Technology or Bust?

The chapter “Information Design” in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication echoes a sentiment I’ve been having throughout this class. Salvo and Rosinski make the following point that especially resonates with me: “Use, familiarity, and comfort within these newer information spaces are therefore generational, and technical communicators must now consider how to bridge these generational boundaries that are likely to express themselves as technological preferences” (2010, p.105).

This bridge of generational boundaries is one that I don’t think has been adequately addressed in our readings until now. I think the tone of many of our previous readings has been that technical communicators must change they way they communicate or face the possibility of becoming irrelevant. I found in this frequently repeated theme an implied argument that technical communicators are resistant to new technologies, but their users are not; thus, technical communicators must adapt their communication methods to them to keep up to par with their users.

While I believe that this scenario is the case for some technical communicators, I have encountered the opposite problem in my current job. Savlo and Rosinski argue that technological preferences are generational. I see evidence of this daily; my users, consumers of the documentation I write, are more of my parents’ generation than mine and are more used to and accepting of print communication than digital. In fact, in some cases I have encountered resistance to digital communication, despite the fact that print communication is still equally as available and accessible.

Don’t get me wrong- there are some users (mostly the ones closer to my generation) who do actually want to experience digital communication and even recognize its benefits. For example, my digital communication platform, Doc-to-Help, allows me to link words I’ve used to glossary terms, group key concepts together, offer direct links to related topics, and provide the user with the ability to search for a term or topic. If my users could get comfortable with this digital communication platform, I have no doubt that it would serve them better than a 50 page printed user manual.

In addition, as our product is a SaaS (software as a service) application which is accessed via a computer, an internet connection, and a browser, it should be safe to assume that our users, since they are able to access our applications, do not have the technological obstacles (lack of access to these tools) that Salvo and Rosinski point out could potentially inhibit their accessing online documentation.

Nevertheless, Salvo and Rosinski are right that we as technical communicators do need to do our best to bridge the generational gap and appeal to everyone. I am still trying to figure out the best way to continue making print documentation available for those who really need it but at the same time encouraging my user base to shift to the digital platform as it is faster, less resource intensive, and offers unique functionality.

The aiim white paper, “Systems of Engagement and the future of Enterprise IT,” brought up a very interesting point about how accessibility of technology has changed. Whereas traditionally new technology has been available first to businesses and larger institutions and then has trickled down to smaller organizations and eventually individuals, we are now seeing the opposite trend where technological trends seem to take hold at the individual level and grow until they reach larger organizations.

The aiim paper predicts, though, that businesses will have to speed up their responses to technological innovation and undergo a transformation which will further facilitate collaboration or risk becoming “roadkill” (p. 4). This new way of doing business is described as “Systems of Engagement” rather than its predecessor “Systems of Record” (p. 5).

I can already see this transformation happening in my company. We are a small company, but one of my coworkers works across the country in a different time zone, some of our consultants work in a different time zone as well, and some of our customers are in still different time zones plus have different work hours than us. These growing communication constraints require that we find new and effective ways to engage with each other such as video conferencing and hopefully increasingly better mobile devices and cheaper and more accessible bandwidth as the paper predicts.

Posted on October 27, 2013, in Literacy, mobile, Society, Workplace and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. As I mentioned to Jennifer in her post, the application of the Salvo and Rosinski theoretical piece to your company’s practices is something you could consider for your final paper in the course, detailing the generational differences as well as the print vs doc-to-help versions of the same documents.

    When you stated, “I am still trying to figure out the best way to continue making print documentation available for those who really need it but at the same time encouraging my user base to shift to the digital platform as it is faster, less resource intensive, and offers unique functionality” I realized that this could even evolve into your final MSTPC field project. Watch for more detail on that [even though you are so early in the program].

    Perhaps the final paper in our 745 course could lay the ground work for such a proposal? Let me know if you’d like to talk further about this or if you had other ideas for your final seminar paper.

  2. I wish I had Doc-to-Help several years ago! At a previous employer, I was given the gargantuan task of launching an online training program for the employees working at the company’s retail stores all over the country. We ended up using Macromedia Breeze (now Adobe). It was a little cumbersome to learn, but not too bad. I was a novice at that time but was able to figure it out. The worst part about it was that it was SO incredibly expensive. Don’t get me wrong, Doc-to-Help has a hefty price tag of a grand or more, but times that by, oh, about twenty for Breeze. Yeah…they must’ve had some money to burn.

    Great discussion about generational differences, by the way! I think we are all confronted with this, either at work, or with our own family members. I sat down with my dad the other night to help him update his Facebook information. My dad does pretty well with a computer, but the Facebook tutorial with him was still a bit painful!

    In my job, I work with physicians and medical/office staff from all over the country. We’ve been trying to deliver more support to them via online services and I’ve definitely noticed the generational gap (I had a 70-year-old nurse who didn’t have an email and told me all of my communications would have to be via phone or snail mail). But age isn’t always the issue. Sometimes it seems like it’s a regional phenomena…my clients in the Midwest are very responsive to electronic communications and using technology. My clients in the South, not as much.

  3. I found this quite true: **If my users could get comfortable with this digital communication platform, I have no doubt that it would serve them better than a 50 page printed user manual.**

    Often times, if we allow ourselves the time to become comfortable, we will indeed find advantageous use of a new tool. I see some resist change, and it does often come down to whether or not a person is willing to accept it and achieve a new level of comfort.

    I have worked with part-time staff at my college who have had a very difficult time transitioning into our new electronic gradebook, but once they allowed the time to become comfortable using it, they realized that it does serve them better.

    Generational differences certainly affect the way we approach using new technological tools, and comfort level can come with time and repeated use.

    • Well said, Christin.

      One of the main takeaways from my “requiring social media in the classroom” session at the Internet Researchers conference was that undergrads aren’t really the digital natives “the media” portrays them to be. And if they are constantly told that their tech savvy, they are likely not to excel in classes where social media is required because they won’t want to acknowledge the different affordances of the genre.

    • I have definitely witnessed the same trend that you mention: once we allow ourselves the time to become comfortable using a tool, we do recognize its advantages. My biggest challenge so far is that I need to convince my users to just try the digital platform. They seem to want to use that print documentation as a crutch, and although I think they would benefit more from the digital platform, I can’t force them to try it, and I can’t take the print version away.

  4. evelynmartens13

    Great topic, since ya’ll are talking about me, lol!

    No, actually, I’m getting a lot better about being a pretty enthusiastic adopter professionally because I can so often see the advantage what it can bring to our operation , and I’m fascinated with how social media works. I have a much harder time engaging with SM for personal reasons/enjoyment, though. I think that may be because I’m just burnt out by the time I get home and want “low tech.”

    One big problem I have (and I wonder if anyone else has this problem) is that I simply can’t read from a computer screen for endless hours at a time, so I feel like I waste a lot of resources. For example, I print out all the artles/pdf’s for all 3 of my classes, which seems shameful, but I simply would not be able to read it all otherwise.

    • It’s not just you! I get so tried at the end of staring at my work computer all day that I definitely don’t want to look at a computer screen any longer. So I look at Facebook on my phone instead… 🙂

  5. I’m in a similar position to you, I work with people in different locations and time zones often. We have so many tools available for screen sharing and video conference/telepresence that really do help bridge the gap of not being in the same room.

    I do agree with those that have said they print the PDFs in D2L. I can’t stand to be on the computer more than I have to be and I feel like I’m damaging the environment by printing them, but after looking at a computer for at least 8 hours a day, I just can’t do it any longer!

  6. I am not super tech savvy compared to my peers. However, in my workplace I am referred to as the resident IT tech because most of my coworkers are simply older and either don’t really understand technology or they are resistant to it. For example, today I spent twenty minutes coaching a coworker, for the fourth time, on how to use drag and drop to customize her screen in our scanning system. A generation gap does exist, but as you pointed out, there are exceptions. I have other coworkers who are older that have no problem understanding technology, because they were willing to try it and work at it until they understood it.

    I thought it was interesting that your clients are often the ones that have not caught up to the technology. I have encountered that problem too, and it is always a challenge to try to bridge that gap.

  7. I love your real world examples – it always helps the readings come to life and make more sense. Sometimes I don’t think it is generational as much as it is a lack of desire to learn. Just like Amy’s example above, I have a friend that I am constantly re-teaching how to do technical things. Then, lo and behold, because I couldn’t help her a couple of times, she figured it out on her own! She just really wanted someone to do it for her. If there is a really good reason for them to learn a new technology (like my in-laws figuring out SKYPE so they can see their grandkids) most people will rise to the challenge. I know my husband’s company really didn’t give employees a choice – it is digital or nothing for a lot of their communications.

    • My company went to a paperless system back in 2004. Paper is no longer the “permanent” resting place for anything in the office. They have even “outlawed” white boards. They really did force it on us and to an extend our customers.

      As for a personal example, my Mom learned to use FaceTime on her iPad when she went to Poland/Norway for 4 weeks last year. Even my husband, who was one of the last to get an iPhone, learned to use it when I was on my trip to New Orleans/Orange Beach last week. Now when he is gone for 6 weeks, he can use it to talk to our daughter.

  8. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought you worked with me. I also work for a Software as a Service Company with co-workers in multiple time zones and customers that are generally a bit older and somewhat resistant to new technology.

    I found that while working in our Call Center, that some of the older ladies (being general here), really did embrace it, but it required time to assist them through the process. Once they learned it, watch out, they used it.

    One piece of technology we like to use with our customers (external and internal) is Go to Meeting. Our support got better when we knew we were looking at the same things as our customers, we could point them to the right location. We use with internal customers as well to have conference calls with staff who don’t have (company) phones.

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