Power Players

In 1981, this was Steve Jobs' vision for the office of the future

Steve Jobs with the Apple Lisa computer in 1983.
Ted Thai | The LIFE Picture Collection | Getty Images

Over the past few decades, computers have changed the way pretty much every workplace does business. But in the early 1980s, that wasn't quite the case, as you were still far more likely to see an office full of typewriters than a computer on every desk.

At the time, Apple and its co-founder, Steve Jobs, were trying to change that. Jobs wanted to revolutionize the workplace by making computers more affordable and easier to use.

And according to an Inc. cover story that ran in October 1981 but was recently resurfaced by the magazine, Jobs envisioned a future with computers on every worker's desk, a progressive culture where technology creates more opportunities for employees and a workplace without secretaries.

Computers for everyone

In 1980, according to Inc., Apple's then-president Mike Scott sent out an office memo: "EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY!! NO MORE TYPEWRITERS ARE TO BE PURCHASED, LEASED, etc., etc. Apple is an innovative company. We must believe and lead in all areas. If word processing is so neat, then let's all use it! Goal: by 1-1-81, NO typewriters at Apple... We believe the typewriter is obsolete. Let's prove it inside before we try and convince our customers."

In addition to leading by example, Jobs — who later became notorious for being a divisive boss, who could inspire employees one minute and tear them down the next — also painted the decision to stop using typewriters as an effort to improve workplace culture for Apple's then roughly 2,200 employees. (Today, the company has 130,000 employees.)

"Not only do our area associates have the freedom to do more rewarding, enriching tasks, they have the chance to get involved in solving problems that can ultimately affect the success of the entire company," Jobs told the magazine at the time.

It's also worth noting that, much like today, the issue of an automated workplace replacing human workers was already raising concerns. But Jobs said personal computers would open up new opportunities for employees while allowing them to work more efficiently.

(While that may be true, experts also cite ill effects of automation since the '80s, and there is debate as to what will happen moving forward. A 2017 McKinsey & Company report says up to a third of the U.S. workforce may need to find a new job due to automation by 2030, while a 2017 Gartner report says artificial intelligence will create more jobs than it eliminates.)

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No more secretaries

In addition to phasing out typewriters, Apple also eliminated the job title "secretary" at the company, replacing it with "area associate" — a term the company felt better represented the wider range of job duties employees could perform with a personal computer, according to Inc.

Jobs even likened the personal computer to products that were then considered innovative: "In the past 15 years, there have been only a few tools that have actually increased the efficiency of the office worker — the IBM Selectric typewriters, the calculator, the Xerox copier, and the newer, advanced phone systems," Jobs told the magazine.

Jobs and Scott were clearly correct in predicting the computer would replace typewriters, and it was far from the only time the Apple co-founder made a big prediction that eventually came true.

In 1985, Jobs predicted the eventual rise of home computer usage, and the use of computers for entertainment rather than just work projects, in an interview with Playboy. The tech icon also predicted that people would one day buy computers for the primary purpose of connecting them "into a nationwide communications network," aka the modern internet.

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