Abstract

With the neutering of the QWERTY keyboard in the early 1980s following largely successful clerical worker organizing, male workers in offices began taking on clerical work that, until recently, they would have considered beneath both their job descriptions and their manhood. Paradoxically, the men who now began typing, filing, and performing data entry for themselves did not generally consider the imposition of these new tasks an increase in work. Rather, they called it “automation.” Employers’ and computer manufacturers’ regendering of the QWERTY keyboard from feminine to neuter in the last quarter of the twentieth century was an example of the uses and power of the automation discourse, an ideological commitment that obscured the intensification of human labor behind utopian rhetoric and technological enthusiasm. Employers regendered the keyboard to get more work out of their employees, and as they did so, they claimed that no one did the work at all. Obscuring human labor behind technological marvels, the claims that the work was done by “automation” proved persuasive, even as human labor was sped up and intensified.

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