Like most (if not all) publicly funded institutions, my workplace has certain warnings about the electronic files we keep and where we work. Do work at home on your own PC? This is a big no-no. Because what if there was some sort of lawsuit someday and it was noted that you had work files on your computer or PDA or cell phone (including your calendar)? Ah, a judge might see fit to order your hardware confiscated. By bringing work into your personal space, you have now opened those up to public disclosure. (Mind you, someone said that there is a better chance of winning the lottery, but still, that means there's a chance.) My new employer is far more fussy about this than any previous ones, even though they have all been subject to same rules.
But this brings up some issues. First of all, I can't always have access to the servers at work...and with this particular job, I will be on the road a few days a month (at least). Actually "working" from 8 - 5, Monday through Friday is not always going to be possible...just as keeping "classroom hours" was never a reality. Sometimes, it's easier to work on a project evenings or weekends when you have some quiet time...or when a really great idea hits you. I also want access to my calendar when I'm not on a computer. When I'm at the dentist trying to schedule my next app't., I need to be able to see when I'm available...and yet, I'm not allowed to sync Outlook to my Palm without my PDA being opened up to public disclosure laws.
There are a couple of ways around this. First of all, a work-issued laptop and some software which allows me to remotely access the servers will take care of a lot of the file issues. The calendar? I think I can sync work to Google and then download from home---but what a pain in the ass: input-upload-download-sync vs. input-sync. However, if I just think about Google Apps for a moment, this could potentially solve a lot of issues. Why not just upload the documents I use most and then not have to worry about the whole which-machine-does-what sort of thing? I can work on a GoogleDoc to my heart's content and it won't matter one lick which computer I use. Nothing has to be stored or downloaded. If a court order wants to get the files from Google, more power to 'em.
All of this begs the questions of just how many copies of information one needs and the best places to store it. We talk a lot at how the volume of available info is doubling in shorter and shorter time frames, but if we just look at our personal piece of that...hmmm. Aren't we assuming a lot when we upload hundreds of photos to Flickr? It's an amazing platform, but it isn't bound to last forever. Are we better off leaving them on those servers...or should we be burning things to CD or DVD? Do we really need to think about how much documentation of our lives we really need? As long as I pay to renew my domain for this space, it's mine. But my hosting service could well go out of business. I build posts in Blogger, but that doesn't mean this format will be available in the future. When all is said and done with this blog, how will I make an archive for myself?
One of my friends recently referred to The Cloud of data we are leaving on-line. Public school districts and agencies might not like employees using social networking and web 2.0 tools, but they are certainly not going to be able to stop their use. Acceptable Use Policies should be updated yearly (not every 6 or 7 years, as most are now) with input from users, not simply IT people. While it is understandable that an employer has a right to set the rules with the hardware and bandwidth it purchases, tools like GoogleDocs, del.icio.us, and so forth are not their provenance. The litmus test should be whether or not the employee is using the tool to advance the work being done (vs. personal use). (As an aside, my favourite comment from the last few weeks was an observation that my previous employer's attitude toward web 2.0 was "Neanderthal." I couldn't have summarized it any better.) The tide has turned, the horse has left the barn---pick your euphemism. With the daily emergence of various tools, it would be wiser to focus on responsible use vs. denial of existence.
I don't mind the big stinky Cloud of information I'm leaving in my wake. I've made my peace with it. Someone else recently pointed out that "Just because someone is a trailblazer doesn't mean they should end up being burned at the stake." I think that in the past, that risk was much greater. It doesn't mean that it can't happen now or in the future, but the prevalence of use of Flickr, Twitter, Blogger, GoogleApps and other platforms means that most people aren't giving their users a second glance. It's an on-line world now. Time to accept it and keep on trailblazing.