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Today, as in the past, secretaries play an important role in keeping lines of communication open. Before there were telephones, messages were transmitted by hand, often from the secretary of one party to the secretary of the receiving party. Their trustworthiness was valued because the lives of many people often hung in the balance of certain communications.

Secretaries in the ancient world developed methods of taking abbreviated notes so that they could capture as much as possible of their employers' words. In 16th-century England, the modern precursors of the shorthand methods we know today were developed. In the 19th century, Isaac Pitman and John Robert Gregg developed the shorthand systems that are still used in offices and courtrooms in the United States.

The equipment secretaries use in their work has changed drastically in recent years. Almost every office is automated in some way. Familiarity with machines such as switchboards, photocopiers, fax machines, personal computers, videoconferencing equipment, and cell phones has become an integral part of the secretary's day-to-day work.

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