As in previous eras, technological inno- vation and new forms of automation occurred in tandem with changes in technosocial relations. The introduction of the ATM is one example of the host of new technosocial relations enabling the contemporary infor- mation economy, and we use it as yet another reinscription of the ‘female machine’. In the USA, early ATMs were sometimes associated with feminine characteristics to soften the market to this new device.
Introduced in the late 1960s (the earliest were in the UK), the ATM presented banks with potential advan- tages by reducing the number of employees required in branches (and introducing ATM surcharges). However, these benefits would only accrue if customers used the new technology. For the ATM to catch on, it had to appear user-friendly and non-threatening. As the New York Times reported, ‘Deep- seated attitudes and habits must be altered. Trust must be fostered. What one banker called “Man vs. machine confrontation” must be defused’ (Milletti 1977: 37). More specifi- cally, after the effort financial institutions invested in defining the dream teller as a young woman, they now had to re-define that dream. Some decided to defuse the ‘man vs. machine confrontation’—and get a return on invest- ments already made—by transposing specifi- cally feminine characteristics on to the ATM.
In 1973, for example, the Chicago Savings and Loan Association named their ATMs ‘Ernestine’, promising customers that ‘If you should suddenly decide to fly to Fiji on a Friday night or have the crowd in for red caviar and Slivowitz at four in the morning … visit Ernestine the Cash Machine for money the minute you need it’ (cited in Miller 1973: 219). Similarly, in another New York Times article entitled ‘Machines: the New Bank Tellers’, ATMs were referred to as ‘the ugliest teller’, but with the advantage that they ‘never get pregnant’ (Miller 1973: 219). By 1977 The Exchange Bancorporation in Florida featured ‘Miss X—the sleepless teller’ and First National Bank of Atlanta not only named their ATMs—Tillie the Teller—but even promoted ‘her personality’, claiming ‘she’s a bubbly, giggly kind of character’ (Milletti 1977: 37).7
Boyer, K., and K. England. “Gender, Work and Technology in the Information Workplace: From Typewriters to ATMs.” SOCIAL AND CULTURAL GEOGRAPHY, 2008.