Pornography problems at work harm companies, coworkers

Published: Thursday, Aug. 30 2012 10:00 p.m. MDT

In this Jan 23, 2008 file photo, a computer user is silhouetted with a row of computer monitors.

File, Associated Press

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Each morning, Bill walked into his office, sat down at his computer and began Internet searches that lasted for hours.

The first few days of his new job were fine, and his searching was all work related, but the more time he spent online, the more intoxicating the office's unfiltered web access became.

"I was pretty unfettered," said Bill, a recovering pornography and sex addict. "The nature of the illness … I became more reckless, more brazen in my usage."

He thought he was hiding his tracks well enough, but it wasn't long before several colleagues complained to their supervisor about images they'd seen on Bill's computer.

He was put on probation and the IT department immediately began monitoring his Internet use.

"If I were to try to go to questionable sites now, there's a block prompt that comes up," he told the Deseret News, which is using only his first name for privacy reasons. "Any time you try to penetrate that, it signals to someone in IT. So I have a system in place there to help monitor me, to help me feel safe."

That was six years ago, when Bill's computer was connected to the wall, and his phone only made calls. The blocking software and his own personal rules have kept him out of trouble since then, but he knows the problems for others are only increasing.

With the explosion of smartphones, tablets, iPods and iPads, a growing number of employees find they can't stay away from salacious sites and images, pulling up X-rated pages on their lunch hour, bathroom breaks and even in the middle of monitoring life-saving surgical equipment.

A former Mount Sinai Hospital technician is suing the hospital and her male former co-worker, alleging he repeatedly viewed pornography on his smartphone during open-heart surgeries rather than paying full attention to the equipment, and the Department of Defense recently reprimanded its employees for looking at pornography at work.

While companies may initially worry only that these activities are unprofessional, unproductive and unsecure, scholars say there are deeper problems created by unchecked pornography usage in the office — one of the most damaging being the way men objectify their female colleagues.

"Some businesses are aware of (sexual harassment) lawsuits, and they don't want a loss of productivity," says Mary Anne Layden, a professor and director of education at the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania. "But I'm not sure that I hear business people saying, 'Oh my gosh, this is toxic material that is damaging our employees, male and female, and destroying our society, and I shouldn't participate in the destruction of our own society. I don't hear that, which sort of troubles me."

Concerns with connectivity

In 2010, 62.6 million Americans — 20 percent of the population — had a smartphone. Two years later, 116 million Americans could pull up Facebook, Google and MapQuest on their web-enabled phones.

By 2016, eMarketer — an online publisher of data, analysis and insights on digital marketing and media — predicts that there will be more than 192 million smartphone users — 74 percent of the mobile phone population and almost 59 percent of the general population.

TIME Magazine's recent "The Wireless Issue" contains results from a summer survey asking how people across the globe feel about a constant connection to the Internet and what it's doing to them and their families.

In the United States, 76 percent of respondents said being constantly connected was "helpful," while 13 percent said it was a burden and 11 percent said they didn't know. In India, 94 percent of respondents said constant connection was helpful.

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