Diminishing “intellectual specialization”

Here’s a quote from this article at The Chronicle Review. I recommend the entire piece. Consider how the ideas here apply outside the world of higher education (they apply everywhere).

As the economist Peter G. Sassone observed in the early 1990s, personal computers made administrative tasks just easy enough to eliminate the need for dedicated support staff — you could now type your own memos using a word processor or file expenses directly through an intranet portal. In the short term, these changes seemed to save money. But as Sassone documents, shifting administrative tasks to high-skilled employees led to a decrease in their productivity, which reduced revenue — creating losses that often surpassed the amount of money saved by cuts to support staff. He describes this effect as a diminishment of “intellectual specialization,” and it’s a dynamic that’s not spared higher education, where professors spend an increasing amount of time dealing with the administrative substrate of their institutions through electronic interfaces. 

We must also acknowledge that the real costs of administrative work are currently hidden in ways that don’t immediately show up on a [company’s] balance sheet. Distracted and interrupted [employees] produce less … and spend less time innovating [in the workplace]. That reality doesn’t directly impact revenue and is hard to measure as a concrete cost and therefore easy to ignore. 

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