I received a news release this morning from our Parks & Recreation Department advertising a Baby Signs program at the Oregon Language Center February 23. I noticed that the program cost $55, but I had no idea what Baby Signs meant or why someone would be willing to pay $55 to find out about it. My first instinct was to contact Debbi in P&R and ask about the program. Instead, I googled Baby Signs and instantly found a complete explanation. My purpose here is not to write about Baby Signs; so I would encourage anyone who is curious to do what I did.
The Internet is a truly amazing tool. If you had told people ten years ago to google themselves, you could probably expect to be involved in a fight. Now, almost everyone understands the term; and most people have even done it. So much information is so accessible that the Internet has become a large part of most people’s daily lives. We use it at work, at home, and around the world. When I was working in Iraq a few years ago, I was able to chat with my wife online almost every day through a satellite connection. We made appointments to get online in the morning or evening and then “chatted” for a half hour or so through our keyboards. I observed, only partly in jest, that we had more direct communication when I was in Iraq then we did when we were both in La Grande.
Perhaps only an old person can marvel at what the Internet can do. Younger people have grown up with it and probably find it no more amazing than my generation found television. Regardless of how amazed you may be by it, no one can deny the power of the Internet and its influence on society. As with any power, it can be exercised for good or ill.
The good is obvious. I am able to maintain contact with a much wider network of friends, relatives, and acquaintances than I could have even imagined twenty years ago. Many research projects take a fraction of the time they consumed in the past, and much of the information is more current and accurate. E-mail allows me to communicate more efficiently with other busy people. I have complained in previous editions of this blog that the size of our organization makes it difficult for me to know everybody who works for the City. The complaint is valid, but any City employee who chooses to read the blog probably knows more about me than most of the 30 or so people I worked with in Oakridge for seven years ever did. The list of all the benefits of the Internet would be long and tedious.
Good, in my experience, is almost always accompanied by bad. Just as the Internet can be a tremendous time-saver, it can also be an incredible time sink. People can spend hours in front of the screen doing nothing productive without even realizing they’re wasting time. There is some irony that while we spend time posting Facebook messages our family members are in another room sending messages to someone else. Internet gambling is apparently wildly popular, and I think everyone is aware of the plague of pornography. A friend from my past lost his state job when it was discovered that he was running his home business through his work Internet connection.
Our policy is that, with approval from our supervisor, we can use our work computers for incidental personal business, just as we can occasionally use a work phone for local communications. The danger is that incidental use can quickly expand beyond acceptable limits. It should go without saying that work computers are to be used almost exclusively for City business, but we have had occasional instances where the policy has been abused. Essentially everything that is done on a City computer is a public record that can be viewed by anyone who requests it. The test I try to use for my use of this incredible tool is to ask myself how I would feel if what I was doing appeared on the front page of the local paper. I don’t recall doing anything that would embarrass me so far, and I hope to maintain that standard in the future.