Daniela Böhringer, Stephan Wolff
May 19, 2016
The incorporation of technologies in everyday activities is far from difficult for participants who are, in an ethnomethodological sense, competent members of society. Working “with” technology is a routine engagement. As conversation analysts we are interested in the systematic procedures which participants employ to make technological objects like computers part of an encounter and its social universe. The analysis of 52 (audio-taped) face-to-face consultations in what are termed Job Centers (public employment agencies in Germany) allows us to demonstrate the extent of interactional work that is to be completed if participants (have to) include the computer and work “with” it. Within our data, a variety of orientations toward the computer are evident. Sometimes the computer is moved to the background of the encounter and is given only minimal attention while Job Center official and client are clearly oriented toward each other as people. Conversely, the official may choose to involve the computer by asking it questions. In another variation of computer-aided consultation, the official devotes his or her attention to the computer exclusively while the client is effectively placed “on hold”. We also found cases in which the computer was actively neutralized by participants. Competent members of society not only orient themselves toward objects (e,g, computers) and display this orientation to one another, but also employ a variety of modalities to integrate these objects into the social world of their encounter. This may fundamentally change the character of an encounter.