Here’s a statement I received this morning from the head of Human Resources at the Oireachtas, Dublin’s equivalent of the Palace of Westminster:
“The policy of the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas explicitly prohibits the use of our computer facilities for chat room purposes or for weblog (blog). Staff members who engage in blogging which is not related to their official duties, while using their Office computer will be subject to disciplinary action.”
Let me say, straight away, Ireland is not banning its politicians from blogs. TD’s like Ciaran Cuffe of the Greens and Liz McManus will continue to blog from both inside and outside parliament. Nor is it necessarily banning all its staff from reading blogs. But it says something for the power and pull of blogging that its capacity to waste people’s valuable working time that it has been listed alongside porn surfing as a disciplinary offence.
Most of us who run moderately successful blogs can confirm that the big numbers come to us during the working day. In the Republic this is possibly exaggerated by the poor quality of its national roll out of broadband. One international company recently had to review its offer of a laptop and high speed broadband access to its employees, when a large number of them had to refuse on the basis they could not access it at home.
Clearly Leinster House feels that keeping staff on task is an important priority. But in using such a sledgehammer to crack a specific nut, it is also cutting them off from one of the major innovations in the way knowledge and information is transmitted. It is not inconceivable, for instance, that this same human resources department will be blogging all its messages to its staff, within a very short period of time.
Blogging is not about subversives sitting up half the night and day in their pajamas pushing out spikey missives about what’s wrong with the world. It is just one intimation of a flatter, knowledge-driven world in which crucial connections are made quickly and transitively. Nor is blogging the definitive endgame. A ton of smart new collaborative applications are already in use or being developed. Flickr, Delicious, Digg, even YouTube all follow on and build on the networks established through the intitial blogging revolution. In the case of The Times of London and the Daily Telegraph, its technologies beginning to become embedded in its key online offering.
It is unlikely that the good burghers of the Oireachtas (Leinster House), who can already read the Guardian Unlimited or the BBC News with impunity, will face disciplinary proceedings for reading this blog (or the Editors Blog), since the focus of the directive appears to be on the act of blogging, rather than just reading them.
But this is a read/write revolution. If organisations blunt the capacity/opportunity for their members employees to engage in online communitication, they are, ultimately, also blunting their longer term capacity to function in this new, networked world. Those of us who care about the health of Irish democracy, will be hoping for a rapid change of mind on what looks to be a very hastily thought out policy.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty