Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Paying for it

'Oh, machines!' cursed the woman at the pizza checkout. The machine, in this case the card-reader, is the object that comes into focus when it's broken. The technology is obstinate. But, for the rest of the time it's just an integral part of the everyday transaction of ordering lunch. It's embedded in the whole process. In fact, the card-reader involves a very basic kind of digital literacy. The customer punches in a pin number, keys 'enter' and then waits. The machine responds and, if all goes well, payment is accepted with the appearance of a message on the small screen. Behind the scenes, of course, the technology connects to processes in the banking infrastructure - but all this is hidden from view and rarely requires much attention. We take it for granted that the correct account is debited by the exact amount. This is new technology at work. I wonder if we can make any connections to other digital literacies or even those associated with technologies in the classroom? Maybe - for instance, the example shows us technology fully embedded in a purposeful social context. It is easy, almost transparent and provides a convenient alternative (in this case to cash payment). In the same way, the search, the message, the collaborative project done on a networked computer could be the same: an easy, almost transparent, convenient alternative to traditional literacies. But the example of the card-reader also illustrates different orientations in research - what Cathy is calling the researcher's gaze. We could perhaps focus our attention on the technology (the card-reader) itself, and get interested in the magic, the functionality, the thing-ness of the machine and how it substitutes for human endeavour. Alternatively, we could get interested in how the various actors - employees and customers interact with each other around the card-reader. We could see the card-reader as a kind of catalyst for interaction and transaction. Or alternatively, we could see the card-reader as an integral part of the social experience and, in turn, the whole lunch-time economy. This becomes closer to actual everyday experience, removes the 'wow factor' from technology and embeds it in the wider ecology of the context. Three perspectives or three gazes, and they're probably all important, just different ways of paying for it!

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