Looking at our world today, it is clear that technology has impacted everything. All aspects of life, from birth to death, dating to warfare, have been dramatically altered by the technological age. We often take for granted how much our laptops, tablets, and cell phones have transformed our work lives. These transformations are not as simple as they seem to be on the surface. New technologies have changed the roles of managers and employees in modern offices. Television shows like Mad Men demonstrate the evolution of our work environments. Before the current age, white-collar workers never touched a keyboard; such mundane tasks generally fell to the secretary pool. Today, our executives and CEOs practically sleep with their electronic devices, making the need to be in touch a twenty-four hour demand. So what was it like to work in an office before internet and personal computers?
In today’s world, there are a myriad of ways to document your ideas and communications. Recording a conversation is as easy as downloading an app on your Smartphone. Written exchanges with a business partner in a remote location take place instantly with email and text messaging. In decades past, white-collar workers used antiquated devices, like cumbersome Dictaphones, to record their thoughts. These old-fashioned recorders were larger than the average laptop.
Even if a businessman was lucky enough to own a Dictaphone, he still needed a secretary to put his notes into print. And that was not so easy, either. Before computer technology, office assistants had to clack away on their typewriters for managerial transmissions. Memos and letters were assigned to a pool of secretaries who lived in a completely different world from their higher-ranking officemates. White-collar workers did not dare to reach for the typewriter or the steno pad, since taking notes was seen as a sign of low office rank and was often associated with women’s work.
Many modern offices rely on online document sharing to spread information. Email blasts, newsletters, and social media help us generate and regenerate information on a minute-to-minute basis. Offices in the past were not so fortunate. Since computers were literally the size of storerooms and could only be operated by highly specialized staff, offices were not stocked with printers and Xerox machines as they are today. Making duplicates again fell to the secretaries in an office. They had to rely on large, unwieldy equipment, such as mimeograph machines and spirit duplicators to make copies. These devices worked in way that resembled a small-scale printing press and required solvents and special papers for the duplication process. Each sheet of copied text required hand-cranking the machine and exposure to chemicals and fumes.
It is easy to take our modern office environments for granted. Today, serviced offices come with every amenity imaginable and the world is literally at our fingertips. Our office predecessors of days gone by had to mail their documents, relying on paper transmissions for even the most elementary communications. The next time you send an office email, imagine how you would have conveyed your message without the internet or electronic devices.