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How The Web Doesn't Bring Us Closer

As the G20 world leaders come together to deal with this most global economic crisis, the world's connected as never before by Internet communications, collaboration, and transactions. Yet none of that helps me understand something like this week's "bossnappings," as fired French workers hold their managers hostage, and that's a cultural gap the Internet won't soon breach.
As the G20 world leaders come together to deal with this most global economic crisis, the world's connected as never before by Internet communications, collaboration, and transactions. Yet none of that helps me understand something like this week's "bossnappings," as fired French workers hold their managers hostage, and that's a cultural gap the Internet won't soon breach.I've been watching Webcasts this morning of U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy from the G20 Summit (what, you weren't?), where both emphasize how interconnected the world's economies are, and as a result countries are acting together to supervise companies and markets in unprecedented ways. "Never in a meeting of this nature have we made such headway," said Sarkozy, who marveled that countries as different as Brazil, China, India, France, and the U.S. could agree on measures as specific as they did around issues of bank regulation, tax havens, and economic stimulus.

It's those cultural differences that I can't stop thinking about in considering the challenges IT leaders face as they build the platforms that this global economy runs on, making it ever easier for teams around the world to collaborate. A promise of the Internet has long been to make this a smaller world, bridging commercial and cultural links. A comforting notion, until I read the reports of a handful of bossnappings this week, where French workers at plants run by 3M, Caterpillar, and others held managers hostage in hopes of avoiding layoffs or improving severance. It's a phenomenon of which I'll admit I was wholly ignorant. As the Guardian describes it:


The tactic, which became popular during the tumultuous days of 1968, of taking managers hostage is an extreme yet common measure beloved of the French worker. Reserved for when other, more orthodox, forms of protest are going nowhere, bossnapping is the ace card played by a workforce at the end of its tether.

Contrast that tactic with plants closing in my home state, Wisconsin. At plants that in some case provided decades of employment to generations of families, workers packed their boxes and left. Taking the plant manager hostage would've been greeted by SWAT teams, not pledges by the president to try to save the plant.

For any IT professional charged with making globalization work at a company, there's never a shortage of reminders of how hard that process is, no matter how sophisticated the technology gets.