher, but ultimately people always have a need for recreation," Pavlisch said. "Surfing the Internet allows the mind to relax." Luckily for Pavlisch, his own employer, Nicholson NY, a Manhattan- based Web site design firm, is indulgent on such matters. But Joanne Capritti, speaking on behalf of many of the bosses of the land, frames the issue a bit differently. "It's an evolution in the perception of computers," said Capritti, a director at the American Management Association. "Your PC is something you get real intimate with and you really do think of as yours. But the reality is: It isn't." After a decade of scurrying to equip white collar workers with desktop computers that could crunch numbers and process words at ever faster speeds, management America is beginning to view with alarm the time-wasting potential of its high-tech tools. And as employers clamp down, an old tug-of-war with employees over the management of their time and work is shaping up in a new form. The fight has even reached Capitol Hill. Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R- N.C., who became so incensed earlier this year when he saw members of his staff playing games on their office PCs that he responded with an amendment to a pending appropriations bill. The measure would require federal agencies to remove any games currently installed on their computers and prohibit the purchase of new machines with games pre- loaded. The Senate has unanimously approved the amendment, and a joint House and Senate committee must now decide whether to include it in the final version of the bill. It would be a law too far, in the view of at least one civil servant, Cory Tusar, a 22-year-old computer programmer for the Environmental Protection Agency. Tusar, whose supervisor deems him "one of the most productive employees in this whole office," has been known to use his lunch break to play Quake, a popular Internet game in which the goal is to blow away an opponent in some other corner of the network. (It helps the kill ratio to have the kind of fast network connection that many offices do and most homes do not.) "I've been known to stretch it by 15 minutes -- or more," Tusar said of his lunch-hour computer carnage. "But then I work longer hours." Banning PC games will do nothing to enhance his productivity, Tusar insisted. "It's just not something that should be legislated on a government level." The heightened concern by both public and private employers about PC usage is due largely to the advent of the World Wide Web, a looking-glass world just beyond the computer screen that employees fall into with great regularity. Workers with Web access typically spend five to 10 hours a week to send personal e-mail or search for information not specifically related to their jobs, according to employer estimates. …


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