I’m sorry to disappoint those who thought that the title of this post indicated X-rated content. You’ll have to look elsewhere for nudity and profanity (not that I haven’t been known to slip an occasional “excretory” or “mildly offensive” word into a post or two).
Rather, what you’ll find here is a discussion about a novel, a very cute book that touches on a sobering topic: our limited rights in the workplace.
The novel is Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments, a story that begins in the latter half of 1999 at a newspaper, The Courier, which is engaged in a losing battle against the World Wide Web. It is not a newspaper failing due to the rapid decline in print advertising after the rise of the internet (like most papers today). Instead, it’s a newspaper concerned about the decrease in productivity and the potential for liability associated with employee access to the Internet at work. So, what does this paper do? It hires a guy named Lincoln to be an “Internet security officer,” whose job description includes “monitor[ing] everything everyone [is] doing on the Internet and the Intranet. Every e-mail. Every Web site. Every word.”
The employees are warned, but some do not listen and continue to write personal emails at work under the assumption that, “All this security stuff isn’t aimed at people like us. They’re trying to catch the pervs. The online porn addicts, the Internet blackjack players, the corporate spies…”
And so Beth Fremont, a young movie reviewer, and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder, a Features copy editor, carry on as usual, writing each other a slew of personal emails containing loads of flagged words that all end up in Lincoln’s hands.
It’s the set-up for an unconventional romance between two people—an Internet security officer and a woman who breaks all the rules. One has never seen the object of his affection, while the other has seen, but has never met, the object of hers. It’s a sweet story with likeable characters, particularly Lincoln, a respectful, well-meaning guy, who is described as being, “built like a tank, dressed like he just won the science fair.” He’s adorable.
The only problem is Lincoln has the type of job that makes him feel like a creep because it forces him to invade other people’s privacy, not that those employees have any reason to expect privacy in the workplace. That’s true in real life, too. In most cases, it is completely legal for employers to monitor employee internet and email usage, and many do.
In a 2007 study, the American Management Association found that of the employers they surveyed:
- 65% block access to certain websites
- 43% monitor email (with someone like Lincoln at 40% of these workplaces)
- 45% monitor time spent on phones and outgoing calls
- 16% record phone conversations
- 9% monitor employees’ voicemail
- 48% use video monitoring
Problematically, not all of these employers notified their employees of these monitoring practices, and many did so only by printing it in the Employee Handbook, which employees might not have read thoroughly (but should have).
The likely result of breaking these rules—whether or not the employee knows about it—is discipline or the loss of a job, not true love, contrary to the Hollywood ending of Rowell’s sweet novel.
*It was Molly’s thorough review at Wrapped Up In Books that encouraged me to read this book.