Area of Study: Media and Technology Studies
Michael Palm is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill and Affiliated Faculty in the American Studies Program. Professor Palm’s teaching at the undergraduate level focuses on the history of everyday technology and the politics and economics of popular culture. His most recent graduate seminar was titled “Political Economies of Digital Media.” His book Technologies of Consumer Labor: A History of Self-Service was published by Routledge in 2017. His current book project is a labor ethnography of the contemporary supply chain for vinyl records. He is also co-editor of “The University Against Itself: The NYU Strike and the Future of the Academic Workplace (Temple, 2008).” He serves as diversity liaison for the Department of Communication and is on the editorial board of the Journal of Cultural Economy.
Michael Palm’s research focuses on the history of everyday technology and the political economy of popular culture. His book “Technologies of Consumer Labor: A History of Self-Service” (Routledge, 2017) documents and examines the history of technology used by consumers to serve oneself. The telephone’s development as a self-service technology functions as the narrative spine, and Palm argues that the naturalization of self-service telephony, specifically via the touch-tone keypad, shaped consumers’ attitudes and expectations about digital technology. His most recent scholarship includes an article in Cultural Studies about the history of digital payment technology, and an article in the Journal of Popular Music Studies about the revived popularity of vinyl records and the recent backlog in record pressing plants.
His current book project is a labor ethnography of the contemporary supply chain for vinyl records. By scrutinizing vinyl’s production and political economy, rather than consumption, Palm undermines the nostalgia surrounding analog formats as occasions for non-digital experience. The fabrication of vinyl records cannot be digitized, but contemporary vinyl commerce thrives on digital technology: the majority of sales occur online, the download code is a familiar feature of new vinyl releases, and turntables outfitted with USB ports and Bluetooth are outselling traditional models. Furthermore, the naturalization of streaming over the past few years has boosted physical sales, and the compatibility streaming and records highlights the need for suppler distinctions than analog vs. digital. Ultimately, this first sustained analysis of the contemporary labor processes surrounding vinyl records – analog format par excellence – will help foster a subtler and more nuanced understanding of digital media’s potential as well as limits when it comes to the creation, circulation and consumption of popular culture.
Faculty Mentor, Moore Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program, UNC, 2017
Organizer, “How to Be Informed: A Citizen’s Guide to Big Data,” Friday Center, UNC-Chapel Hill, September 28, 2017
Organizer and Moderator, “How to Be Informed: The New Fake News,” Friday Center, UNC-Chapel Hill, September 26, 2017
“The Vinyl Revival and the Future of Independent Music,” Undercurrents: Music and the Masses, Nerd Nite Chapel Hill #1, hosted by the Chapel Hill Public Library, September 13, 2017
2017: “Analog Backlog: Pressing Records during the Vinyl Revival,” Journal of Popular Music Studies, vol. 29, no. 4 (December)
2017: “Then Press Enter: Digital Payment Technology and the History of Telephone Interface,” Cultural Studies, online, October 9
2017: “The Swipe,” in “Paid: Tales of Dongles, Checks, and other Money Stuff“, eds. Bill Mauer and Lana Schwarz (MIT Press)