When computers first came on the scene, in the 1950s and 60s, there were concerns that they would destroy individualism. Remember the organization man in the gray flannel suit reciting the mantra of IBM punchcards, "Do not fold, spindle or mutilate?" Sixties radicals rebelled against the idea of conformity, and against mainframe centralized CORPORATE computing that would contain all data on everyone, and use that data as a means to control and dominate people. Some of those sixties radicals -- I think of Howard Rheingold of the "Whole Earth Catalog"/"Whole Earth Review" -- hailed the invention of the PC, personal computer that would return computing power to individuals and away from CORPORATIONS.
Indeed, the PC has led to more individualism, personal choices and freedom -- people can work from home and play at work. One survey indicated MANY workers with PCs on their desk spend an average of 8 hours, ONE FULL DAY out of FIVE, engaged in non-work-related activities online while on the clock at work, according to Business Week. There are so many temptations at one's fingertips, especially if the boss is not looking over your shoulder, work is not pressing, or work ethic is lacking -- email from friends and family, access to a vast collection of online publications and web sites to fit every passion and every interest, shopping, dating, gossip, games, religous pursuits, pornography, gambling, stalking, or just generally engaged in non-work related activities.
This is offset somewhat by workers who spend more time at home or outside the office on work-related cell phone calls, email, document creation and data collection, especially early in the morning or later at night. Initial surveys indicated worker productivity was up 30%. The boundaries between work and home have blurred, and it's not certain whether the employee or the employer is the beneficiary. FLEX TIME cuts both ways -- there can be time for the personal during work hours, and time for work at home. Since American productivity has increased significantly, due to computing innovations -- it takes less time to do things -- employers aren't yet complaining too much about workers goofing off.
But many questions remain as to the extent of workers' computer privacy, and the ability of corporations to gain access to, collect and use data to manipulate, influence and control individuals.