Technologies of Consumer Labor: A History of Self-Service, 1st Edition (Hardback) 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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Paperback: 9780815364740
pub: 2017-12-22
Hardback: 9781138186477
pub: 2016-11-10
eBook (VitalSource) : 9781315643830
pub: 2016-11-03
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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.


"Part of the brilliance here is that Palm is writing about something so totally ubiquitous and, to many, totally annoying. He flips the story to show us how these technologies were designed under the banners of autonomy and freedom in order to make us do the jobs that we used to pay others to do. It's a great contribution." --Vicki Mayer, Tulane University, USA

"We all take our telephones for granted as mundane devices, but many will surely be won over by Palm’s argument that the telephone rather than the television is the triumphant consumer technology of the twentieth century. Palm crafts a spell-binding tale of how the telephone developed into what it is today, transforming from simply a conduit of voice communication to a site of women’s work, a site of emotional connection for the public, a site of the expansion of financial regimes, and a site of consumer labor. This brilliantly-written story is a must for students and scholars across a range of disciplines." -- Winnifred Poster, Washington University, USA

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

About the Series

Routledge Research in Cultural and Media Studies

Cultural and media studies are now well-established as important academic disciplines and are inspiring new research into a wide range of pertinent issues. This series presents outstanding research in these subjects, helping to shape the direction of future inquiry.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

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