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Facebook, Forster, CARIBnog and … Policy

I enjoy the way things manage to line themselves up beside one another. I expect this comes from my other life as a teacher of literature. From EM Forster's novel Howards End perhaps and the ideas of one of his characters : "Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. … Live in fragments no longer. Only connect...."

Checking to get the quotation correct I found this article “ “Only Connect"--E. M. Forster In An Age Of Electronic Communication: Computer-Mediated Association And Community Networks”  http://web.mit.edu/gtmarx/www/connect.html which some of you may find interesting in spite of the fact that it was probably written between 15 and 20 years ago. Ur-Facebook perhaps.

As well as thinking about Forster and policy I also have an uncomfortable place in my conscience because I had  almost promised Ginger to write a blog post about the second CARIBnog (Caribbean Network Operators’ Group) meeting that was held here in September, and I haven’t done it yet.

So perhaps I can “only connect” and bring all of these things together. One afternoon at the CARIBnog meeting Facebook was the hot topic, not because of privacy issues or the open/closed debate but because of the amount of bandwidth it uses. The network operators who managed “work” networks, government and private sector, were concerned about the drain on their limited bandwidth, and there was a long debate about what could be done. Some of them advocated blocking Facebook (and YouTube and various other sites). Others said that of course some employees needed to use the sites legitimately in the course of their jobs. Others suggested bandwidth rationing, or blocking but with a “window” during the lunch period. Others again suggested that appropriate task setting and supervision should solve the problem before it had a chance to affect bandwidth. People exchanged ideas but there was no real resolution to the problem.

So I’m putting it to you, and I’ll share it with the policy group as well – make your suggestions for an effective policy to manage Facebook in a work environment. If you think no policy is required tell us why.

Oh, and while Howards End might not be everybody’s cup of tea, anyone using computers and the Internet should make it their business to read a short story The Machine Stops written by Forster in 1909 and available at http://plexus.org/forster/


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Comment by Deirdre Williams on October 21, 2011 at 1:24pm

Kolubahzizi, thank you for your reply.  I wonder how you feel about blocking as policy?

At the CARIBnog meeting there were relatively few women, and the overwhelming majority of participants was made up of highly techie techies. The few women were almost unanimous in support of a policy of appropriate supervision and task setting as a solution. Many of the majority group saw no problem with simply blocking the "Facebook" type sites. A smaller group favoured limited access - a "lunchtime window".

Policies, or their contexts, differ in different parts of the world. There were two representatives of ARIN (American Registry for Internet Numbers) at the meeting. They were sitting right behind me and I imagined that I could sense their response to "blocking Facebook" which from one perspective can be seen as "blocking freedom of expression".

Here in the Caribbean we find ourselves caught between an American way of looking at things and a European way of looking at things. Sometimes it is difficult to establish the Caribbean way of looking at things.

I hope you enjoy The Machine Stops - if "enjoy" is the right word :-)

Comment by Kolubahzizi T. Howard on October 19, 2011 at 3:13pm
Deirdre, you raise an interesting question. It is a fact that Facebook does consume a lot of bandwidth which in turn affects the efficiency of a network. In addition to that, if you have all of your employees logged on to Facebook that means that the efficiency of the organization is also affected as well. Therefore, there needs to be a policy on access to social network sites during official working hours. These sites are generally blocked with the exception of those employees who require access as a result of their job functions.

By the way Deirdre, I have printed "The Machine Stops" and will let you know what I think about it after I have read it.



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