Technologies of Consumer Labor: A History of Self-Service, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Technologies of Consumer Labor

A History of Self-Service, 1st Edition

By Michael Palm


174 pages | 32 B/W Illus.

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This bookdocuments and examines the history of technology used by consumers to serve oneself. The telephone’s development as a self-service technology functions as the narrative spine, beginning with the advent of rotary dialing eliminating most operator services and transforming every local connection into an instance of self-service. Today, nearly a century later, consumers manipulate 0-9 keypads on a plethora of digital machines. Throughout the book Palm employs a combination of historical, political-economic and cultural analysis to describe how the telephone keypad was absorbed into business models across media, retail and financial industries, as the interface on everyday machines including the ATM, cell phone and debit card reader. He argues that the naturalization of self-service telephony shaped consumers’ attitudes and expectations about digital technology.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Phoning It In, or Consumer Labor and the Telephone

1. Please Help Yourself: Self-Service Shopping and the "Revolution in Distribution"

2. Phantom of the Operator: Rotary Dialing and the Automation of Everyday Life

3. Then Press #: Touch-Tone Phones and Digital Interface

4. What’s in a PIN? ATMs and Keypads beyond the Telephone

Conclusion: Smart Phones and the Costs of Payment

About the Author

Michael Palm is Assistant Professor of Media and Technology Studies in the Department of Communication Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Social History
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Media Studies