Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Spreadsheet Reinvented

My father was an accountant, and I vividly recall his working on spreadsheets (also known as ledger sheets) on the dining room table late at night. He once gave me a short lesson about how to make proper entries onto a spreadsheet. I recall his emphasis on neatness and penmanship, selecting the proper pencil (my father preferred the Ticonderoga No. 3), and having a serviceable gum eraser nearby for making clean erasures. In the early 1980’s, he introduced me to electronic computing. At the time, VisiCalc was all the rage. Later, Lotus 1-2-3 came into vogue. Today, Excel is the most widely-used spreadsheet program in the world, and has almost completely replaced ledger paper in professional practice (though some small businesses still rely on paper ledgers to this day).

Of course, the essential features of the electronic spreadsheet are inherited from its paper lineage, and the ontological purpose of all spreadsheets is the same, regardless of whether one is using an electronic or paper version of the tool. Nevertheless, it's interesting to compare the paper spreadsheet to its electronic successor in an effort to better understand why the spreadsheet remains essential to the practice of finance and accounting.

Below, you will find a short definition of the term “spreadsheet,” together with two download files – one is a facsimile of a paper spreadsheet, the other an electronic spreadsheet. Once you have downloaded both files, place them side-by-side on your monitor screen and then ask yourself the following question: Can one replace the spreadsheet without reinventing the spreadsheet? I look forward to your comments.
spread·sheet n. 1. A piece of paper with rows and columns for recording financial data for use in comparative analysis. 2. Computer Science An accounting or bookkeeping program that displays data in rows and columns on a screen.
Paper Spreadsheet

Electronic Spreadsheet

2 comments:

RAF said...

The paper spreadsheet can and routinely is replaced by its electronic counterpart however I find your question as to reinvention a little difficult to comprehend. If one wishes to exactly replicate the a paper spreadsheet where all calculations are done manually it would certainly be possible to merely create a form with the same number of blank lines (unformulated cells) though I can think of no reason why I or anyone else might want to do that and not take advantage of the automated computing power of the electronic spreadsheet.

cindy.dolan said...

hmmm .... define reinvent, please?
You can certainly have an electronic version of the paper spreadsheet. And the electronic version can of course, improve computational accuracy and allow you to redesign the look and feel to convey meaning beyond the data it contains. I suspect current day electronic spreadsheets may even carry the same nostalgia for our children as the old paper ledger might for you.

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