Goofing off 101

This past week, stories about Scouts Canada’s “”investing crest”” appeared all over the news. You’re never too young to learn about RRSPs, I guess, but there’s another story here, as yet untold (at least, by me).

The Scouts also have a computer badge. Requirements include a range of technical

capabilities, such as installing software and adding perhipherals, running office applications, even writing some programming code. There’s also a section on ethics, which asks questions about software piracy, copyright, and personal safety in e-mail and chatroom applications.

This looks like a great idea — for enterprise users.

Admittedly, it’s geared towards a younger crowd (though the Cubs have their own variant, with slightly less-rigourous conditions), but the notion of rewarding staff for their know-how is a good one.

While most office workers already use productivity software well enough, many of us aren’t exactly what you’d call power users. I still have trouble with basic spreadsheets, and couldn’t mail merge to save my life. Somehow, though, I’ve managed to learn how to download various freebies and add-ons for my desktop, watch videos of some guy engaged in techno-rage, or just whack a few moles. And I did all this while working in an office, hogging network bandwidth and causing a few technical hangups in the process.

Promising me a merit badge or gold star for learning about my PC wouldn’t necessarily have helped change my ways, but at least I’d have known more about what I was doing, right or wrong. I might also have saved the company a few bucks on tech support.

This lack of awareness is still a major problem for regular, non-specialized users. Offering a short, fun refresher on basic computer maintenance and problem-solving could go a long way to preventing future headaches.

Bonus points could be awarded for solving paper jams (non-violently), helping co-workers manage their e-mail folders, or refilling the paper drawer in the photocopier. Circulating virus hoaxes or leaving print jobs unclaimed would lead to demerits.

Of course, we don’t want users trying to fiddle with network settings, or hooking up PDAs or other devices without approval from the IT department, but let’s face it — people do this stuff anyway, and badly, for the most part.

Gartner Inc. predicts that by 2003 mobile enterprise users will spend upwards of 20 minutes a day synchronizing their data from a gaggle of gadgets. Sooner or later, those folks are going to need some more training.

And a reminder on the legal don’ts regarding software and music piracy, particularly when it’s on company property, couldn’t hurt. Hopefully managers would also engage in good licensing citizenship and rout out other bootleg software, too.

Of course, people are still going to want to relatively unproductive things with their computers. It’s all part of letting off steam or just relaxing during a slow part of the day.

In many ways, they’re also a social event, with co-workers clamouring for a view of the latest pop-star parody or slacker site of the week.

A merit badge for good computing, if anything, reflects the urge people have for goofing off. Done right, it might help prevent them from goofing up.

jsaunders@sympatico.ca

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