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Learning to file: Reconfiguring information and information work in the early twentieth century

This article uses textbooks and advertisements to explore the formal and informal ways in which people were introduced to vertical filing in the early twentieth century. Through the privileging of “system” an ideal mode of paperwork emerged in which a clerk could ” grasp ” information simply by hand without having to understand or comprehend its content. A file clerk’s hands and fingers became central to the representation and teaching of filing. In this way, filing offered an example of a distinctly modern form of information work. Filing textbooks sought to enhance dexterity as the rapid handling of paper came to represent information as something that existed in discrete units, in bits that could be easily extracted. Advertisements represented this mode of information work in its ideal form when they frequently erased the worker or reduced him or her to hands, as “instant” filing became “automatic” filing, with the filing cabinet presented as a machine.