It is tempting to regard the ‘knowledge economy’ and the role of ‘knowledge worker’ as recent phenomena predicated on the introduction and widespread use of electronic information and communications technologies. However, in this chapter, I look to the long history of knowledge work in information and communications technologies such as the telephone, telegraph and computer, arguing that women’s work in these industries was vital in shaping modern bureaucratic forms of organization and in rehearsing and affirming conceptions of masculinity and femininity in relation to the use of technology. Studying the development of work in relation to such technologies shows there is continuity in what may be designated knowledge work, at least from the development of the telegraph until the present day, and continuity in the ways that women’s skills were valued, or denigrated, in working with these technologies. The history of women’s work in telephony, telegraphy and the computer industry demonstrates ways in which women’s labour was crucial to the organization of work, the transition to automation and the facilitation of information communication, thus sowing the seeds for modern conceptions of information processing and knowledge work. Although this often receives scant acknowledgement, women played a pivotal part in creating and defining modern technological roles.
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