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How Have Computers Changed the Workplace?
The earliest computers were developed as high-speed calculating machines. Until the 1950s and the advent of computers, all math had to be computed by hand, an abacus or a mechanical calculating device. At the time, people understood that computers were a huge step forward for scientific research, but it took a decade or so before their potential as innovation tools to improve business productivity was recognized and exploited.
Automation and Improved Efficiency
Computers can do repetitive tasks faster with fewer mistakes than humans, thus the first few decades of the development for business focused mainly on automating a wide range of industrial processes. The next step brought PCs as productivity tools and entertainment devices to homes and workplaces everywhere. More recent refinements in information technology such as mobile devices have led to a host of business- and consumer-focused applications designed to help people become more organized, efficient and productive.
The number-crunching ability of information technology has been appreciated since its conception, but a real understanding of the value of IT as data storage devices did not occur until some time later as the technology matured. Databases make it possible for managers to run payroll with the push of a few buttons, and for accountants to calculate taxes or create financial reports in a fraction of the time it took pre-IT. Databases, and the sophisticated software to search them, are also invaluable tools for analysts of all types as they sift through data trying to identify patterns for various purposes.
Printing and Publication Technology
Replacing the single-function typewriter with word-processing software and a printer has transformed the way offices across the country do business, but computers have had an especially significant impact on the publication industry. Publishers and related organizations increased productivity due to progressive technology. Major paradigm shifts in an industry are a mixed blessing because the faster computers replaced human workers.
Developing technologies gave rise to the Internet and more recently, to mobile communication devices like smartphones and tablets. The ability to communicate with a colleague or client anywhere at any time has led to the socioeconomic phenomenon of globalization, and dramatically changed the nature of work and work flow in practically every major industry. Near-instant communication enables 21st-century industrial society, including "smart" electrical power grids, 24-7 stock and commodity trading around the globe – none of which would be possible without computers.
Significant Increase In Overall Productivity
The statistics speak for themselves. Worker productivity in the United States had been increasing at an annual rate of 1 percent to 1.5 percent since the early 1970s, but the productivity rate started to increase dramatically in the mid-1990s, and averaged 2.9 percent from 1995 to 2000. Many economists, including Alan Greenspan, have noted that this rise in productivity occurred as IT was becoming common in workplaces, and credit computer-related information technology for the increase.
- ABC News: Workplace Special -- The Productivity Debate
- U.S. Department of Labor: Futurework -- Chapter 7: Implications of Workplace Change
- Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco: The Computer Evolution
- Whole Building Design Guide: The Changing Nature of Organizations, Work, and Workplace
- Stanford University: Economic Globalization and the Information Technology Revolution
Clayton Browne has been writing professionally since 1994. He has written and edited everything from science fiction to semiconductor patents to dissertations in linguistics, having worked for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Steck-Vaughn and The Psychological Corp. Browne has a Master of Science in linguistic anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
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