Friday, July 29, 2005

MH - Blogging in Corporate America, Continued

People ask me if I don't get tired of ripping Corporate America. Well, yes, I do. For one thing, it's not much of a challenge. All you have to do is log in and read the day's headlines, and you usually find something to raise your ire.

It's not that I have anything against them, per se. If they'd behave in a morally responsible way, consistent with the dignity of the individual, I'd just as soon leave them alone and write about something else.

On the other hand, if you're ever worried about meeting a writing deadline, you always know they're around to give you material.

Today's case in point is this article on NRO by the delightful Myrna Blyth on yet another blogger who's fallen victim to the corporate mentality. Nadine Haobsh, who worked at Ladies’ Home Journal, and on the side maintained a gossipy blog called “Jolie in NYC” that told "insider tales about the beauty industry."
When her identity was revealed, Nadine was dressed down by her employer for
“lack of professionalism” and being “disloyal.” Thinking she had another job, she resigned and gave two-weeks notice, but was told to leave that day. “When I told the person at Seventeen who offered me the new job about the blog and what had happened she said, ‘Wow, that’s cool.’” Hearst, Seventeen’s parent company, did not feel the same way. Hearst’s H. R. department rescinded the offer.

This seems to raise more questions than it answers. Don't worry about Nadine; the publicity from all this is more than enough to provide her with new opportunities. And it also gives us a new opportunity to look at this issue, and to see once again how the dehumanization of the worker and the dignity of work itself are being trampled upon.

One puzzling thing about the corporate mentality: bloggers who get fired usually wind up with much more publicity, and more opportunity to spread the dirt about their former employers, than they would have had the company simply left them alone. But perhaps it isn't about the publicity; it's really about the ability of the company to control the behavior of their employees. Now they feel that control slipping away, and they revert to increasingly ridiculous lengths in an attempt to reassert it.

This isn't to say that bloggers don't have some responsibility in the whole affair: don't release corporate secrets, for example, or anything else that's generally prohibited by good sense. Take your co-workers into consideration when you're tempted to blog gossipy details about what goes on in the office: are you guilty of the sin of detraction or of offending charity? Do you consider how you would feel if you read the same information about yourself posted on the Internet?

Keeping secrets in an office has always been problematic at best; it becomes even more difficult in the age of mass communication. The point is that this is not a new problem, simply one that has become magnified by the chance to feed the ego, to spread the dirty laundry around for all to see. It has nothing to do with Internet etiquette, but it has everything to do with modesty and humility, with keeping one's word and another's confidence. If you've always been a faithful friend and loyal employee, chances are you aren't going to change if you've entered the world of blogging.

So we know that bloggers have a responsiblity, and a heavy one. People read what we write; perhaps not many, at least at first; but even the most modest blogger can count on 20 or 30 people a day reading the blog, many of them unknown to the writer. Blogging makes you, in a sense, a published writer, and thus you do have to be responsible for the content and accuracy of what you write, as well as the impact it has on others.

Ah, but what do we have to say about the employer? Well, as I alluded to earlier, the employer does have the right to protect corporate secrets, confidential or proprietary material. But this has always been covered under the basic employee handbook; devising a new policy to cover bloggers seems to me a little like the false canard of "hate crimes." If it's a crime, it's a crime regardless of the context or motivation of the perpetrator. The Internet may have made this kind of behavior easier, but it's not more wrong today to spread it for all to read than it was yesterday to start spreading rumors by word of mouth on Main Street.

One of the words Blyth uses in her article is "humorless," and I think that's an apt description of so much of Corporate America. There's the forced humor that usually comes about from phony, staged "team building" events in which everyone takes tips from Up With People to learn how to smile for the boss and pretend you're having a good time. Doubtless in the New Age Spirituality that's sweeping HR departments nowadays, there's something about reaching the humor of the employee by touching their inner child. And of course Dilbert shows that there's a lot of humor in the workplace, albeit often unintentional.

But humor is an essential part of the human psyche (notice how similiar the words human and humor are; I'm no expert, but they must share some kind of root), and any environment that attempts to eliminate humor, or at least fails to recognize it, is also cutting off an essential part of what it means to be human.

There's no doubt that Corporate America has a problem with the First Amendment; I've written in the past about bloggers who've been punished for the political or religious content of their writing, because it's supposed to run contrary to established corporate policy, or because the stand of the employee could prove embarrassing to the company. This is absolute nonsense; corporations do a good enough job of embarrassing themselves just by their everyday actions. It's true that the employee should share the values of the company, but since so many companies have few if any values other than monetary ones, that can be a little challenging. And it's ironic to say the least that your political or religious beliefs can be offensive to the company, when companies pay corporate blackmail all the time to special interest groups on the left. (Jesse Jackson, the homosexual lobby, etc.) I guess it really is just a one-way street.

No, there seems to be no other answer than that the company is continuing, like any other tyrant, to exercise control over your freedom; your rights, your ability to speak out, your basic individuality and identity. Their philosophy is that when you're an employee of the company, you have no identity other than that of the company. As my friend Hadleyblogger Mike put it once, "Welcome to the company. Please check your values at the door."

Again, this isn't a rant against business per se, but against the dehumanization that runs contrary to the basic teachings of Catholic Social Thought. We are individuals, and there is dignity in the work that we perform. Any structure that attempts to remove that dignity, that strips the identity of the individual, that views workers as economic units rather than human beings and worships at no higher altar that the bottom line: that structure is the enemy of all men. It must be reformed - not by government fiat, but from within.

Not only from within the structure, but from within the most elemental and important part of that structure:

The human heart.

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