A time for work and a time for play

Toronto school board bans Netflix, Snapchat from halls temporarily — but it needs to do so permanently
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/18/2017

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 in 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.

But, 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 lunch box and thermos to school is a pretty foreign concept to me. (Though I did have a Pac-man wristwatch, but I digress.)

The idea that 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 Dexter, Mad 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 aside for the moment the management debate and the merits of asking IT to block it, rather than dealing head on with the person — 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 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 beat 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 for 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,  our parents had invested in a set of encyclopedias we could carry 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 taking a selfie 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 such as 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.

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