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, and 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.
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 beyond 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 technology 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 “Wikipedia 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.