It ain’t what it used to be: Digital Literacy (ch1)
Posted by b0bryan
I don’t think I have ever really met anyone famous, so I never get to name drop. But, the foreword to Digital Literacy was written by JoAnn Hackos, whom I’ve talked to many times–I even got to interview her once. In technical communication circles she’s about as famous as it gets, but that doesn’t really help me with my friends outside of work.
Ok, back to the task at hand. The thing that stuck with me in JoAnn’s foreword is summed up in this quote:
The authors argue throughout that the roles and responsibilities of technical communicators are changing rapidly–in some cases for the worse. The focus on producing “books” by individual authors working independently is rapidly coming to an end. (p. ix)
If you have worked in TC during the last decade or so, then you know this to be true. The dot com bust followed by waves of cost reductions and outsourcing have really demolished a lot of training and documentation groups. The jobs that remain require different skills and a lot of flexibility.
Part of that change is due to the death of the book-based authoring model that Hackos mentions at the end of the quote above. The rise of XML, DITA, and CMSs is destroying the technical communication profession in the same way that the internet has wrecked the newspaper industry. And that is actually a GOOD thing.
Yes, if it is your goal to go out and get a job writing a technical manual you are going to be disappointed. But, if you are a curious person that likes to explore all the possible modes for communicating technical information to people in a way they can understand, then you are in luck. Technology–including social media–has done such a thorough job destroying the old tech comms model that you can get in on the ground floor of defining what it means to be a technical communicator in the future. Most of the Introduction of the book was spent driving this point home, for example, “[Technical communicators] need to define their own opportunities and them move boldly forward. In short, it’s time to adapt or move over.” (Myers p. 2)
I think the hardest part for a lot of people that I have worked with is that the new model (whatever it turns out to be) will require us to be a lot more social. It might mean creating interactive training, or holding webinars, or interacting online with real customers. You might need to have video or audio production skills–I talked to a guy at Microsoft that rewrote job descriptions so he could hire people from CNN and Lucas Film rather than typical tech writers.
Pretty much the whole chapter was a trip down memory lane for me and I think that Carliner was dead-on about everything in there. Being in tech comms isn’t about locking yourself away in the corner and writing your book anymore. It’s about leveraging all the cool new tools, including social media, to more effectively communicate with our audience.
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