The NBC TV show “The Office” has risen to popularity by archly satirizing the general minutia of and tribulations associated with working in an office. Of course, by depicting a modern office, the show ends up frequently addressing the way information technology interacts with our daily professional lives.
An episode from the show’s second season, titled “E-Mail Surveillance,” is a prime example. It begins with the office’s regional manager, Michael Scott, played to great effect by actor Steve Carell, telling the camera, “There are certain things a boss does not share with his employees … and I am not going to tell them that I’ll be reading their e-mails.”
But after setting up the capability to access his employees’ e-mail accounts, as soon as he steps out of his office, an employee confronts him: “Hey, what’s the deal Michael? Why are you spying on our computers?” Michael attempts to humorously deflect the question, failing, and the employee shoots back: “Actually we just got a memo from IT saying you’re doing e-mail surveillance.”
Of course the whole office immediately freaks out and starts deleting everything in sight. An accountant confesses to the camera, “I gotta erase a lot of stuff. A LOT of stuff.”
This seems to be how it goes when a company decides to engage in e-mail surveillance. The employees are not supposed to know this is happening, but everybody does, and thereafter treats their e-mail accounts as nothing less than a public forum.…
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