Skip to main content

A journey through seven decades of office tech

Nowadays the average person will own a smartphone, a laptop and a tablet. All these devices allow us to keep in contact, access information and complete daily work chores, instantly and conveniently.

Of course we all know this, but with all the technology surrounding us it is easy to take it all for granted. If you were to look back more than 60 years ago to when technology was still finding its feet in the world, many people regarded it as a threat and something to be feared would take over the world, or the very least, the workplace!

At Syscap we recently conducted research and produced an infographic that looks into the technology we’ve been using in our offices over the past seven decades. Speaking to various people who have worked with gadgets new and old we found out what people really thought about them and identified those that actually did make life easier versus those that were just a hindrance.

Back in the 1950s the concept of technology obviously differed a lot from today’s – it was very basic in function but often complex to use. Quite the opposite of what we know today. The user had to be tech savvy enough to be able to work and even repair and maintain it, making people often reluctant to show enthusiasm about the latest office must haves. Along with the typewriter the 50s also saw the rise of dictation technology, but as Keith Moore, an MD in 1952, explains, “They never quite captured your real voice.” The use of magnetic tape recording was used for the first time in 1951 and would last through to the 70s, allowing you to mechanically create a substantial amount of data that could then be stored for long periods of time and quickly accessed when needed.

The 1970s meanwhile saw technology take big strides forward with the exit of typewriters, the addition of the fax machine and technology such as the Commodore PET starting to make life a little easier in the office. The Commodore PET was a response to Texas Instruments’ increase in microchip prices that in turn pushed Commodore out of the calculator market. The company decided to ditch calculators for computers, with the grand showcasing of the PET at the 1977 Consumer Electrics Show. Morris Ben, a student at the time, who used this device in 1975 comments, “The PET allowed various programming languages so was great to learn on.”

As we move into the 90s we start to see the rise of more familiar pieces of technology that most of us today will recognise; from digital photocopiers and the classic iMac G3, to the super popular mobile work tool, the Blackberry Quark. Companies such as RIM started to develop mobile devices more with the work user in mind, with earlier models being based on two way pagers and adopting the classic QWERTY keyboard. Later models included headsets, WAP services and the ability to access your emails, granted with limited HTML access. Stuart Fletcher who worked in sales in 1997 explains, “Using the Quark mouthpiece for the first time was really weird. I organised my whole life on this.” The Quark soon became one of the best-known handsets as it kicked off the texting revolution and started the smartphone era, which we now can’t live without.

The 21st century has brought some much-loved technology such as the first ever iPhone, Wi-Fi printers but most of all the noughties brought us the Nokia 3310. This memorable compact mobile had many features including picture messaging, voice dialling, a range of different interchangeable X-press On covers. And of course, possibly the best mobile game created – the eminent Snake II. Kim Dale who worked in sales in 2008 shares her love for this timeless device, “I used this phone so much I ended up breaking the C button, it actually fell off the phone. I adored my 3310.” It was a huge success selling 126 million units globally.

The present day of course adds laptops and even more portable devices to the picture, making working and accessing important information on the move only easier. As well as 3D printing that lets you create something via your computer and then print it as a three-dimensional object; this also has the ability to revolutionise the business world. Hannah Lewison, currently a student, had an opportunity to try out a 3D printer and explains, “I helped add ingredients to one to make a sugar wheel. I wouldn’t eat it afterwards, it looked superb though.”

From the 1950s straight through to the modern day technology has had a massive impact on our lives and our society. Who knows what the future will hold.