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The interplay between lay and expert technical reasoning

Jacki O'Neill
This paper provides an analysis of members mundane reasoning about technology, in particular how that reasoning comes into play when that technology breaks down. The primary source of data is telephone service encounters between customers and trouble-shooters about broken office devices, with additional data from customers interactions with an online support system. Trouble-shooters linguistic practices for working with customers mundane reasoning about the machine are described. Trouble-shooters transform customers descriptions into the technical understandings of machine problems necessary to arrive at some solution. Trouble-shooters and customers deal with symptoms and causes to arrive at a common understanding of the machines faults and their solutions, with trouble-shooters making their advice hearably good advice appropriate to this situation. However, common understandings are not always successfully reached and issues of evidence and how reality disjuntures (Pollner, 1975) are handled are examined. The paper has implications for the design of both the technology itself and online support systems, such as knowledge bases, intended to substitute for trouble-shooter interactions. It demonstrates the need to take into account customers reasoning and linguistic practices in the design of support systems. At the most basic level systems should enable customers to uncover the problem using vernacular, symptomatic problem descriptions, rather than requiring highly specific technical vocabulary. However, this paper demonstrates how this alone is not enough for successful troubleshooting. Even where customers have the means to arrive at the correct solution for the problem, they may disregard the solution. System design should treat the user as a reasoning being rather than simply an input-output device, taking into account mundane reasoning practices and enabling customers to identify where there is a mismatch between their mundane reasoning about the artefact and the technical reasoning which could result in artefact repair. The paper offers suggestions for how online systems might best utilise customers linguistic and reasoning practices to enable the customer and the service organisation to get the greatest benefit out of such support offerings.
ISA World Congress of Sociology, Durban, South Africa, 23-29 July 2006.


2006-020.pdf (121.20 kB)