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
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
faster speeds, management America is beginning to view with alarm
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
his staff playing games on their office PCs that he responded with
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
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
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
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
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. …