Dicks and Qualman: Thematic Trends

During this week’s readings, I identified a few shared themes that both authors touched on – although their approaches were very different. In this week’s post, I’ll review both authors’ ideas about two topics: middlemen and specialization.

Middlemen Beware

Both authors agree that, in the new information economy, there will be fewer communication obstacles between parties in corporate relationships. That means fewer “middlemen,” no matter what relationship.

The first example of middleman elimination is in regards to internal corporate communication. According to R. Stanley Dicks in his article “The Effects of Digital Literacy” from the anthology Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, supervisors are becoming less and less necessary as knowledge workers become more savvy and come into the workplace at a similar educational level as their supervisors. During the industrial age, supervisors oversaw eight to ten workers. Dicks asserts that supervisors can now lead 30-40 workers due to their education and motivation levels (p. 67-68).

Qualman, in his book Socialnomics, makes a similar argument about the layers; however, his assertions cover the relationship between company and consumer. Web 2.0 has given customers the power to communicate directly with the company – and with their peer groups in regard to a company’s products, services and behaviors. In the past if a customer had a complaint, the only recourse they had was to contact customer service. Since customer service calls were private, one-on-one conversations the general public wouldn’t know anything about problems. Compaines could more easily get away with shoddy products or services. These days, companies need to be watchful. With the transparency of Web 2.0, customer experiences – whether good or bad – are broadcast to the world. Qualman states, “…the  iddlemen are becoming less important than they’ve been in the past, and the rise in power is shifting rapidly to the social graph” (133).


The authors both touch on the idea of specialization, but approach them from very different angles.

A running theme in the Dicks reading is the idea that technical communicators must abandon the old paradigm of being solely writers and editors, and embrace a broader view of their role in the future. He asserts that technical communicators should become “symbolic-analytic workers,” who are able to “analyze, synthesize, combine, rearrange, develop, design and deliver the same information that they or others will then modify for multiple audiences” (p.54). He also claims that technical communicators may want to learn skills outside their normal purview, like “…learning about Extensible Markup Language (XML), databases, and some light programming…” (p. 70). Workers who develop these skills are less likely to be casualties of companies outsourcing writing and editing duties.

Qualman explores the importance of specialization from a company marketing perspective. He discusses the fact that many companies try have a broad appeal by advertising many of their features rather than homing in on a specialty. Rather than use scattershot marketing to hit as many potential targets as possible, these days companies have to emphasize how they’re unique, both to set themselves apart and to let their niche customers find them. “If you don’t have a niche position in a marketplace that you are  attempting to defend from your competition, and you are trying to be all things to all people, then you are doomed to failure” (p 128).

As can be seen from the readings, experts are finding trends in this new information age of ours. Although their approaches are different, I think it’s interesting that these themes keep popping up on parallel tracks. Has anyone else noticed any interesting trends in our readings?

Posted on October 8, 2011, in Society, Workplace. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. You’ve found me out! 🙂 Unlike the rhetoric course where we went book by book, in 745 I’ve consciously tried to make each week’s readings connect thematically. I’m glad the Socialnomics and Spilka texts are getting such positive reactions. Last year was more PDF based, but I couldn’t be happier with the Spilka, especially since the 8 of you have workplace experiences to apply it to!

  2. Spilka has been a good “wake up call.” The ways that I was trained to operate as a writer are changing so much. I’m glad that we’re reading this so I can identify ways to diversify my talents.

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