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Toronto school board bans Netflix, Snapchat from halls temporarily - but it needs to do so permanently

The line between work and play doesn't need to be so blurred
There are some amazing uses for technology in the workplace - and some equally amazing abuses. Reuters

By Todd Humber

Alright, folks. It’s time to dust off my curmudgeon stick — again. The kids are back in school and, aghast, the public school board in Toronto has banned Snapchat, Instagram and Netflix from being used by students. The reason? It simply takes too much of a toll on Wi-Fi bandwidth.

About 20 per cent of all web traffic in the classroom is taken up by these popular (and data hungry) apps. When the ban was first put into place, teachers were able to complete “key tasks such as attendance and registration,” according to the Globe and Mail. Well, that’s good.

But don’t panic, students – the school board is working on improving Wi-Fi speeds and the ban is only temporary. You’ll soon be able to resume the selfies and binge-watching in the halls. And, in the best “get off my lawn” voice I can muster, I don’t think that’s a good thing.

I’m not worried about Wi-Fi bandwidth. I’m more concerned about the separation of work time and play time. Sure, I was born in the 1970s – so the idea of taking anything more than a lunchbox and thermos to school is a pretty foreign concept to me. (Though I did have a Pac-man wristwatch, which was equal parts cool and nerdy.)

The idea I could have a device in my pocket that could stream nearly every television show or movie ever made, broadcast live video and share everything I saw ad nauseam was straight outta Star Trek.

But that is today’s reality. And this blurring between work and leisure is going to pose more and more headaches in the workplace. Check out this thread from Reddit, posted by an IT worker who was asked by the boss to block Netflix for one user.

“Recently we had a new hire, taking her first baby steps into the professional world. For some reason, she didn’t think it was odd to pull up YouTube on her first day and watch FPS gaming videos. On her first day! All day.” he wrote. “This continued, within a few days she had Netflix up and is marathoning DexterMad Men, you name it. She doesn’t hide it either, people will come over to talk to her, she’ll pause her show, but leave it up half-screen.”

Let’s leave the management debate and the merits of asking IT to block it rather than dealing head on with the person aside for the moment — and just recognize that this young woman didn’t see a problem with this behaviour. She probably has been doing it her whole life, multitasking her way through school and now in the workplace as she starts her career.

If you haven’t been around teenagers lately, it’s an eye-opening experience. It’s cliché to say they’re glued to their devices — but they are most definitely glued to their devices. I’ve watched them load stuff into the car, bags in one hand and iPhone in the other as the latest episode of Rick and Morty echoes from the device.

I’ve watched them study for hours, with the constant bleat of rap music in the background and countless interruptions from Snapchat, texts, Instagram, Houseparty — the list goes on. They think nothing of it, and protest that it doesn’t impact the task at hand.

But these constant distractions undoubtedly mean you’re being less effective at any given task. I’m not taking a holier than thou stance: I have an iPhone, and it’s turned upside down as I write this column for a reason. It can be very distracting.

There are some amazing uses in the classroom and workplace for technology. YouTube, for example, can be an invaluable source of training videos and how-to guides. My partner’s daughter used YouTube a lot in her senior year of high school to watch lectures on things she didn’t understand or needed a refresher on. I thought that was brilliant — in my day, we would have had to run to the library. Or, if we were really lucky, maybe our parents had invested in a set of encyclopedias we could lug up from the basement. But she was able to just click over and watch an engaging lecture on chemistry to explain a concept she hadn’t quite grasped in the classroom.

But there’s a big difference between that and binging on Family Guy or sending a selife morphed with the latest and coolest Snapchat filter. There’s a time for work, and there’s a time for play. That’s not a bad lesson to learn in the halls of our schools, and banning apps like Netflix, Instagram and Snapchat shouldn’t just be a short-term solution to a bandwidth issue. It should be a purposeful strategy adopted in all schools.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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