Where is my jet pack?

The sooner we can stop the misuse of technology, the sooner we can get to working on all those cool inventions the comic books from the 1950s promised us

By Todd Humber (todd.humber@thomsonreuters.com)

A few years ago, I found a great book under the Christmas tree written by Daniel Wilson. Entitled Where is My Jet Pack: A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future that Never Arrived, it took a look at a bunch of those space-age inventions — you know, all the good stuff we saw at futuristic rides at Disney World, on Star Trek and The Jetsons — that were supposed to make life easier for us in the 21st century.

Where's My Jetpack?: A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future that Never Arrived, by author Daniel H. Wilson.

But when we awoke in a post-Y2K world, there were no flying cars, ray guns or jet packs in sight. Velvet spandex unitards have yet to become the customary workplace outfit (though, we might be thankful for that one). But hoverboards? Servant robots? A colony on the moon? Those things are just plain cool.

So what happened? Where, exactly, is my jet pack? I have a sneaking suspicion it has something to do with one of this issue’s cover stories.

You have to give us credit — humans have done a pretty good job at developing technology. We’re just not very good at keeping up with it, maximizing its upside or fully understanding its ramifications — and that last point is being showcased in workplaces around the world.

Example one: The story about two workers in British Columbia fired for trashing their employer on Facebook. (See “Status update: ‘You’re fired,’” in the Nov. 29 issue of Canadian HR Reporter.)

Anyone who has been anywhere near Facebook knows the deal. You create an online profile, you add friends (which you’re free to accept or reject) and you have control over how public your profile is.

So, when you’re on Facebook and you’ve made the decision to “friend” your boss — meaning she can see anything you’re posting — you might think it wise not to trash said employer in your status updates. (See: Biting the hand that feeds you.)

Common sense, right? Well, those two folks in B.C. didn’t quite catch on.

Example two: Proving that online stupidity isn’t a North American trait, Ireland stepped into the spotlight earlier this month after 17 male employees in the Dublin office of PricewaterhouseCoopers thought it was a good idea to rate the “hotness” of some of the female first-year accounting trainees.

Not content to just have this conversation at the water cooler — which would have been silly enough — they decided to put their transgressions in email form and circulate it. (And everyone can see where this is heading.) Inevitably, and predictably, the email went viral and onto the pages of newspapers around the globe.

Now, anyone can view the offending emails online, complete with the names and headshots of the female workers, the names and contact information of the offending employees (including titles, in some cases) and — and let’s all feel sorry for the HR folks at PwC here — the email signature touting the firm as “Voted one of the Best Workplaces in Ireland for eight years running” and “Best Work Experience/Internship Programme 2010.”

You just can’t make this stuff up.

So let’s say it one last time with feeling: Anything you put in an email, anything you post on Facebook, any text message you send on your cellphone — it’s all permanent. It’s all forwardable. And it could go viral. Think about that before you hit “send” or press “update.”

The sooner we can get past this misuse of technology, the sooner we can start manufacturing those jet packs, flying cars and robots that comic books in the 1950s promised us.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resources management. For more information, visit www.hrreporter.com.


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