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About this sample
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2 pages /
As my first observation in my chosen lab isn't scheduled to happen until next week, I decided to practice my observational skills by heading to a local coffee shop (a Starbucks, specifically) and seeing what happens there. The first thing I immediately noticed are, of course, the things that make observation difficult: medium-loud music makes listening to the conversations of the staff a mildly difficult, while tall counters provide barriers to seeing most of the work area. That the music obscures conversations seems to be its purpose, or at least one of its purposes. It's loud enough that one can hold a relatively private conversation without expecting others to hear exactly what they're saying. But at the same time, it only obscures conversation, not covering them up entirely, so the cafe seems lively still when there are people talking. I suspect it also provides an illusion of liveliness even when the cafe is otherwise silent.
The counters serve the dual purpose of storage and delineating barriers: inside the barriers formed by the counters is the work area, where it would be taboo for a customer to enter. From my seat in the cafe, I can see some of the contents of these counters, and I notice that the items stored are those that seem to spoil the “theme” of the other, more displayed items on higher selves. Visibile stored items in the cafe are universally unopened, nearly organized, with colorful labels primarily showing the store's logo. These are all items used in the creation of the various coffee products made here- coffee beans, teas, bottles of flavored syrup, etc- and yet none of the displayed items are open. The syrups/coffeebean bags/etc. That are actually opened and are in use are stored lower, in the counters that are blocked from the sight of most customers. I suspect this is to keep up an image of cleanliness and healthiness- an open container, after all, is one that is exposed to the elements and bacteria, prone to spoiling. The consumer sees only the neatly organized, sealed ingredients- the actual disorganization of the process of creating their drink hidden from them by the tall counters. The design of the store itself projects to the consumer a different idea of what goes on than the actuality of the process.
On to the process itself. When I observed, there were three staff visibly on duty. The first customers interacted with was the cashier, though this was not their only job. When a customer ordered a drink, the cashier would ask for two key pieces of information: the drink they wanted, followed by their name, before taking their money and handing them their receipt and chance. They could not take the time to tell this information to the other workers, so cups were used as the medium for passing the message directly to those that would be making a drink. The staff member would take a cup of the appropriate size for the drink, and write the name of the drink to be put in the cup and the name of the person who had ordered it on the cup, before placing it on a counter behind the cashier (between the cashier and the other staff).
The now-transcribed cup is then taken by the other two staff, who get to work actually producing the drink described by the transcription. The machines used vary depending on the specific drink- so much so that, if one knew nothing of the purpose of coffee shops, one might assume that the only standardized product made were the cups themselves. Of course, the cups are not the product, they are merely the vehicle for the product- the cups are brought into the store fully formed, and are discarded when the actual product is consumed.
In a cafe, the cup is a vehicle for the actual product, the coffee. It is transcribed, interpreted, and is necessary for the final produce but not seen as the product itself. In the sciences, I suppose the closest analogue would be the idea of “data” or “information”. Just as the order of the customer is transcribed onto a cup, nature is transcribed into data through various processes- this data is analyzed and interpreted and transformed in a similar way to how the cup's size and writing are interpreted and used to form a drink. In the end, the data often remains in a scientific paper as a vehicle to understand the conclusion, the overall scientific fact- but it is that conclusion, that scientific fact, that is the product, not the data itself. In later conversations, the data may be discarded in preference of the fact- like throwing away the cup after.
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