I’ve been thinking a fair bit lately about how damn boring the interweb has become. Not all the interweb mind you, just the bits that I used to like to play in. And being the inquisitive, questioning type I’ve also been wondering why it’s this way. It’s not like all the interesting stuff that used to preoccupy me has disappeared, right? There’s still some funny as hell conversation, videos and music to entertain.
No, the problem is that my ability to fully indulge in my favourite stuff, the questioning and inquisiting, has largely been taken away by my work.
Now I’m not attempting to criticise my employer. My employer is extremely tolerant and fair. The problem is the public service code of conduct. Or more specifically, the ability of others to use the code of conduct against me.
I’ll put my hand up and say that I’m in favour of a code of conduct. The absolute last thing we’d like to see is a politicised public sector. Any action that attempts to do so, or gives the perception of attempting to do so, should be viewed with extreme suspicion. I’ve heard for example that Kevin Rudd will have a difficult time with many of his policies, because the Australian public service has been stacked with Howardite lackeys for nearly a decade. A good code of conduct is a good way to ensure that we don’t end up as politicised as over the ditch. The last thing the public needs is a lot of yes-men running the bureaucracy.
By way of explanation, a key part of the code is that you don’t publicly criticise the government of the day, and neither do you criticise the opposition, who are in effect a government waiting to form. No point losing their confidence because you can’t keep your yap shut about some issue that might be trivial and meaningless in 6 months.
But, as a public servant it’s useful in your job to keep yourself up to date about developments in the policy sphere, and about developments within the “Thorndon bubble” (the Parliamentary precinct). The problem is that it’s impossible to have conversations about these developments in public. You can have them at the pub, and you can have them at home. But you can’t have them in any recordable format. Why? Because some numnut can use them against you, or attempt to misrepresent you.
Example? Let’s say I’m interested in the youth policies announced respectively by Clark and Key. I can go to the interweb and read all about them. I can discuss them with anyone at work standing by the water cooler. I can discuss them at home and in the street. But I can’t discuss them on PA System, and neither can I think them through here on Object Dart.
Why? Firstly because every time I spend more than 2 minutes putting up a comment on System some arsehole is sending me email reminding me I’m a public servant, and my time is paid for by their dollar. Of course this assumes they actually have a job and pay their taxes… Second, it would be easy to characterise my seeking clarity and greater understanding, for instance by talking through the spin and looking for the real issues, as criticism of either position.
My response to these two acts is to try and couch my words carefully when out in public. But, they end up being so carefully worded they’re rendered meaningless. Which defeats the purpose.
End result? I’m completely unable to use these wonderful social media to increase my understanding of current events. And as a result I’m less informed than I was a member of the public!
Worse, I’m rapidly losing interest in social media and its application to public policy. What’s the point of seeking to use this type of medium (which is a great way to access opinions and thought from outside my circle of friends and work colleagues), if it will only be used against you either personally or professionally?
It’s a nasty little catch-22.