Consumers are nothing if they do not consume. From the inception of any product, developers consider how can they make it easier for the consumer to consume. Technology is at the centerpiece of this concept because new media applications allow people to become what James Burke (1978) called “compulsive consumers” – people waiting for technology to come to their rescue in times of emergency or boredom. Digital citizenship (Ohler, 2010) gives natives with a fluency in digital language a social responsibility to understand the “opportunities and responsibilities [within] the Digital Age” (p.40). This is where a Media Psychologist can use what Ohler (2010) calls the DeTechtive Process to investigate, analyze, and evaluate the impact and bearings any given technology or medium has on society. A technology device is no longer just a medium – it is also a human extension of the user (McLuhan, 1966). After considering this concept from Marshall McLuhan (1966) and the trust consumers place on technology, I will use the deTechtive process to consider a new technology that I believe will be exist at some point – the fingerprint account as a form of payment.
Media expert Marshall McLuhan (1966) believed that mediums are human extensions of ourselves, making the medium itself the message. McLuhan (1978) illustrates this in saying that the point of reference is in the grounds itself, not the content – “it’s not what you say in the telephone, it’s the fact that the telephone service is environmental.” The detechtive phase works to observe the influences to that environment and recognize the growth or climb that technology and society take together in tandem. Most new technologies are built as upgrades to previously established mediums. They will soon replace them. Society recognizes this tech-evolution and even coined a phrase to pay homage to former and outdated mediums – “old school.” The Beta –>VHS –> DVD –> HD DVD –> Blu Ray –> stream. This is just one example of a tech-evolution chain that when analyzed with the a detechtive lens, shows that people are still compulsive consumers, but they also have grown to do so because of easy user functions and mobility.
One other chain that can be noticed is how we pay to consume. Cash, credit cards, and now starbucks apps where all of our earnings from hard work are simplified to a barcode. Other companies have begun to utilize more technology-based forms of payment, including 24 Hour Fitness Gym. I am a member of this gym and was surprised when one day when I went to check in, they no longer wanted to see my identification card. They asked to scan my right index fingerprint and said that from now on, all I had to do was enter my phone number and scan my finger. I was simultaneously surprised and impressed. But what does this mean under the deTechtive process?
If people can now check into a gym with just a fingerprint, what else can be done with just a fingerprint? Will Bank of America adopt a fingerprint policy where businesses will replace the debit card swipe machine with a fingerprint scanner? Will the next chain of a tech-evolution go from trade –> cash –> credit card –> debit card –> barcode applications –> to fingerprint bank accounts? I think this is a realistic possibility and shows a great deal about the environment that both McLuhan (1978) and Ohler (2010) assessed. It is not the dollars and cents being transferred or the fact that a person is consuming starbucks or going to the gym – it is the fact that society is willing to put their life in the hands of a technology, almost illustrating that they forgot how to survive without technology.
The first step of the deTechtive process is to investigate. The technology of a fingerprint scan would be an alternative to cash and physical debit cards as a mode of purchase. It would reduce and ultimately replace the necessity of carrying a wallet with cash and multiple cards. The social context of this adaptation is that people will continue to put their trust in technology, believing that there is a protection policy in place to prevent fraud. This new technology would be biased towards people who still believe in cold hard cash and those who choose to not have a bank account. They are essentially left out of this change and unable to take advantage of the benefits of mobility and freedom from having to carry a wallet or purse.
The second step as a deTechtive would be to analyze the implications of adopting such a technology. A fingerprint form of payment has benefits and a bias for businessmen and fast paced individuals who carry enough on them as it is and would like to check out quickly. But with that comes the ultimate illustration of a society trusting technology to protect them from fraud. The third and final step is to evaluate and recommend. I personally do enjoy the simplicity of cash. I know what I have and what I have to spend because I can physically touch and see it. But I also love technology and the opportunities it provides. There are occasions when I am in a hurry and my hands are too full to grab my purse, pull out my wallet, swipe my card, sign the receipt, keep the receipt, then put everything away. I raised my eyebrow at the 24 Hour Fitness gym when the fingerprint check in policy took over. But having dealt with it successfully now for over a year, I accept the medium. I would approach a fingerprint mode of payment with the same raised eyebrow…but would ultimately accept it as a technology under the conditions that a vigorous protection and insurance plan is also enacted to protect me. People are victims of fraud now with credit and debit cards. No plan is bullet proof. So I would assume that a fingerprint payment transaction would have the same hiccups as existing modes of purchase.
Writer for theverge.com, Nilay Patel (2014) says, “the internet is a utility, just like water and power.” Technology and all the mediums that utilize it are necessary extensions of ourselves (McLuhan, 1966). We exist through the medium just as the medium exists through us. As Media Psychologists, our job is to track where new technologies and mediums take society, and then bring awareness to the bearings it has on our relationships with each other and the products we consume. The deTechtive badge gives us the intelligence to perform such an investigation by giving us the right questions to ask. To me as a Media Psychologist in the making, the answers are the fun part.
Burke, J. (1978). Connections I-The Trigger Effect (High Quality) [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hN7Z95cqZx0
McLuhan, M. (1966). Marshall McLuhan Speaks — Communication via the internet [Video file]. Retrieved from http://marshallmcluhanspeaks.com/prophecies/1966-communication-via-the-internet.php
McLuhan, M. (1978). Marshall McLuhan Speaks — The medium is the message [Video file]. Retrieved from http://marshallmcluhanspeaks.com/sayings/1978-the-medium-is-the-message.php
Ohler, J. (2010). Digital community, digital citizen. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Corwin Press.
Patel, N. (2014, February 25). The internet is fucked | The Verge. Retrieved from http://www.theverge.com/2014/2/25/5431382/the-internet-is-fucked