Phase Five (Not Complete) What’s Next?

As I think about readings this week, I am struck by the phases.  Carliner notes, “Over the past 30 years, technology has affected technical communications in profound ways” (29).  And indeed I stopped to consider this thought and the profoundness of the past 30 years and the ways in which technology has affected us.  For a minute, I just thought about my last 30 years, and then I thought about how many of those years I have been using technology.  Then I began to think more in depth about the five phases in this development of technology for technical communication.  I ended with questions:  what makes one a technical communicator? And what phase most affected me in profound ways?  What I found to be true is this (and this will date me): I have really only been fully involved in three of the five phases. The first two were periods of my life that were not necessarily times of my life when I was 1) aware of all the world’s technologies and 2) using them in my daily life was not something I connected to my literacy skills in the sense that I was learning how to become digitally literate.

I was growing up in “The Desktop Revolution”, so Phase Two would be the time I began to become literate in the use of computers.  By no means was I a technical communicator during this time, ancomputer-storage-timelined I was not “automating publishing tasks” in any way, shape, or form.   I was simply a child and then a teenager in the 80’s and the 90’s.  So, yes, I am a child of the eighties, and I did not own a desktop computer during this phase of my life, and now reading about this aspect of that time period made me think quite a bit about the technology changes that were rapidly occurring around me.   I did, however, immediately connect to some of the technical aspects that I read.  As a matter of fact, I felt a certain sense of nostalgia when I began to read about the first PCs in the early 1980s, which used 5.25 diskettes.   I remember the diskette clearly and vividly.  I know what it looks like, I remember what they felt like, and I held them in my hands when I was in elementary school.  What I could not have told anyone until now is that those disks only held 360,000 bytes of information.  Then when I read that “by the end of the 1980s, systems had internal hard drives with up to 50MB of storage capacity,” I began to really connect to the phase of my life that I clearly remember using PCs: the 1990s.   Floppy_disk_2009_G1

From Phase Three: The GUI (Graphical User Interfaces) Revolution, I remember mostly this major development mentioned by Carliner: “…the movement of the Internet from a limited-use network by those working in the defense industry and at universities, to a ubiquitous communications network” (37).   It was this phase of my life that I was just beginning to feel the omnipresence of the Internet.  Wow!  I had never seen anything like this world of information before, and now to consider the implications of how this medium affected communication really causes me to pause for a moment and appreciate the enormity of the Internet.  I also found it quite interesting to reflect on this idea that the “rise of the browser” also created standards for sharing information.  Sharing information during this time period was not the same as it is today.  The standards for sharing information continue to evolve as we enter new phases of technological advances.  This makes me think of Netiquette rules I share with my students.  While these go bwwweyond standards for sharing information, they arose from the same concept: a set of standards needed to address working in an online environment, much to do with sharing information.  Furthermore, even the idea that some organizations did not necessarily want to download the plugins needed to run video and sound at the time intrigued me because now we function in a world where, I find, plugins are accepted as a natural part of the system.  There might be some reluctance to download them, but for the most part, anyone using a computer or technological device knows that plugins are part of the deal.

From Phase Four: Web 1.0 came the power of the Internet and the World Wide Web among other things.  I fully remember exploring the WWW, and now reading from the perspective of how it profoundly affected the world of technical communication, I am struck by how rapidly people were changing with the technology.  Email made its emergence as the primary means of interpersonal communication, and it continues to thrive in the business world and, for me, the educational arena.  But now I cannot remember exactly where I read it (maybe from last week’s readings),  it seems that more and more often other emerging methods of communication are becoming the mode for newer generations, such as texts, tweets, and live chats.   When I think about my own email communications, they have taken over much of my world, and yet, I long for good ol’ face-to-face talking.   I have a love-hate relationship with email these days.  I love communicating, but sometimes I would rather just pick up the phone or visit the person.  Another aspect of this phase that I can easily connect to is the ability to display ever-changing content and increased capability to display both audio and visual content.  When I think about how and when I first began using the Internet, I was in awe of the content available, and now thinking about how the technical aspect of it all was developed, I have a greater appreciation.  I simply learned then that a hyperlink was a clickable link, and navigation bar was at the top or side of a page.  I now know that those features were by design.  The interface was changing and becoming what it is like today while I was learning to use the Internet and explore the Web.  I could not have told you what HTML code was when I was living in this phase, but I can now.  I must select to work in HTML or not in most messages I compose and most assessments I create. Before I would not have had a clue what that meant.

Finally, Phase Five: Web 2.0 is the time of my life I most connect to my technical communication skills.  I was fresh out of college in 2001, and I had my first professional job at my current institution, but I was only part-time then.  I began working and using a computer daily at work.  As I progressed in my career, I became more and more responsible for using technology to communicate with students, staff, faculty, and others.   In my personal life, I heard about MySpace, although I did not get it at first….I thought, “What the heck is MySpace?”  And of course, I was drawn to social media as a form of communication.   Back at work, I was communicating via technweb2_0-y7zjhkology every day, and eventually I learned to use our Learning Management Content System and Learning Management System.  And at another point, I was in charge of creating a Writing Center webpage with our college web developer, so I would say I was the content provider for the web page.  Honestly, I did not know how to develop web content; I had to learn to do so.   I also became familiar with the term Web 2.0 tools much later when I began taking classes in E-Learning and Online Teaching.  This phase for me really extended from the mid-2000s into my more recent years.  Web 2.0 tools really became present in my life when I was working on my graduate classes here at UW for that program.

On a final note, from Phase Five of my life and technology for technical communication came the blog and the wiki.   I am a bit embarrassed to admit I did not know that wiki originates from a Hawaiian word for fast, but now I do.   And I always think of Wikipedia first when I hear or read wiki.  This makes me find a way to connect to Qualman here.  He notes that “Wikimoocimagepedia proves the value of collaboration on a global basis (24).  I find that I have spent many phases of my life in collaboration, and more and more, this collaboration involves massive use of technology.  For instance, I am now involved in the creation of a MOOC for my college; this is a recent project I have been asked to join.  I consider myself a novice, and I am learning more and more as I go.  I am not sure I am a proponent of the MOOC, but I am forging ahead with the project in an effort to understand the MOOC and its educational value for varying audiences and populations.  I have only just begun, but I can say that from the blog to the wiki to the MOOC, I am constantly moving into a new phase of my technical communication.  I have lived through a wiki-world in a sense that everything seems to be moving so fast.  Each time I turn around, a new phase is starting somewhere.  It just keeps moving, and somehow I keep finding myself blogging or wiki-ing away.   BTW, my wiki experience is limited.  Yet again, another phase that I must explore more fully.


Carliner, S. (2010). Computers and technical communication in the 21st century. In Rachel Spilka (Ed.)  Digital Literacy for Technical Communication. New York: Routledge.

Qualman, E. (2009). Socialnomics. Hoboken, New Jersey- John Wiley and Sons.

Posted on September 29, 2013, in Literacy, Society, Teaching, Workplace. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. The phases struck me as well! Your photo of the different floppy disks made me think that we could use those (and their successors like CDs and thumb drives) as another way to mark our technological progress.

    Thanks for sharing the info about MOOCs, by the way. I was not familiar with this term, but I believe I have been involved with them. Not on the development side, but as a participant. The local technical college here offers non-credit courses through I took three or four classes, and, like The Teaching Practice blog that you shared stated, I found the ed2go courses to be a good barometer as to whether I could do the online UW Stout program.

    Side note: The Princess Bride is one of my all-time favorite movies!

  2. Hi, Lori,

    Thanks for commenting! I absolutely love The Princess Bride, too.

    Yes, your comment makes me think about the evolution of data storage from the floppy disk to the compact USB drives. It is amazing to think about the way technology continually finds a way to store more information on smaller items. I think it would be interesting to show my students a timeline in pictures of these items now that you have mentioned this. It would make for a good conversation on prior knowledge, something we spend time on early in the semester.

    MOOCs are not something I have ever participated in as a student, but my involvement now has inspired me to do so….it is on my list to do as I get more and more involved in the project. It is only in the planning stage right now….no development started.

    Side note for you: How did you edit your text to allow italics?

  3. Excellent overview and I appreciate the question at the beginning to frame it all, “What makes one a technical communicator?” Here’s my story: While my degree is in Rhetoric & Composition, at UW-Stout more than any other institution, I have been pushed into faculty and leadership roles within both the undergrad and grad tech comm programs. Most of my students have a lot more web content/programming/Adobe Suite skills, but I still feel I can keep up due to my connections with the Internet Researcher community.

    Later this month, in fact, I’ll be presenting at Again, while it is not technical communication in its purest form like ATTW, CPTSC, and STC, the technology bridges that gap and my colleagues and students keep me on my toes!

    When it comes to MOOCs, I’ve stayed out of the conversation, mainly because our composition program isn’t pursuing such an endeavor, but you might find it interesting that I’m on the editorial board for and the online textbook has been adopted by Duke University’s and The Ohio State’s MOOCs. See

    • Thanks for all the helpful links. There is much to explore here in the world of technical communication, and I am learning more and more as we go.

      The readings have certainly enlightened me about a world I have experienced along the way without really knowing how influential emerging media has been in so many facets of our lives.

  4. evelynmartens13

    Hi Christin: you touch on a number of issues that stuck me as well — wikis, floppy disks, and how much of what just sort of “appeared” was really the result of much serious thought, like the hyperlink.

    I was interested in your ‘love-hate” reationship with email because, even though it would be typical of my profile to loathe what has become of my professional life because of the ubiqutiousness of email, I actually love it. In fact, like some people have phones as their appendages, my work email is constantly with me. Sometimes, I do pick up the phone when I think it can forestall a 40-part email exchange, but I feel that I am much more productive when I can email a one-liner instead of calling. It’s definitely one aspect of technology that I have embraced.

    Not job on taking us through the journey of technological phases!

    • Hi, Evelyn,
      The hyperlink….what a great addition to the online world. Amazing really when you think about it.

      Yes, I do love my email and instant communication. With teaching four online classes, it is my lifeline to the students and their needs. But I find I cannot release it either at times. And sometimes, I really do prefer to pick up the phone when the conversation just won’t be accomplished in the same way by email. Like you, my work email is always with me. I like the one liners that accomplish communication, too.

      Right now, I probably dislike email because there is some of that 40-part exchange you refer to in your comment, and it is hard for me to keep up with that many emails on top of the student emails. I must sort and file email twice daily to maintain it properly. And that does not include my personal email or UW email.

      I end of saving many emails in my inbox because I travel quite a bit from site to site, and I might need some for reference while not at my desk.

      I love your “phones as appendages” remark; it is quite true. When I find my phone has become an extra limb, I try to set it down every now and then.

      Thanks for commenting!

  5. Interesting that you bring up MOOC’s – this is definitely a new phase in technology that we will get to watch develop. I find it fascinating that major universities are will to basically give away education and I think it will be interesting to watch the evolution of these programs. Who knows, maybe it will change the way all universities conduct classes and make money.

    • Yes, I am not entirely sure about the MOOC. I will be in for an adventure with very little experience. But I am excited to learn and see if there is something to them. It is a grant-funded project, and I am thinking that no matter what the outcome is in the end, I will have helped to provide an open resource for some who might use it.

      I do have serious concerns that MOOCS are not for everyone. Even the students I teach (college-prep) would probably not do so hot in a MOOC, but one never knows. I do not think, though, that a MOOC could replace college courses in the traditional sense, but I am not sure where the future will take us.

      Thanks, Jennifer!

  6. smitht09052013

    As a 30 year old, I missed out on the early phases of technology because I was still pretty young, but my dad made it a point to get us a home computer as soon as he was able. I grew up with a home PC in the 90’s, and we had home dial up internet and then high speed internet when I was in school. I was fortunate because we had a home computer with internet access when many of my friends had to use the school’s computers or the library.
    The advancement of data storage is a decent way to track the progress of technology. It actually started before the 5 inch floppies because I remember using our Atari which had a cassette tape drive to store information. It was interesting, because you had to look for your information kind of like looking for a song on a cassette tape. That dates my “computer” experience, and I’m not even that old.

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