sealPurdue Lifestyles, Education, Careers Briefs

December 2000

Workplace surveillance may inhibit productivity

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A Purdue University expert on workplace surveillance suspects some employers may be "shooting themselves in the foot" when it comes to electronically monitoring their workers.

"Most companies institute employee surveillance for one of two reasons; information security, or to try to boost productivity as part of a quality improvement or customer service program," explains Carl Botan, a professor of communication and a member of Purdue's Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security. "Unfortunately, a common issue with quality improvement programs – regardless of industry – is that improvement is invariably measured by quantitative data. And when employees know they're being monitored, then tend to believe that the boss is more concerned about the quantity of work rather than quality."

Botan is in the final application stages for a National Science Foundation grant that, if approved, will be used to conduct the first-ever random nationwide survey of employees and their feelings about surveillance on the job.

"Right now the best statistics available on the subject come from the American Management Association, but their survey is limited to major firms and the data is collected from managers rather the workers," Botan says. "According to the AMA's latest data, 75 percent of major U.S. companies electronically monitor their employees to some degree, but we have only anecdotal information about how employees react to it. I suspect there are effects of that surveillance beyond the employers' intent and that much of it is negative. The study I'm preparing should help determine whether or not my theory is correct."

Botan's preliminary data suggests employees who know they are being electronically monitored have less of a sense of control over their workplace experiences than non-monitored workers and that can undermine confidence and quality of work life.

"It's reasonable to assume that some workers would interpret a newly implemented surveillance system as a message that their employers don't trust them or that their work isn't any good," Botan says. "How is that going to impact a person's enthusiasm for coming in to work? How will it affect employee loyalty and turnover? These are issues that managers really need to think about when considering surveillance as part of their quality improvement efforts."

CONTACT: Carl Botan, (765) 494-3319,

Students set their sites on winning
$5,000 Internet Olympiad

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Students are racing against time in a high-tech showdown to create new, commercially viable Internet technology in Purdue's first annual Internet Olympiad.

"The goal of the Internet Olympiad," said Aditya Mathur, associate head of the Department of Computer Sciences, "is to get students to develop a prototype of an Internet application for which they could get venture capital funding and start a company."

In early November, six out of 54 teams in round one, a "quiz show" competition, became semifinalists. One week later, the winning teams had 96 hours to create an interactive Web site for, a fictional company. Judges selected three winning teams to compete February's final round of competition.

In the final round, the remaining teams will have three months to create an Internet-based application. Twenty experts from the computer industry will select the winning team based on criteria including the teams use of creativity and the application's commercial potential.

Next year, Mathur would like to expand the competition to students from other colleges and universities.

Founding corporate sponsor of the event is Tivoli. Other sponsors are IBM Corp., Schulmberger, Eli Lilly and Co., and Microsoft.

Two winning Web sites for round two of the competition are:

CONTACT: Aditya Mathur, associate head, Department of Computer Sciences, (765) 494-7823,

Book chronicles 'agricultural revolution' of 20th century

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A tiller of the soil in biblical times could have visited a farm in 1900 and felt right at home with the tools in the barn. If he moved his visit forward 100 years, the ancient agriculturalist "might think he was on a different planet," say two Purdue University authors.

Don Paarlberg, a professor emeritus from Purdue's Department of Agricultural Economics, and his nephew, Philip Paarlberg, an ag economist in the same department, say farming practices and machinery advanced dramatically in the past century. They chronicle the evolution in their book, "The Agricultural Revolution of the 20th Century."

The coffee table-type volume is aimed at general audiences. "It's not loaded with statistics; it's loaded with impressions," Philip Paarlberg says.

The book combines words and pictures to create a literary time capsule of what the Paarlbergs describe as the most significant century in agricultural history – a century that gave birth to gasoline-powered tractors and combines; rural electrification; safer and more effective farm chemicals; and research breakthroughs in biotechnology, among others.

As a result, more food is produced in far less time. "It took about 90 minutes of labor to produce a bushel of corn in 1910. It takes about two minutes now," Philip Paarlberg says.

Not all the history is rosy. The book recounts the land and price depressions of the early 1920s and the post-World War II American farm export slump.

"In the early 20th century there were about 29 million farmers in the United States. Now that number is down to around 1.8 million," Philip Paarlberg says.

The declining farm population brought with it a loss of self-worth, says Don Paarlberg, 89, who also served in the U.S. Department of Agriculture under Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon and Ford.

"Farmers have been reduced to less than 2 percent of the population, and they're losing their identity," Don Paarlberg says. "They're not as sure about their status. The whole rural culture has been eroded."

"The Agricultural Revolution of the 20th Century" also includes a chapter on the century ahead. Don Paarlberg says the next 100 years should bring "profound changes" in germ plasm research, agricultural communications, and a shift in migration from urban to rural areas.

About half of the book's 172 pages are photos. Most come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Purdue, J.C. Allen & Sons and Paarlberg family collections. One circa 1930 photo shows Don Paarlberg and Philip Paarlberg's father, Horace, on a cabbage wagon.

The Paarlbergs spent three years researching, writing and choosing photos for the book. The idea for "The Agricultural Revolution" came from a daily coffee klatch Don Paarlberg attends with other aging farmers.

"This book is largely for nostalgia lovers," Don Paarlberg says.

"The Agricultural Revolution of the 20th Century" is published by Iowa State University Press. It retails for $54.95 and is available at selected bookstores or through the publisher by calling (800) 862-6657.

CONTACT: Philip Paarlberg, (765) 494-4251; and Don Paarlberg, (765) 463-6654

Compiled by Sharon A. Bowker, (765) 494-9723;

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

* To the Purdue News and Photos Page