By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
The Office: A Hardworking History
By Gideon Haigh (Miegunyah Press, $45.00, softcover, 609 pages)
Offices are ubiquitous and office philosophy is international. Over the years, the scope of office work has changed—dramatically—from once where it would have been working at home to present-day “time-honoured, time-consuming tradition abetted by copying and telephony and more recently by email and mobile communication”.
Currently, the distinction between ‘office hours’ and ‘after hours’ is blurred as the most modern office is the one carried in the form of a personal digital assistant.
Author and journalist Gideon Haigh outlines origins among merchants and monks to gleaming skyscrapers, adroitly meandering through four millenniums of history unearthing an extraordinary legacy of invention and ingenuity, shaped by the telephone, the typewriter, the elevator, the email, the copier, the cubicle, the personal computer and the personal digital assistant.
The first section provides a story of office work traces modern inventions and technologies and the second half outlines the office story, in at least some of its varieties including staff selection.
All this is interspersed with interesting anecdotal data like that of the 1941 world champion typist Margaret Hamma and an Australian psychologist, sociologist and organisation theorist, Elton Mayo, dubbed ‘‘the father of the coffee break’’.
Also tapped is a rich stratum of art and cinema, folklore and fiction, visiting the workplaces imagined by Hawthorne and Heller, Kafka and Kurosawa, Balzac and Wilder, and visualised through the “healthy takings for movies” from Mary Tyler Moore to Mad Men, from Network and 9 to 5 to, of course, The Office.
There is information overload in this bulky volume when the lexicon comes in handy: didn’t know that ‘skivvy’ had another meaning, ‘defalcation’ was unheard of and a bilingual dictionary advised that ‘nouvelles couches sociales’ should be translated as three separate words. The creative layout with source details is improved with images.
The Office is everyone’s history: it is one revolution that may never cease.
Edition 405, 15 April 2014
To find out more about Rama Gaind click here.