Posted on 18th Feb, 2016 in Projects.
For the past couple of years, I've been pulling together material about the use of media technology in banks. It's a topic that started out as a history of ATMs, but has slowly expanded. For a long time, it was a project that was growing and growing with no end in sight...but for the past few months, it's been coming back into focus.
My research into ATMs, which expanded to include all sorts of other remote banking practices, brought to light a wider array of uses of media technology in banks that isn't usually discussed by media studies scholars (or bank historians for that matter.) As time has passed, it's become clear that something started to happen with the way that banks operated and were organized around 1960. This was, of course, automation...and it resulted in a fundamental shift in the speed and structure of the economy. But the shifts weren't exclusively infrastructural. They were also changes that involved a reconfiguration of how individuals interacted with banks...in other words, banks also developed a new kind of interface during these years that was in part an extension of the arrival of computing, in part a result of the financialization of the economy, and in part the arrival of 'marketing' to the banking sector. This ngram is illustrative of some of these changes as it shows how these new ways of interacting with banks (and I've just highlighted ATMs and telephone banking) complimented the rise of 'retail banking' as a concept in the industry. This echoes the growth of discussions about automation as well as the invention of new financial products like mutual funds, which start to take off a little earlier around 1950.
At the moment, I've traced a number of shifts across bank architecture and interior design (for example, lighting design is a frequent concern of bank managers in trade publications during these years) that set the stage for these developments and later came to compliment them in a number of important ways. Banks after, say, 1980 look fundamentally different from older banks even as they often inhabited the same buildings. Banking also started to look different beginning in 1960. While the significance of the infrastructural automation and digitalization of finance is one that has been addressed from a number of perspectives, the ways in which the new ways of using banks contributed to the imbrication of finance with everyday life have received less detailed analysis.
...more to come...