Exploring socio-technical relations : perceptions of Saskatoon Transit’s go-pass smartcard and electronic fare system
It is essential to consider what new technologies mean to the people who use them and the ways in which they are experienced and used. In the context of public transit services in Saskatoon, understanding what the recent changes from a manual to an electronic/automated system means to users and the broader community is critically important to the overall assessment of the service. Investigating users’ lived experiences and interpretations of technical artifacts is valuable to understanding socio-technical relations or the embodied interactions of humans and machines as “technologies-in-practice.” Research into socio-technical relations has primarily focused on large scale technological systems and expert practices while less attention has been paid to “seemingly mundane” technologies or technical artifacts routinely used in everyday life. At the same time, this preoccupation has overshadowed or downplayed the importance of exploring users’ experiences and interpretations of technologies. The goal of this research is to contribute to the sociological understanding of mundane technologies-in-practice and socio-technical relations more broadly. In order to gain insight into this relationship, this thesis focuses on bus riders’ (users) and the community’s perceptions of the Go-Pass smartcard and electronic fare system used by the public transit service in Saskatoon. The perspectives of Go-Pass users and community stakeholders (n=15) were investigated using qualitative semi-structured interviews to gain deeper understanding into the complex relationship between users and technologies. Drawing from Science and Technology Studies (STS) and the sociology of technology literature, I propose that a sociomaterial theoretical perspective following a mutual shaping framework offers insight into socio-technical relations. Both critical and feminist technology studies literature has been helpful for developing an understanding of the wider social and political contexts of technical use which underscores this study. In particular, the conceptual insights of “socio-technical assemblages” (Suchman, 2007) and “intra-action” (Barad, 2003) have been helpful tools for exploring agency, subjectivity and power which is key to uncovering the intricacies of socio-technical relations and human-machine interaction. The four main themes emerging from this study were: 1) shifting human-machine roles and relationships; 2) the socio-technical construction of the bus rider; 3) configuring users’ and technologies; and 4) structural issues and social justice implications of technologies-in-practice. The findings demonstrate that the use of this new system is mutually co-constructed by both social and technical factors whereby both the users and the technology inform perceptions and use. There was also the unexpected connection between users’ everyday situated uses, experiences and interpretations of the Go-Pass technologies to wider social-political contexts. There were a number of issues raised in relation to the implementation of the Go-Pass system which had negative effects or unintended social and technical consequences particularly for those most marginalized economically. At the same time, there were important benefits and positive effects on riders’ quality of life and use of the service. Finally, participants’ perspectives have contributed to understanding what the Go-Pass technologies mean to them, the ways in which they are used in practice and the ways in which the mixing of people and seemingly mundane technologies shape relations in everyday settings.
Go-Pass, socio-technical relations, human-machine, intra-action, socio-technical assemblages, human-machine agency, mutual shaping, users' perceptions, society and technology, science and technology studies, feminist technology studies
Master of Arts (M.A.)