Facebook yoga teacher objects to cell phone, gets fired

A yoga teacher at Facebook says she was fired after she objected to a company employee using her cell phone in class.

How are you supposed to do this while checking your cell phone? My Yoga Online/YouTube Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Yoga is about relaxation. It's about forgetting the corporate world and focusing on the corporeal world.

It's not about peering down at your cell phone and, say, updating your status or replying to an email.

Yet word reaches me of disturbing circumstances that appear to have occurred during a yoga class at Facebook.

You didn't think Facebook employees had time for yoga? Oh, come. They don't work that hard there. They're open, spiritual beings, don't forget. Well, mostly.

As the San Francisco Chronicle tells it, Alice Van Ness is a yoga instructor contracted to lead classes at Facebook's Fitness Center in Menlo Park. Or rather, was.

She has a principle in her teachings, one that is embraced by theaters, churches and libraries the world over: please turn off your cell phone.

It seems, though, that one Facebook employee couldn't quite stretch to this stricture. Indeed, she allegedly took her phone out at the beginning of the class and then again half way through.

Van Ness claims in a blog post that she offered a stern look of disapproval. No words, not even a hiss.

"I said nothing, but I'm sure my face said it all," she wrote.

Van Ness alleges that the Facebook employee had stepped out of the class to tell on her. Yes, to the bosses.

"That yoga teacher just gave me a nasty look, Mark. Please do something about it or I'll sulk." Some might imagine this, at least, may have been the substance of the communication.

Still, Van Ness was employed by Plus One Health Management and it was that company that decided things weren't quite working out. (I have contacted Plus One and will update, should I hear back.)

She had allegedly also raised objections at Cisco, when a student tried to take photos during a class.

There may well have been a slight culture clash between Van Ness and Facebook.

Sources at Facebook suggest that she had been told in advance that employees may have to use their cell phones in the event of a business emergency, such as a new notification or a poke. (I paraphrase marginally.)

I also hear echoes that there may have been a certain level of hurt because she had singled out an individual Facebook employee with a laser-like stare. They're sensitive over there, you see. They try not to look at each other too much, just in case someone takes offense.

However, many might have sympathy for Van Ness when she told the Chronicle: "We're not talking about the U.S. government here. We're not talking about Russia is about to bomb us. We're talking about Facebook. Something can't wait half an hour?"

A Facebook spokesperson was happy to offer me these words of comfort: "Alice Van Ness was not an employee of Facebook. It is against our policy to comment on the management decisions made by our third party vendors."

Perhaps Van Ness should have read Don DeLillo's vastly prescient Cosmopolis, now a David Cronenberg movie starring that handsome, fangy man from "Twilight."

DeLillo explains fully what this new computerized world really means.

Never mind the speed that makes it hard to follow what passes before the eye. The speed is the point. Never mind the urgent and endless replenishment, the way data dissolves at one end of the series as it takes shape at the other. This is the point, the thrust, the future.

It's not that Facebook employees aren't the spiritual embodiment of a new era, one in which we all hug each other virtually and share our spirits and breakfasts with the world.

It's that they're there to make money -- in an instant, and out of an instant.

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