Image: Continental Congress
A. Tholey / Wm. Finley & Co. via
Where would this nation be if the first Continental Congress convened to jot down a petition to King George but never got around to it because they got too distracted poking Betsey Ross and checking out Thomas Jefferson’s Twitter feed?
Helen Popkin
By
msnbc.com
updated 5/8/2008 7:52:33 PM ET 2008-05-08T23:52:33

This just in: Your employer doesn’t want you social networking on company time.

Your employer probably doesn’t want you hanging out on porn sites either, like that poor civil servant in Japan who was demoted recently for logging more than 780,000 hits on porn sites on his office computer in a remarkable nine months.

To be fair, one of those sites may’ve been his home page. And anyway, the truly amazing fact is that this fellow was only demoted. Demoted!

And they say the Japanese corporate world is tough. As an American, you’d probably get canned for such libidinous 9-to-5 behavior. Of course, there’s no way of knowing for sure as the information isn’t immediately available to Netiquette at this particular moment in time.

One thing Netiquette does know is that according to a recent study , employers are fed up with Facebook — at least in England. The survey from U.K.-based IT securityfirm Global Secure Systems found that workers spend at least 30 minutes on either Facebook or MySpace during a typical work day. Two of the 700 hundred respondents admitted to spending as much as three hours a day on the sites. (No doubt, they’re also the only participants whose pants aren't currently on fire.)

Global Secure Systems estimates that Facebook frolicking and other like online dallying cost employers several billion dollars a year in lost productivity. And that’s in England! Here in the U.S., with our notorious “take stuff from work” entitlement, you could triple that number and still come up a couple of sawbucks short. So don’t be surprised when your employer makes like 43 percent of companies in England and blocks your access to the online poke-a-thon.

If the very idea of your paycheck provider cutting off your Internet makes you hot in the face and inspires the urge to start blathering about Freedom of Speech and censorship and “What is this, China ?” and “I’m not a child!” blah blah blah … just shut up. Seriously. How weird is it that we’ve even formed the concept that we have a right to hang out with our friends — albeit in cyberspace — on the company’s dime?

Think about it. Before e-mail got so darn trendy, Ol’ Bob Cratchit would never think of pushing away his spreadsheet or whatever it was he did, so that he could put quill to parchment and jot down a quick missive to Tiny Tim.

Even now, you wouldn’t dream of ignoring institutional rules just so you could write snail mail missives to all your BFFs. Well, you might if you were, say, in middle school math class and needed to know immediately if Jennifer will go with you, yes or no (check one).

In that case, you’re 12 and the impulse control portion of your brain is still maturing (at least according to Dr. George Huang, as portrayed by B.D. Wong on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”). But you are not 12. You’re a grown-up. And unless you’re also some kind of sales associate or work at Gawker, you really have no business tagging iPhone party pics and updating your profile on company time. 

Now you listen here. Where would these United States be if the first Continental Congress convened to efficiently jot down a petition to King George delineating the colony rights and grievances, but never got around to it because they got too distracted poking Betsey Ross and checking out Thomas Jefferson’s Twitter feed?

How else would this self-absorbed lack of responsibility have damaged American history? How (even more) tedious would Ken Burn’s “Civil War” be if instead of reading from a heartfelt, thoughtful letter to a military wife, actor Chris Murney gave voice to Pvt. Elisha Hunt Rhodes’s wallpaper post: “OMG! Totally just pwned the south!!1! :)”

Then there’s Annie Sullivan's joy the first time Helen Keller utilized Facebook’s IM function to text “water.” Of course, she spelled it, “WTR.” But still, there was no emoticon for what Ms. Sullivan felt! It’s just a good thing Helen couldn’t see Facebook’s Beacon function , alerting her to the Mr. Bento lunch pail Teacher just bought her on Amazon.

Okay, so perhaps I’m being a little tough on you Facebook fanatics ... maybe even a tiny wee bit hypocritical. Fact is, before looking at the Internet became this avatar’s full-time job, you couldn’t keep me off it. Everything I own, have an opinion on or date came off the Web. What’s more, there’s no social network software filter I can’t proxify my way around. (Try and keep me off the Howard Stern Fan Network, will ya!)

These days, however, I’m afraid the once-obsessive friendship may be fading faster than that of Derek Jeter and A-Rod. Word to your mother: If you find yourself unable to quit your on-the-clock Facebook frenzy, try getting someone to pay you to profile. You won’t be able to log off fast enough.

This brings me to another random survey fact often bandied about in reports on us poor, overworked Americans. Maybe most of us now are spending up to 16 hours at work a day. But how much of that time is on Facebook?

Do you think it’s OK to hang out on Facebook or MySpace during work hours? Should businesses block social networking sites from their employees? Got any funny stories about surfing on the company dime? Drop me a line. Selected responses will be published.

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