Peter Kim offers an interesting observation on the way social networking relates to the qualities of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon and the insight offered by Michel Foucault that Bentham’s design served as an exemplar for organizational discipline in the industrial age. Peter notes that Bentham’s design made prisoners uncertain whether the prison guards were watching their behavior at any particular moment. He also points out that the design of modern cube farms in offices not only foster collaboration but also afford observation by managers and peers.
In the 21st century, the panopticon has moved online. Today’s IT departments install keystroke loggers and web proxies that monitor employees’ computing activities.
Employees usually react to panoptic observation by falling in line and acceding to discipline – or leaving the company (only to fall into the same situation, different brand on the door).
But social computing fosters 100% anti-panoptic behavior. People become exceedingly transparent and open. Observation loses its power as workers share the information anyway.
Peter’s point is not trivial, that social computing challenges the prevailing wisdom on managing the way employees communicate with management and peers within their organization and others outside it. He is also on target to note that the issues of discipline and control remain central concerns in the prevailing wisdom. As suggested here previously, the integration of social computing into the Enterprise raises issues of risk management, whether it involves e-Learning 2.0, Community 2.0, Marketing 2.0, or any other X2.0 phenomena. Moreover, the risks perceived probably differ depending on the functional area of the Enterprise in which social computing initiatives occur.
A recent report from the eLearning Guild, E-Learning 2.0: Learning in a Web 2.0 World, offers the following data on companies that restrict access to social network and shared content sites on the web.
The eLearning Guild’s research drew from 1,160 of its members from 979 different organizations. The numbers distinguish between organizations with more than 10,000 employees and those with less. Organizations with more than 10,000 employees appear slightly less willing to permit employees access to social networking sites, with the exception of Wikipedia to which almost everyone appears to allow access.
In their followup with around 36 members regarding why their organizations block access to social networking sites, the Guild researchers report the following three types of reasons.
So, why do organizations block these sites? We corresponded with several dozen Guild members, and they gave the following reasons:
- Concern that workers would engage in frivolous activities,
- Concern that allowing unfettered access to sites like YouTube would cause bandwidth problems, and
- Concern that some social networking sites might contain malformed pages that, when accessed, would download and run malicious software code.
Given the dependence of eLearning professionals on IT infrastructure, it isn’t surprising that technical concerns about the risks posed by social computing to bandwidth, or vulnerability to malicious software, dominate the perception of why their organization blocks access to social networking sites. A survey of marketing or public relations professionals would likely show quite different sets of concerns about the risks posed by social computing. However, Peter’s rhetorical question, and implicit conclusion, on the issue seems right to me. He asks,
You may block Facebook and Twitter today – but how long will it be until the Enterprise wakes up and realizes that community participation is the key to success?
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