Hetero-technic cooperation with computing and non-computing technologies : a study of the transmodal capacity of prosodic cues to alleviate asymmetric access to tactile phenomena


I present a study of hetero-technic cooperative work involving multiple workers, a shared technical goal, role complementation, and the use of a combination of computing and non-computing technologies. Abundant contemporary examples of HTC (C-NC) work can be found, for example, in the discriminative work maintaining and repairing physical materials. As more work becomes computerized, but still demands the transformation of physical materials using non-computing technologies, HTC (C-NC) will remain important. The access workers have and the necessities of their work point to two seemingly conflicting demands, namely that participants: (1) have different access to their common field of work through the use of their respective computing and non-computing technologies and (2) intimately depend on the complementary use of both technology types in ways that take into account actions performed independently and perceptual phenomena experienced privately. This dissertation focuses on how within this computing and non-computing context, workers cope with differing degrees of access through their senses of touch. To address this topic I primarily consult the literature concerned with the study of computer supported cooperative work (CSCW) and embodied communication. I first recount how the studies of work and technology have missed work carried out with a combination of computing and non-computing technologies. Then drawing on the CSCW literature, I address the two work practices of awareness and coordination, that are both essential to a cooperative endeavor. I finally layout how scholars concerned with embodied communication have discussed asymmetries in access to phenomena. I pose the research question: How do workers in HTC (C-NC) orient to asymmetries in access to tactile phenomena? I focus on asymmetries in access to tactile phenomena because touch is important in work on physical objects, yet ultimately as private perceptual experience. Careful work accomplished with deft tactile perception is problematic when the work is interdependent and even more still when computing technologies are involved. In addition, the lack of touch is the most significant limitation in HTC (C-NC) work, a particularly striking fact given the importance of tactile sensing in non-computing work and the need for transmitting the understanding derived from such sensing to operators of computing technology. To address the topic of asymmetric access to tactile phenomena in the context of technology mediated cooperative work I present findings from a microethnographic study of the ways participants orient to tactile phenomena through talk-in-interaction. Using video and audio recording techniques, this research sheds light on the ways that participants’ access, and the known information about their access, is surfaced in the midst of work. I choose to study minimally invasive cardiac surgery because it is representative of HTC (C-NC) and because the workers in this environment are faced with interesting and complex asymmetries in access to tactile phenomena. In observing these workers, I find that they flexibly adapt to the particular access provided by their work configuration. Doing so, they overcame asymmetries in access to tactile phenomena through two work practices. The first practice serves as a mechanism for coordinating the execution of work with non-computerized technologies. The second practice fostered a greater awareness of the status of a worker’s execution of non-computerized tasks. By investigating work accomplished with a combination of computing and non-computing technologies this dissertation capitalizes on a missed opportunity in studies of work. I adopt analytic methods from studies of embodied communication to understand how workers overcome asymmetries in access to one rich medium, human touch, using another rich medium, the human voice. In my discussion I draw on theoretical concepts of the “living body” to discuss the work practices of awareness and coordination anew for a CSCW audience. I argue against an instrumental view of communication that easily slips in when scholars allow the role of the felt experience of work to fall from view. This research broadens our appreciation of the ways that participants cope with the private experience of tactile work and the ways that participants make that private experience public as the felt experience is surfaced in talk. In sum, this dissertation supplies important new knowledge about HTC (C-NC) where it otherwise would not have existed.



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