Wasting away in 'Net-ville

Posted 4/14/96

The Internet, according to some, is becoming the most extensive library as well as the most comprehensive advertising medium in the history of the world.
Are you wasting company time by using it?
Your boss would probably say "Yes!"

Recently I have seen ads in trade publications and other magazines by companies selling "Big Brother" software. In the 'Network Edition' of PC Magazine, for instance, in amoung the companies advertising software, hardware, networking solutions, etc. with URL's emblazoned as a promise of more details available on their web sites, one stands out as somehow different: Teltrust.com. For only $99 per month, they say you can "Give your whole company Internet e-mail without giving everyone a day at the beach." The ad copy starts off, "Internet e-mail? "A must. "Internet surfing? "A waste. "In fact, give your employees access, and they'll surf away access, and they'll surf away 9.7 hours a week on the job (whoa, dude!)." According to Teltrust, this little statistic was obtained from a survey quoted in the Dec. 8, 1995 USA Today. They claim their product, "dotNet TM" allows your employees to access internet mail from Novell GroupWise, Lotus cc:Mail, or Microsoft Mail. Oh, and "With seamless addresses, too: theirname@yourcompany.com." Teltrust goes on to claim their software is "hacker-proof," (ROTFL) and will "turn all those surf bums into productive citizens." Whoa, dude! Not only are you not manager enough to keep your employees from wasting company time, but you have hired a bunch of hackers and rowdy surf bums. Are you insulted enough? Well, hold on! In the sidebar to the ad, there is a little oval graphic which proclaims, "Free trial, 4 fun-filled weeks." Fun-filled? What the hell is the message here? If you want to know more, just visit their web site.

I did not start this article with the express purpose of slamming Teltrust. But reading their ad carefully for research purposes, I started to realize they had set themselves and their customers up for it. They have targetted corporate managers who have been wondering, "just what this Internet thing is all about?" And they have made the employees out to be a bunch of adole a bunch of adolescent fools who are just whiling away the days, looking at dirty pictures and baseball stats while collecting fat salaries. No wonder corporate downsizing is so popular these days. I thought it was to get out from under the burden of providing health insurance and retirement fund matching contributions, while outsourcing the work to small companies who can't afford these things, and are exempt because of labor laws based on their size. I didn't realize it was because when you give employees computers connected to the internet, all productivity goes in the toilet because they are all just "surfing."

Having been involved with the Internet to a greater or lesser degree for the last six or seven years, I have seen dramatic changes in both the amount of use and the demographic of users. Most of that was brought on by the widespread availability of the graphical web browser. Several years ago, one of my colleagues brought me a copy of the alpha release of Mosaic. At the time, I had used Lynx a little, and had seen some interesting web sites, primarily related to scientific information. It was nice to be able to quickly get access to the work being done by scientists around the globe as easily as if they were in the same building. When I first started Mosaic, though, I realized the landscape had shifted. Between crashes, I saw that there was tremendous potential for sharing information worldwidermation worldwide, even for people who were only marginally computer literate. As you now know, I was not alone in my belief.

The WWW has changed the way many of us get our jobs done. It is the first place I look for technical information, as well as product information put there by the manufacturers themselves. Gone are the days when I had to phone a local distributor and ask him for specs on a new piece of video gear I had seen at NAB (National Association of Broadcasters conference). He would call the company who would fax him a spec sheet, then he would fax it to me. I usally ended up calling him and asking questions like "is the signal to noise ratio 60 dB or 6.0 dB? "I can't read the fax!" Now, I can look on the web, get a printed copy if I need to, and it takes minutes, not hours.

I have also found I can get by without trips to the library. The library was always frustrating to me. I could find a lot of books and articles in the card catalog, but when I went to the shelves, I found them checked out, or did not contain what I wanted. Back to the card catalog. On the web, information is just a hyperlink away. And new and better search engines are appearing which go way beyond using the old card catalog. Now I'm not claiming there is a copy of everything you might get from a library out there on the web, but it is growing all the time. And you can bet that the most current information arent information available in any given field is out there to some degree.

My job is now inextricably woven into the fabric of the internet. A big part of my work is getting information and applications onto the web to cut out the paperwork of the past. If my boss were to say, "OK, folks, you can now have internet mail, but you can't access any information, because the web is a waste of time," I'd be unable to do my job. Anyone who feels that his employees are not using the web to access appropriate information has a bigger problem than wasted time on his hands.

The fact that Teltrust and others can sell software using the tack they are taking is symptomatic of a problem within corporate America which Scott Adams has illuminated time and again with his million candle-power spotlight, "Dilbert." Middle and Upper managers have, for the most part, chosen not to keep up with the changes being precipitated by global electronic communication in the form of the Internet. Having lost whatever drive they had to remain technologically savvy from too many petty political boardroom skirmishes, they now get their information about what is happening "in cyberspace," or "on the information highway," or "on the information beach," or (Pick your own stupid mainstream metaphor), from the established mass media. (I guess what's good enough for congress is good enough for the 'd enough for the 'suits'.) This is the absolute worst source they could choose, as we all know, since the popular media is clueless about modern information technology themselves.

The mainstream press and broadcasters have been irresponsible, misinformative and just downright goofy when it comes to reporting on matters concerning the use of computers and networks. But the clueless managers in every company whose product line does not include information technology are buying it. Teltrust is using it to sell what would have been just SMTP mail gateway software for popular groupware mail clients just a couple years ago, as a way to get your employees connected to the global economy without letting them see what your competitors, suppliers, and customers are doing. All for only $99.

In the next few years, it will become clear that the Internet in general, and the Web in particular, are going to push telephone and fax business communication to second class status in favor of URL's and e-mail. I invite companies who don't believe that to check out Teltrust's web site now, before the rush begins. Reserve your copy of dotNet TM today!

Copyright 1995, 1996,Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 by John M. Meyer. All rights reserved. The Alien Mind is not associated with any earthly company or its products.

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