1st Edition

Technologies of Consumer Labor A History of Self-Service

By Michael Palm Copyright 2017
    188 Pages 32 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    186 Pages 32 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book documents 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.

    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


    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