“Friss oder Stirb” aka “Adapt or Die”

I found Myers “Adapt or Die” pretty intriguing from the get go. Instantaneously, I thought, “Friss oder Stirb”. Just for the heck of it I punched it into my (online) translator and got back the phrase “It’s sink or swim”. Oookay, let’s go for a swim or let’s say a stroll down memory lane. According to the articles by Spilka and Carliner, I would like to show you how digital technology influenced my work as a technical communicator.

I think I saw Phase Two, the desktop revolution. I remember when I first started in the Technical Writing department, my coworkers had sets of manuals for each machine type, which they then photocopied and filled out (by hand) with the technical specification of the particular machine this manual was for. But one of them had already a computer and digitalized those forms, etc. But I think I remember that it was kind of complicated to create a table because the software didn’t offer these features – yet. The graphics – like e.g. for the spare parts lists – were done by a sub-contractor who did so-called explosion drawings. These graphics really showed well how each part fit in with the other ones to form for example a gear. When the company acquired computer-aided design tools, those drawings were replaced by two-dimensional drawings that didn’t fulfill the purpose as well. The engineering department created all those graphics since none of us technical writers knew how to work with CAD programs.

Of the GUI revolution, or Phase Three, I didn’t feel the impact that considerably. For the same reasons Carliner states, we used PC’s. Microsoft Word was the program of choice to do the operating instructions, to integrate sub-suppliers documentation and so forth. We never gave our manuals out to print. They were all customized and delivered in such low numbers. From the copy machine to the laser printer was just a small step for our department.

Since our department created just manuals, not websites, the impact of Phase Four, the Web1.0, was also pretty low on us technical writers. I remember, we had some requests for online documentation. So we converted our word files into PDF’s and were proud that we could connect the table of contents to the appropriate chapters. The last change I remember before I left was that we gave clients a login possibility to our website where they then had the chance to download the PDF file to their specific machine. We were pretty proud of that service. No wait, yes, we just started to integrate our documents in a small content management system, but it was very difficult to navigate and work with. So we ended up using it just for one machine type – an insignificant one. The documentation procedures for all other machine types remained the same.

Of Phase Five (Web 2.0) I just learn here in this program. It is interesting to use some of the newest technology in a safe classroom setting before purchasing it on company’s expenses and then finding out that it doesn’t quite fit the requirements. Many programs are great to use in some part of our professional lives. Others are just not practical for some work situations.

However, when reading Spilka’s and Carliner’s works, I just realized how much I already adapted throughout my working years – without ever paying attention to it. It almost happened unconsciously. I guess what I would like to say is that if we are truly interested in this profession we will find a way to adapt to new technologies, as we will find our own place, our own niche to succeed as technical communicators. Do we have to adapt to each new technology that is out there? I don’t think so. We just have to pay attention and keep ourselves updated and then pick and choose for our specific situations. Sometimes there is a different way than “Friss oder Stirb” or “Adapt or Die”. Sometimes we don’t have to adapt to each new trend out there. Sometimes we won’t die right away.

Posted on September 30, 2012, in Literacy, Workplace. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. “Do we have to adapt to each new technology that is out there? I don’t think so. We just have to pay attention and keep ourselves updated and then pick and choose for our specific situations.”

    This is a great point, Britta. I think this really takes the pressure off of the whole subject of keeping up with technology. Why should we learn something that we are unlikely to use, only to have it change so dramatically when the time comes that we will actually need it that our knowledge of the previous version is of no help?

    I also think that we have an easier time learning technologies that are of use to us; perhaps because we know what we want them to do, so we look for logical ways to make the technology fit our needs, and things are more likely to fall into place. For example, I don’t know how to use approximately 95% of the goodies that came loaded in my smartphone, but I am a pro with the apps I chose and purposely downloaded onto it. I had a specific “thing” I wanted an app to do, and it was easy to learn how to use them, because they were likely developed by people who were looking for the same functionality.

  2. It can be overwhelming to think about adapting to every new communication technology out there. I agree with Laura that your point makes it all seem a bit more manageable. The value of technologies, I would imagine, varies a lot by the size of the company and the industry. What works well for one, may not be a good fit at all for another.

    I also liked your comments about using the latest technologies in an academic setting rather than going out on a limb and using/purchasing them for work. I think it’s pretty common for people (particularly professional communicators) to experiment with these technologies in a personal realm before ever encountering them professionally. A lot of companies are just now exploring social media, for example, when many of us have been using it at home for years now. From my experience business is often slower to invest the time and money into new technologies.

  3. This is a great post because of the stages you can now document, even though you note the evolution was seemingly an unconscious one. We try new things on the job or in academia because a boss or professor asks us to. I doubt I’d be the internet researcher I am now if not for a professor requiring me to blog, edit wikis, and create online portfolios, etc. Even now as a tenure track professor I’m brand new to tools like Tegrity [course capture software] and Collaborate [a conference call tool that can be integrated into D2L], but I will have to use the latter for a thesis defense [although I’m not sure why we just can’t Skype the distance student in…]

    Still, with newer social media trends like Pinterest and QR codes, I am in the dark, which brings us back to your point about having to try them all out. I don’t think we should feel that pressure but at least recognize that these things are happening around us and if we can learn from that, all the better!

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