• Carole Katz

Digging in the past, to look in the future: What impact had the "spreadsheet" on modern wo

We recently came across this podcast episode around the impact of "spreadsheets" (episode 606, a rerun from 2015) that caught our attention. The podcast looks back on to an article with the title “A Spreadsheet Way of Knowledge” written in 1984 by Steven Levy who describes how the invention of the "spreadsheet" could potentially transform the nature of work (in particular those from accountants).

A question that we are also interested in one of our research stream about the "future of work". The fun part about the podcast is that we (as the podcast-listener) are already in the future that is described so vividly in the 1984-article.

We learn that before the invention of the spreadsheets, accountants spend numerous hours in carrying out calculations by hand in order to answer questions from business owners (e.g., what happens if we change the interest rate in the billing procedure?). The electronical spreadsheet reduced the duration of this task from several hours to only a few minutes. A good example of how technology can largely reduce work demands of employees. At the same time, we see how technology redefines the role of workers and creates new tasks and even impacts our economy and society as a whole (if you think about the economic-financial crisis in 2008).

The profound transformation of jobs is described in the following:

"Already, the spreadsheet has redefined the nature of some jobs; to be an accountant in the age of spreadsheet program is — well, almost sexy. And the spreadsheet has begun to be a forceful agent of decentralization, breaking down hierarchies in large companies and diminishing the power of data processing."

In our research, we are particularly interested to which extant work design can be used to deliver the benefits of technological change that is also constantly happening in our current work environments.

Can you think about modern examples of technological change that have the potential to make jobs “sexier”? What type of radical technological change can reduce the work demands of particular jobs?

Click here for the podcast and here for the article.


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The Centre for Transformative Work Design

is part of the Future of Work Institute at Curtin University.

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