Monthly Archives: November 2013
This week’s readings deal with privacy, trust, and ethics in the digital world. The Schofield and Joinson piece, “Privacy, Trust, and Disclosure Online,” and the Katz and Rhodes piece in Rachel Spilka’s Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, “Beyond Ethical Frames of Technical Relations,” really approach the same question from different directions. What does it take to gain user trust and maintain integrity in an increasingly digital world?
Schofield and Joinson (2008) argue that privacy and trust “interact in determining online behavior” (p. 24). They discuss multiple dimensions of both privacy and trust, and they suggest that users often rely on some combination of these components of privacy and trust to guide their purchasing decisions and online behavior.
As digital communities grow, members look for ways to verify that other members are who they say they are. Schofield and Joinson (2008) point out that there are many ways to build trust online such as use of profiles, photographs, media switching, and linguistic cues (p. 21). Individuals use these tactics to build trust among other individuals, but how do companies gain the trust of their customers? The below comic strip is a good example of how companies do not gain customer trust:
Schofield and Joinson suggest that assuring customers that the information they disclose and the transactions they conduct will be dealt with appropriately and competently is an important building block for user trust. Also important is the company’s reputation; if people believe that they can trust a name, this belief can be more influential on purchasing behavior than trust building techniques such as privacy seals and statements.
While conducting business online might require disclosure of more personal information than it does in person, it also offers benefits such as “personalized service, convenience, improved efficiency” (p. 17). As online business continues to grow, this is evidently an acceptable tradeoff to many users. I know that when I am faced with the choice of going on a retail hunt for vacuum cleaner bags in the rain or giving Amazon my address and credit card number and having the vacuum cleaner bags delivered to my door, I almost always choose the latter.
Similarly, many users appreciate the personalized aspects and conveniences of online shopping, which are enabled by user tracking. Schofield and Joinson (2008) assert that users who maintain the same pseudonym in multiple online arenas can be tracked more effectively than users who switch pseudonyms from site to site (p. 26). As pseudonyms protect a person’s identity, I’m not sure why it’s beneficial for a person to have multiple pseudonyms. I tend to think consumers benefit more from enabling companies to track their usage in order to provide them with better products, recommendations, and customer service than from maintaining multiple pseudonyms in order to inhibit user tracking and preserve the notion of privacy.
Katz and Rhodes (2010) argue that “to stay competitive, as well as avoid potential crises, organizations and the professionals within them must both acknowledge and actively engage in multiple ethical frames of technical relations” (p. 230). Essentially, this is also an argument about establishing and maintaining trust and identity through a digital medium.
The 6 ethical frames Katz and Rhodes present explain how we use technical relations to achieve certain goals. Rhodes’ study, in which she examines Email as A Tool and an End, Email as Values and Thought, and Email as a Way of Being, demonstrates that depending on how we use it, email technology can be: both a means and an end, a value system, a method of rational calculation, and an extension of individual consciousness- or some combination of these. Even in the lowest common denominator of these ethical frames, where email is considered a tool, email is the mechanism that facilitates achieving a common goal through a digital medium, which requires at least some notion of trust and integrity.
Katz and Rhodes (2010) offer, “In delineating the ethical frames of technical relations that define human-machine interactions, we therefore recognize the socially dynamic and constructed nature of ethics; indeed because we do, we hold that technology both instantiates and helps construct social and moral values” (p. 231). This statement illustrates the bidirectional relationship between technology and social and moral values; ethics is a fluid concept that changes as social norms change. Social norms are changing as a result of technology, and thus the ethical frames of technical relations offer us a way to correlate the changing use of technology with corresponding ethical implications.
Katz and Rhodes started out their foray into ethics and technology in Beyond Ethical Frames of Technical Relations by exploring briefly the potential hypocrisy in a nonprofit of using different terms to describe cognitively disabled people in internal communication versus external communication. This example certainly played into their arguments that communication can vary depending upon what ethical frame people are using at a given moment.
It reminded me of an article that I read which made the claim that profanity is shifting, making terms that derogate minority populations far more taboo than they ever were in the past. This lends greater weight to the idea that ethics may exist in various levels, because that company certainly had a standard that conformed to cultural norms of proper terminology, but within that framework, the standard was different when utility was more important than brand maintenance. Yet, I doubt that disrespect to that population was meant, and truly disparaging terms were not used at all, instead they used simply less accepted but simpler terms in order to get the job done.
The same thing could easily be seen in verbal communication. Most people will behave in a more formal manner with an external customer than they will with a coworker, because the expectations of behavior differ based on familiarity. For example, when I email my coworkers, even about work related things, I may include something funny or an emoticon, which would be inappropriate with a customer or even a supervisor. I really don’t think that having different frames for ethics is something that is exclusive to technology, but that we often adjust our ethical code to match our audience, at least to some extent. But it is just like in technical communication, we always have to adjust to the needs of the audience.
Like ethics, privacy and trust are interesting topics to consider in relation to emerging media. While the Paine Schofield and Joinson article Privacy, Trust, and Disclosure Online delves primarily into how such concepts interact in an e-commerce situation, I always think of privacy as it functions within my job. I work at a hospital, so I sort of think of internet privacy like medical records. Because of HIPAA, medical records are privileged information and so most people would not think twice about them, people just assume that they are extremely private. However, they don’t know or consider the people who handle the information that goes into their medical record, the people who ensure that information is placed correctly and is complete. Many people see medical information before it is filed or committed to the electronic medical record. But, it is still considered private information because all those people who have seen the information are not allowed to talk about it.
I feel like internet privacy is very similar. Generally, if people don’t think too deeply about it, they will assume that they have complete privacy in their online interactions, when the reality is that they have less absolute anonymity than they believe. But, because of a reputation economy that regulates privacy to some extent, there is some level of privacy, even if it is not as absolute as we would like. There is also always the potential for a breach in privacy. I think that generally, it is far easier for us to assume a safety that doesn’t exist because doing otherwise would cripple our ability to function effectively within our increasingly technology saturated world.
The reading brings up the idea of actual privacy and perceived privacy. This is a very good point because someone may feel that their information is save when it isn’t. A good example of this is using a credit card when online shopping. Even though a company can have on their website that they’re a secure site, they might be using order files that contain credit card numbers. When I worked at the software company that made and sold order management software, I’d see this all the time. There are updated versions of the software that don’t allow for credit card numbers to be displayed, but if someone hadn’t updated their software they were carelessly storing customer data. The customer felt safe because the site provided the appearance of being secure, but in reality credit card numbers are available to everyone that works for that company. There were many times I even saw credit card data supporting customer support inquiries.
Another example of actual and perceived privacy is going out to eat at a restaurant and paying your bill with your credit card. This is pretty standard, as it seems most people don’t carry cash. Your waiter can be walking away with your credit card and scamming your information. below is a link to an example story of waiters using skimming devices to copy credit card numbers so they could create counterfeit cards to use to purchase expensive items and sell them for cash.
Some of you might be wondering what credit card skimming is. The image below shows some details about how credit card skimming can be done. The link below the image takes you to an article (where you’ll also see this image) that provides some more information about credit card skimming.
The reading makes a point that “we take it on faith people are who they say they are.” This is so true in many aspects, such as online dating. When you go on a site like match.com you’re just believing the person’s profile is an accurate representation of who they are. This issue goes deeper than that though. Celebrities get scammed this way by “catfishing”. I saw on the news the other day that Brad Paisely and his wife got scammed by someone claiming their daughter was dying and she just wanted to speak to them. The woman running the scam never asked for money, but when she said her daughter passed away she asked that Brad Paisely provide a song he had sung on the phone for the funeral service.
The link below (that also contains the image above) provides the story in text and video form.
The video also mentioned this wasn’t the first celebrity that was scammed this way. It’s very sad to think people would play on the emotions of another person in such a way. This I guess opens the door to ethics, which was also part of the reading this week. I know the reading focused more on workplace and email ethics, which I think is an important topic being email is replacing conversations. I think that email is not only quick to fire off and get a response, but it also covers you from taking the blame for something. For example, If I call someone at work and ask if something is ok and they say yes, I have no evidence that approval happened if something goes wrong. If it was done via email, the accountability is on that person.
I think in the “cut-throat” world we live in makes the workplace tough because everyone is on the go and wants to look good. Ethics sometimes take a backseat.
This week, I was really into reading about “The Digital Being” as discussed in regards to the Being Frame.
I became engrossed in the idea of how ever-growing and expanding ranges of technologies “continue to sweep over culture and into our organizations” so much that as noted, practitioners and scholars must learn to understand and address the ethical implications (241). One way, according to Digital Literacy this week, is to understand the ethical frames of technical relations. And I could not help but think here about Mr. Clinton for some reason, denying any “relations” with that woman, Monica Lewinsky. It is just where my mind unexpectedly wandered when I read the word relations. I suppose in the context of living in a world where we now must consider our technical relations in addition to our personal relations, it does seem appropriate to connect to the idea of ethics and how this inevitably will always come back to any relationship we have.
One of the most powerful ideas, for me, was this about our digital being from Katz and Rhodes: “Digital being has enabled us to forget that our values, our thinking, and our work are heavily defined by our technology, and that much of our life now exists outside our flesh, essentially in digital bodies” (239). Suddenly, just after reading this, I had a vision of my family, friends, and colleagues as these digital beings, and then I thought, how much of their real selves do I really know? What ethical implications does this have on my relationships and the way we might treat each other? Do their digital beings treat others differently than their flesh selves? I basically sat with lots of questions on my mind, and I saw the world almost in a very Matrix-like fashion where I am not sure who the real person is when I meet someone compared to the digital person.
Another idea developed under this one is that the digital being has now taken over in a way that we are not as capable as people of the past, and our “digital machines have literally replaced our ‘mental storage’ of ‘information’…” (239), especially when it comes to the workplace and writing. The specific example was how new employees struggle with writing and spelling because we are so programmed to use spell-check and grammar check systems that we no longer store the necessary information to become efficient writers. I see this with students, also. I also see it in math with the use of calculators. I have a friend who teaches math prep courses, and she tells me often of students who do not know their multiplication tables without the use of a calculator (these are adult learners.) And so now, I see that their digital being has learned these skills in a digital fashion, and when stripped of the technology tool, they are left lacking fundamental skills to survive in the work world and world in general. Are we to expect that is okay because it is the way they have learned? I find a little bit of an ethical struggle right here alone. What is the responsibility of humans today in these contexts?
The other ethical frame I want to address briefly here is the Thought Frame and quickly tie it into the Digital Being. The last questioning thoughts from the section on “Thought Frame” really had me thinking about my organization: “Does your organization conceptualize or refer to communication as a transmission of information from sender to receiver? Does it regard emotional response in the workplace as noise in the system?” (237). If we are very much defined by our digital beings in the workplace, and we communicate via email, videos, webinars, podcasts, social media, and texting more than we do f2f, isn’t it much easier to become just a receiver in the system? When our authentic selves present an emotional response to something, do we just become noise that interrupts the system? When are we allowed to present our deep, meaningful self versus our digital being? Is there a more appropriate time for one than the other? I find that I am weighing heavily how technology has changed relations and ethics together on a very basic human level: how we see how our selves and how we then communicate with each other.
“Ideally, with improved staff spirits and strengthened commitment to the company, in the sanctity frame, employees who are treated as whole human beings will in turn consider the organization’s best interest along with their own, resulting in actions like taking better care of equipment, being frugal with company materials, and treating coworkers with respect” (Katz and Rhodes, 2010, p. 253).
What a utopic vision of the workplace! Truthfully, I think my company has nearly achieved this level of ethical standards with regards to digital technologies, but, for a long time, this was not the case. For several years, we employed outside sales reps who were from the age of old school sales where most client communications were done in-person and notes about the account were kept filed away somewhere in the rep’s home office filing cabinet. The problem with this is that the information is not easily accessible by other members of the sales staff who need it. To counteract this, my company integrated an online customer relationship management (CRM) software that could be accessed anywhere, as long as you had Internet access (and, more recently, available as a mobile phone app). This CRM program is the one I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog – Salesforce.
Like I was saying, these reps were old school and they fought using Salesforce tooth and nail. Information was rarely entered, phone calls were not logged and there was no accountability. Bringing this back into an ethical framework, was it unethical of these employees to not record their sales activities via the company’s required digital system, or was it unethical of the company to expect these employees, with fewer technological skills, to conform?
At one point in our reading, Katz and Rhodes (2010) said, almost in a disbelieving, joking way, “Imagine hiring an employee who did not know how—or refused—to use email as part of the job!” (p. 245). Yep, that was our company up until a few years ago. All of these old school sales reps are gone now. The staff we have now is very adept with technology and uses the CRM fully. For a long time, our sales process was very painful, but now it feels like a well-oiled machine.
I think these former employees had a fear of technology. It was something they didn’t understand, and they definitely were not digital natives. Even less so than many of us in this class! Could part of their fear have anything to do with privacy and trust? With Salesforce, whatever information you enter is visible to everyone else who uses the program. With written notes and files, you can pick and choose what you share with the rest of the team (which they did during our weekly sales department calls).
The topic of privacy is an interesting one, not only with regards to something like a CRM program, but also with email and Internet use in the workplace. Most companies have IT departments that closely monitor the email and Internet usage of its employees, which I think is fair. They want to ensure that these tools are used
1) as means to help the company, whether it’s for increasing sales, improving workflows, communicating with vendors and clients, crunching numbers, etc., and
2) in a way that appropriately (ethically) represents the company and preserves its reputation.
So, how much control should a company have over its employees’ technology use? At our company, we have quite a bit of free rein. It makes sense, though, as the majority of our employees work in sales and marketing and we need access to the Internet (including social media sites) to research and learn about clients and competitors. We use email just as much as we use the phone for reaching out to clients and prospects. Our CRM program is online. For the most part, I think the trust that our company places in us makes us want to be more responsible and we rarely have any issues with people abusing this right. According to Schofield and Joinson (2008), this trust comes from the company’s belief in our abilities, integrity and benevolence (p. 19). The company believes that we not only know how to use technology, but that we know how to use it appropriately.
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
-Uncle Ben, Spiderman
I am grateful for this freedom and trust, especially when I hear about other companies. A coworker of mine was just telling me yesterday that a friend of hers works for a cabinet-making company where there is absolutely no allowance for using email or cell phones for personal reasons at work. In fact, copies of employee email transactions are printed into hard copy each day for review. And, if anyone is caught using their cell phones, it can be grounds for immediate dismissal. Yikes! Is this within the rights of the employer to monitor technology usage in the workplace, or does it transcend those rights and become an invasion of privacy? If someone needs to make a personal call because of a sick child, does the company have any right to interfere? This brings up another interesting question – if the technological device being used belongs to the company vs. the individual, who decides how it can be used?
I don’t necessarily have all the answers to these questions, but I think there might be a final project idea in there somewhere, so ask me again in a few weeks and I might have a few answers! Overall, though, the discussion of ethics is interesting and a rather nice way to put a bow on everything we’ve learned this semester. Now that we have a better understanding of how digital technologies have come about and changed the field of technical communications, how do we use these technologies in a way that is right and good and furthers our field for the better?
With that, I wish everyone the best of luck in pursuing these ideals. It has been a real pleasure getting to know all of you this semester, and, hopefully, our paths will cross again soon!
Due to technical nature of technical communication (I know, big surprise!) we, as professionals, must address ethics and how they’re related to technology. Clearly, ethical concerns arise in any field of work, but they relate to technical communication differently than other areas.
I think many of us who currently work for any (type of) company that requires the use of computers, the internet, and/or email, have had to sign an “acceptable use,” “internet use,” or “email use” agreement. (If not, stay tuned. I’m sure one will be coming to you soon enough.) Acceptable use policies are becoming more common, as employers are limiting what employees can and cannot access at work and protecting themselves in case of the possible reprimand of an employee. The reason employers have to limit the use of the internet is that the internet is everywhere. Compare surfing the internet to watching a TV show. What do these activities have in common? Both are entertaining activities that you can partake in at home. What’s different? You can surf the internet at work, but you cannot watch TV at work (unless it’s part of your job, obviously. However, I don’t think most of use sit around with a TV readily available at work). Engaging in internet use is something people can do anywhere and, as a result, companies have created policies so their employees know the expectations of acceptable use of computers and the internet. Although Katz and Rhodes seem to abandon the idea of limiting employees’ use of the internet and email, I think this is a fair ethical standard as long as the policy is consistent, clearly stated, and frequently mentioned. I work as a teacher for a large school district and the acceptable use policy in my school district is stricter than strict, but the Human Resources department does a good job of communicating expectations to employees. My school has signs posted in every area used predominantly by teachers informing us that they are monitoring us via email, internet, and video surveillance. Furthermore, the Director of Human Resources sends out periodic emails informing employees that they will subject to investigation for inappropriate email and internet use. I know of teachers who would probably engage in inappropriate technology use if they weren’t so fearful of being investigated. However, the Director has definitely scared most of us enough to leave our personal business at home.
Katz and Rhodes discuss the idea that many companies expect employees to use email for “neutral” purposes, or messages that do not contain any incriminating information. Is it possible to separate an employee’s necessary work from the internet? What if employers only allowed employees to communicate with coworkers in a “neutral” way when talking f2f, too? I don’t think limiting the way employees interact with one another through email is a fair ethical standard in the workplace. As a teacher, I am explicitly told not to communicate with the parents of students in any that they would consider questionable. If I need to contact a parent about grades or behavior, the administrators at my school encourage teachers to contact the parent by telephone because, unless the parent records the conversation, it cannot be used against the teacher later. Due to the number of schools and teachers getting sued, this is what email communication as a teacher has boiled down to. I think society has taken a turn for the worst in this regard. I don’t think teachers should be fearful of backlash based on their communication via the internet, especially when the communication is work-related (about their child). Sadly, I have to edit myself when emailing parents and usually just step away from my computer and pick up the phone. I don’t mind calling parents, but I think I should be able to email them if I want to. In my opinion, I should not have to worry about the details of an email message when communicating with my students’ parents, but with lawsuits and teacher investigations, that is what teachers of today must consider.
In technical communication, and in every area of work that uses email, the internet, and computers, we must consider ethical issues. In the future, I would like to see the standards change. I think that some limitations on computer, internet, and email use is acceptable to some degree, but I think trust in a competent employee can be much more powerful than constantly monitoring every aspect of an employee’s work life.
I know that I’ve mentioned this example before in reference to global culture, but it directly relates to this week’s reading about digital literacy across cultures. I was fortunate to be part of a project that had stakeholders in the Midwest, Ireland, and India. The main purpose was to create a system and interface that would search and analyze… specific data. My role was to create a user-guide to help people utilize the system. There were several obstacles that needed to be resolved during my involvement in the project.
I worked closely with the primary tester, and she would use the system, try to stress it, and also validate the results of each test search. She logged all issues on the project SharePoint site. She recalled early in the project that the form originally classified the issues as defects, but that needed to be changed. The India team viewed the term defects as pointing blame. They would spend days researching whether the issue was in fact a defect, or if it was a design feature that was simply not working correctly. By reclassifying it as an issue, we eliminated the idea of blame. This allowed them to spend their time fixing the issue rather than researching who was at fault.
There were status calls twice a week, which allowed the project manager to collect status updates from each area, and also helped clarify what each person’s role was and the expectations for the week. I’m not sure if these calls were done for convenience, accountability, or because of deeper cultural reasons like Thatcher described in this week’s reading. I do know that it seemed to help people stay on task and understand their responsibilities.
We also encountered issues with the design and layout of the program. I found it difficult to use because most of the fields you entered data into or selected criteria from were not labeled. The lead tester had the same complaints, but was told that it was too late to make those kinds of changes. Part of the job of the user guide was to explain how to use the system, and part was to help American and European users overcome the awkward and confusing layout and interface. I wish I knew if it was a cultural difference, or if it was just a poorly designed interface.
I guess I’ve always taken general usability for granted, but this week’s readings by Thatcher and Blakeslee have made me realize that convenient usability is a factor of our cultural experiences, and that a different culture would have different experiences to draw from. What seems logical and convenient to me might seem confusing or awkward to someone from another culture. The areas of the internet that I frequent seem to be tailored to an American, or at least and English speaking user, but I would really be interested in seeing the potential layout and organizational difference of a website designed with a different culture in mind.
Ishii’s research about mobile phone usage was very interesting. It seemed like a well-done study, and it is one that I would appreciate seeing carried out again. He might be able to find stronger correlations today than he was able to when the study was originally carried out. I think he would find the mobile phone usage breakdown would still be similar between home, work, and away from work. Expected differences would be the level of usage for the average person, especially teenagers, and I would also predict a difference in the social skills among mobile phone users. It is easy for me to make predictions based on my own observations, but I really would like to see the research.
. . . . I sure don’t but I had interesting experiment last semester communicating in a language I don’t know the first thing about! To clarify, I am talking about ENGL-712 Communicating in Multilingual Environments. As part of the final project for the class, we had to find a foreign language site and use Google Translate to try and not just write a post or comment on the site, but get actual responses back from the other users. I chose a French site thinking that since two kids are learning French, they might be able to help me out if I got in a bind. Wishful thinking that was, but it was still a fascinating experiment. This was just a small part of a semester long class in understanding how a company that has international clients that don’t speak English as their primary language, communicates with these clients.
I ended up enjoying this class so much that when I took ENGL-637 this summer, I focused on a small local company that had found themselves becoming an International company without really planning on it. They are a manufacturing company and they have quite a few instruction manuals that they are in the process of updating. I went in intent on finding out how they handle (or take into consideration) their international clients as they are updating the manuals. Do they translate them? Do they do any adjusting for translation on the other end? What special things do they need to take into consideration as they write manuals with non-native English speakers as their end users? The answer I found out pretty quickly was – NOTHING. They found translating to be cost prohibitive (which it is even for large companies) and since they are selling their machinery to a middle man – a distributor – they seem to be legally covered safety-wise without needing to translate the documents. I also found their attitude to be similar to Thatcher’s (2010) comment:
“Unfortunately, this kind of ethnocentrism—assuming that another culture will simply use digital media the same way as your own—is actually quite common in much U.S. research and theory, a point I discuss more thoroughly elsewhere (Thatcher, 2005).” (p. 170)
When I asked more questions about their lack of translation, the comment was, (I am paraphrasing here) “Oh we don’t need to worry about it, Everyone we deal with speaks English really well”. I was pretty shocked! Interestingly enough, when I posed a similar question to my husband, whose company is also International, he said almost the exact same thing. When I asked my husband about translating legal documents, he said they have the plant in that location hire a translator to do that. Similarly, the company I worked with this summer relies on the end user to do all translating. When I asked my husband how they know the document (in his case usually contracts) says what they want it to say, he kind of stared at me with a blank face. When I pointed out to the summer company that their distributors may be able to speak English but (a) it is probably British English (and there is a difference) and (b) just because they can speak it doesn’t mean they can read it well enough to put machinery together,
they stared at me with blank faces (I love stumping people with an attitude!). In both cases, they just don’t know what they don’t know. The company from ENGL-637 is just now venturing into putting all of their documents online in digital format with the intent of eventually having it be an interactive online-help system. If their digital literacy is anything like their (albeit, currently being upgraded) manual-writing-system literacy where international clients are concerned, they will need more help than they realize. Digital literacy is still a new and expanding field even in our own country, much less understanding how other countries will use this form of communication. Unfortunately, our embarrassing ethnocentric attitude may get in the way of ever being completely digitally literate where foreign clients are concerned.
Technical Writing is what I like to do. Many people do not understand what I do, but I found this really neat image describing it.
What does this image have to do with this weeks reading? Not much I just wanted to show this neat graphic.
This week the topic was audience. Who is our audience and how to we make sure that we are writing to this audience. I started my job at Sansio in 2002. In 2004 I started working in our Solution Center (Call Center), by 2005 I was working with the in house trainer and maintaining the training powerpoint. Throughout my use of the powerpoint and through my stint as Implementation Coordinator, this one powerpoint turned into 3 with an average of 300 slides a piece.In addition, the training manager had me create checklists to support the learning. The maintenance of these materials was very time consuming, but still was not the main portion of my job. When I was promoted to QA Specialist in 2007 training was changed to be online training and the Business Analysts who took over training no longer used the PowerPoint. At that time I no longer did technical writing. It wasn’t until I took my Technical Writing Practiuum in 2010 that I started writing. My supervisor found that I was good at it and I have been creating/updating User Guide Pages, creating Release Notes and updating other user materials.
Its always important to understand our audience. I have special knowledge of our audience because of my experience with our Solution Center and as Implementation Coordinator. I spent years talking to customers during and after their initial training of HomeSolutions. The image below gives a nice description of what I should be thinking about what I start my writing.
Analysis – HomeSolutions Users
Understanding – When I write, I assume the person has a basic knowledge of HomeSolutions and the terms that we use.
Demographics – Most HomeSolutions users are women around 40 and most do not have a formal degree. There is the occasional user who is a nurse with an advanced degree.
Interest – They are reading the document because they want to know how to use a specific piece of the product.
Environment – The document will be viewed in the users office, most likely online within the application.
Needs – They need to know how to use a piece of the application
Customization – Needs may be to provide an overall description of the page/features that they will be accessing.
Expectations – The ability to use the piece/feature in the future without having to reference the educational resource again.
When it comes to the other product I write for, RevNet, I take a little different approach. The RevNet product is new to everyone. The product has only been around for a little over a year, so everyone who uses this product is brand new. I spend more time on this product line documenting definitions of words and places within the application.
I sometimes worry that I am not writing to the exact needs of the audience. We do not get a lot of feedback on our writing, even by internal customers, and I have not been able to find the time to make sure I get usability testing done to make sure. One thing that would probably help would be creating a persona. A Persona is a very detailed description, including name, age and picture, of a person who will be using the resource being created. In Spilka’s book, Chapter 8 Addressing Audiences in a Digital Age by Ann M Blakeslee they also describe using the persona with the development staff so that they have a better understanding of who they are developing for. One reason I may not do a persona is that I feel I have a very good understanding of our audience because of my experience with our customers in the Solution Center.
How important are personas to writing for an audience? Do I really need to do them, since I have first hand experience with them in the past?
In our Digital Literacy reading this week, I found much interesting content, and I got stuck on the idea of audience in the digital age from Chapter 8. Now with technology allowing writing in the digital age readily accessible to potentially all Internet users or to anyone who can access an online document, this much broader sense of audience really does cause some serious consideration for technical communicators. Who, exactly, are they trying to reach and why? Are they friends, fans, or followers? The idea of considering the target audience has taken on new meaning in our Internet, user-driven, and social media run online world these days.
I found that the five case studies offered to us by Blakeslee were helpful in gaining an understanding when thinking about the much bigger “audience” a tech writer now must consider. She notes, ” …we still need to approach audiences as contextual, unique, and particular, just as we have been doing all along” (202). This finding made me think of the old adage, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” I cannot help but think that audiences will always be very specific, very particular, and very clear in what they want. I think this line sums it up nicely, “Such evidence also points to the need to tease out the unique and complex characteristics of modern digital audiences” (202). It seems that digital communicators these days, much like in days past, should still seriously consider their audience and its needs to really reach the users.
This idea of heuristics was brand new to me; “the digital environment gives writers various mechanisms, or heuristics, for this learning–in other words, it provides them with alternative methods for understanding user needs and a means to solicit user feedback during both early and later phases of learning and research; it also helps them respond to and interact with users” (204). It is this new age of interaction that really has me intrigued with today’s digital communication age. The entire concept of audience in the online arena has changed with the way we can and do interact with each other on the Internet. Now, digital communicators work in a world where they know their audience might prefer interaction and the opportunity to offer feedback right away compared to earlier days where this was not necessarily possible. The audience of today is a bit more demanding.
With the demands and desires of audiences today, digital communicators who realize that this process is much more user driven today will benefit and be able to target and retain their audiences. Those who ignore their audience needs or oversimplify their needs will not achieve success at reaching their audience. It must be acknowledged that digital audiences are complex and will require a bit more than what we might have called an audience in former days.
I think the audience has more power today than ever before to affect how digital communicators must write. Noted by Blakeslee are three very important ideas about how digital communicators must continue to gain a contextualized understanding of their audiences, and I think it is worth it here to point them out again:
- 1) need to know how readers will read and interact with their documents
- 2) need to know how and in what contexts readers with use their documents and
- 3) need to know what expectations readers will bring to their digital documents
I am not sure that in the past authors in the print or early digital realm really considered point three very much. However, in this time of heavy user interaction, those who fail to realize and address the expectations brought by the reader will not reach them the same way others might.
Audience has really opened up quite a bit with the Internet and its power of interaction and immediate feedback.
This week’s readings provide some great insight into how technical communication (and communication in general) can have very different characteristics across cultures. Prior to reading Barry Thatcher’s chapter in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, I hadn’t really thought about this as an issue; I had assumed that intuitive ways of providing instruction and organizing information didn’t vary among cultures. Thatcher’s example of his environmental project with the U.S. and Mexico border illustrates that this was not a valid assumption (although I don’t feel quite so bad because Thatcher admittedly made the same incorrect assumption while teaching technical communication at an Ecuadorian University).
Thatcher presents a framework upon which we can identify the areas of communication that are evident in all cultures: I/Other, Norms/Rules, and Public/Private. He summarizes how different cultures deal with these areas differently, and the implication is that different treatment of these areas requires the use of appropriate communication methods. To communicate effectively within a culture, we need to understand these three areas within the culture and adjust our communication methods accordingly. Even so, Thatcher believes that it is possible and desirable to adapt digital communications to be relevant cross-culturally.
Kenichi Ishii’s article, “Implications of Mobility: The Uses of Personal Communication Media in Everyday Life,” provides another perspective on cultural differences in communication. Ishii makes various points about mobile media in Japan that differ from my understanding of mobile media in the United States. I am wondering whether the differences are because things have changed since 2006 when the article was published, because of cultural differences in how people use mobile media in Japan versus the United States, or a mixture of both.
Ishii (2006) uses the term “mobile mail” to describe both SMS and email messages “via mobile phones because in Japan, SMS and e-mail have almost converged into one service (mail) and users usually cannot clearly distinguish between these two services” (p. 346-347). In my experience, this is very different from in the U.S. Here, SMS messages (text messages) are primarily used as short form communication between two or more well-acquainted mobile phone users, and they travel from one mobile phone number to another. Emails tend to be slightly more formal, email addresses are significantly less private than mobile phone numbers, email messages travel from one email address to another (even if the email is viewed on a mobile phone), and emails can be much longer than text messages.
References to the portable radio, Walkman, and pager also made me wonder whether Japan is at a different point in adoption of mobile technologies or whether the article is simply out of date. In the U.S., portable radios and the Walkman (a portable CD player) have largely been replaced by MP3 players (like the iPod) or by mobile phones that can play music. Pagers have also lost ground to mobile phones. In understanding an article about the implications of mobility on everyday life in Japan, it would be helpful to know whether the differences I noticed are a result of a 7 year old article or cultural differences between Japan and the United States.
I found it very interesting that in Japan users make the most calls using their mobile phones from home, second most from work, and fewest when they are out and about. I wonder if this is true for the United States too. Despite the fact that I have landlines both at home and at work, this is probably true for me as well. I think this is mostly because my mobile phone also acts as a PDA, and I can access my entire phone book in one place and simply press a button to call rather than having to look up and dial a phone number on a landline phone.
Ishii (2006) posits that Japanese youth use text messages as a way to feel connected while avoiding conflict and demanding relationships (p. 349). This is definitely a parallel phenomenon to the U.S. trend Sherry Turkle references in Alone Together. While both Japanese and U.S. youth apparently replace face to face communication with mobile communication at least to some extent, Ishii does point out a study in which about 50% more U.S. adolescents than Japanese adolescents felt that they could initiate a conversation with someone they don’t know. In any case, it seems that understanding cultural differences in communication will help technical communicators to communicate effectively both within different cultures and across cultures.
I’ve never traveled out of the country, so I find it interesting the reading this week stated different countries have websites that show information differently, for example they use less pictures. This does make sense to me because I think about living in NJ and traveling to other places within the US. It’s amazing how different things can be in different states. I know NJ is very fast paced and when I travel sometimes it’s like being in a different country! In some places people are much more relaxed and friendly. I liked the example website provided in the reading, but would have enjoyed a deeper dive into examples of websites in different countries and why they are created the way they are. I did some Googling and found a website in Spain and Ireland, and both have a combination pictures and words. It looks like they’re laid out similar to websites that I’d expect to see in the US, so I’m not sure if I’m missing something, or not researching enough sites/locations.
Some of this is over my head information wise as I’ve never built a website, but there’s plenty of information on the web about how to build sites that will be used in different regions and how important it is to communicate with people in their own language. The site below provides a lot of information on this topic.
I find it interesting the readings mentioned that studies haven’t really been done on how audiences are adapting to the digital age. I found the case studies that were done though to be interesting. The one mentioned how they use their support calls to help create content. When I managed a knowledge base I used to do the same thing. I’d go through the customer support ticket logs and listen in on phone calls to see what customers were asking and how they were asking it. This helps get insight into what the customer needs to know and helps build the structure of the knowledge base so the customer could find it. The reading also mentioned that the online environment is designed for quick feedback. This is a very good point because in most knowledge bases users can leave comments or choose to give a thumbs up if the article was useful and a thumbs down if the article wasn’t helpful.
The reading did mention one of the issues with online content is that the information is available for everyone. I don’t think this is true though, as some websites you have to log in to get access to content. It is true that the content can be emailed to someone and be shared quickly and easily, but paper content can be photocopied and passed around too.
I also found The Implications of Mobility study entertaining. I’d like to comment on three points I picked out:
- 58% of business users agreed with “mobile phones restrict my freedom”
I can really understand this comment. I have a work cell phone and I agree it restricts my freedom. For example, there are two big meetings this week on Tuesday and Wednesday I’m managing material for. I’ve been receiving emails/texts and working over the weekend because I’m accessible via my work phone. I feel the days of having a weekend to myself are gone!
- Mobile phones blur the boundary between public and private space
I agree that it seems people have private conversations in public places. Just waiting online at the grocery store you can hear more about a person than you need to.
- Internet could reduce depression by providing a means to obtain social support
I’ve never thought about the Internet being helpful to people in this way, but I guess it really could. I think if someone is being bullied and they find a support group and bond with people, it really can turn their attitude around. Even if they’re talking to someone across the globe, it’s someone that relates to them and understands them.
Thus far in the course, we have read about individuals using the Web to find work, love, and entertainment. Now, at last, we have read about the audience and the implications for a digital world. I feel like what we learned in this week’s readings are somewhat no-brainers because we are becoming so incredibly familiar with technology and digital literacy, but nonetheless, the authors presented many excellent points. However, when my eyes scanned the sentence that mentions, “audiences of digital documents may different from those of print documents,” I almost chuckled to myself (Blakeslee, 2010, p. 201). Blakeslee also mentions that now, nearly all texts that technical communicators design is created for digital use, which means that even if a text is in print, likely, a digital version also exists.
When technical communicators create texts explicitly for use on the Web, they need to keep several factors in mind. They need to know how readers will engage in the texts, the frequency readers will use the documents, the scenario in which readers will use the text, and the expectations readers have. As a result, designing texts for the Web is a complicated process. In digital texts, users have a greater opportunity to engage their readers. For example, readers of an online text have the ability to leave comments on a text and provide a technical communicator with immediate feedback.
As a K-12 educator, I envision the increase for digital literacy within the next decade. In the future, it will be nearly impossible to survive in the world without digital literacy skills. The need to read and write digital texts will continue to grow as desktop computers, mobile phones, tablets, and laptops become obligatory in school and workplace settings. So, what specific skills will readers need to be deemed “digitally literate?”
First, basic reading and writing skills are necessary to begin becoming digitally literate. A reader must have the ability to read scholarly information of higher reading levels and to construct highly effective pieces of writing in a digital setting. Next, familiarity with various technologies is also an important digital literacy skill. A reader must be able to use the Web, word processors, and other programs to design and publish information. Additionally, the ability to search and locate through various technological tools is vital to becoming digitally literate. Readers need must be able to use computers, mobile phones, etc. to their advantage. Readers must also be able to evaluate digital sources and determine their credibility. As I mentioned last week, with so many “voices” on the Web, it is critical for a digitally literate reader to be able to decipher which texts he/she can trust. Furthermore, digitally literate must be able to determine what not to read. With information so readily available, readers usually do not have the time to read everything, so they must have the skill to determine relevance.
In my opinion, readers of digital texts need even more skills than do traditional readers. For most of us now, the transition from traditional to digital is complicated. However, since the children of today are born with a mobile phone in one hand and a laptop in the other, digital literacy skills will continue to develop and change, as new technologies develop in the future.
I have long known the great necessity for technical communicators to understand their audience. Blakeslee’s ideas that we need to focus in on a specific audience is hardly news. I even had an understanding that communication has to be adapted across cultural lines so that people from different cultures can easily understand. In order to communicate with a broader audience, you may have to adapt your methods. When I think of adapting communication for a cross-cultural audience, I think of IKEA assembly instructions. They are an excellent example, because they rely fully on pictures and remove the necessity for translation in order to be used in different countries. Apparently some people think that IKEA instructions are difficult to follow, but I think that those people would likely be even more confused by written instructions in Swedish.
However, while I know that communications methods have to be adapted in order to communicate across cultural lines, I never really put any thought into the idea that the very way that technology is used can vary between cultures. I liked the way Baron explained the phenomena in Always On by comparing how we use technology to how people in China and India eat rice differently and how English and German people drive differently, not because of how the item is intrinsically different, but because the culture is different (pp.130-131).
It is the deeper issue, the foundation, that will matter. If we don’t understand how a culture uses a technology, any communication with members of that culture is going to fail to some degree if we don’t question the assumptions that are guiding our decisions. In Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, Thatcher gives the example of the differences in website construction between collective and individualistic cultures. While it makes sense that there would be differences in content, it is really interesting that the standards for an effective website are different to the point that the entire site may not be put together as a cohesive whole, but that different departments would be completely unique.
I do wonder though, how much variation there may be within a culture. For example, Thatcher showed examples of how the same information would be formatted differently for two different cultures. I actually thought that the American version of the letter was too abrupt, and preferred the version intended for the Mexican audience as it seemed more gracious.
Or even considering cell phone usage, I feel like everyone I know uses their phones differently. I know people whose whole lives are contained in their phone and they use it for everything. I know people who only have a landline, and people who are avid texters. I know people who are phone talkers and phone avoiders (that is me). And that is just among some of my closest friends. How do you define a culture’s use of technology when it can vary so severely from person to person? And how can you communicate effectively with a culture, if there is such variability in technology usage? Are basic cultural trends good enough to base a communication strategy off of?
Probably the most interesting reading for me this week was “Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures” by Barry Thatcher, though I found all of them pretty interesting. One of the reasons I found Thatcher’s piece so interesting is that at my school we’ve been trying to increase our international student enrollment, and I’ve always wondered (on the periphery of my brain) how our website must appear to people of other cultures and countries. For example, we have a partner school in Wuhan China, the South Central University for Nationalities, where we recruit students to enroll in our Master of Science in Education with Emphasis in English. I decided to go to their website to see if and how it might differ from ours―and so much of what Thatcher explained held true!
For example, there were no pictures of people on the SCUN site, and not nearly the sheer number of pictures that we have on our website so this is an example that in studies “more diffuse websites had relatively few pictures” and perhaps the concept that the public space of a website is “not the appropriate medium for something as private as a picture” (of a person) (p.187). Also, there are a few pictures of major icons, historical buildings, a panda, and a few nice views of the campus, so this is an example of research that on Chinese Web sites “drew complexly on icons of Chinese heritage to display the significance of the collective whole (p. 187). Also, take a look at the “Accommodations” page:
It’s a clinical picture of the accommodations, with no indication of people. Compare it to the main Residence Hall page of my school’s website, where all of the pictures focus on students:
So, in thinking about our own website, we could not probably repurpose it for meeting the needs of our primary recruiting demographic (18.1 year olds who are largely from Wisconsin), but I wonder if we might create an alternative version for international students. In fact, SCUN has such a version. Both of their websites are in English, but one is clearly meant for Western, native speaking English people and the other would be for a more localized audience. It seems the best way we might do this, according to Ann Blakesdale in “Addressing Audiences in A Digital Age,” is to get “a full, accurate―and contextualized―understanding of their audiences. One way to acquire this, which was addressed by all writers from my cases, is to interact directly with members of our audiences” (220). So, I think developing a site and asking our current international students to interact with it would be a great project for us to recruit more students and serve their needs more successfully.
Japanese cell phone culture came up in more than one reading this week: in “Going Mobile,” and “Always on,” by Naomi Baron (135, 233) and “Implications of Mobility,” by Kenichi Ishii ( p. 348). Baron says that the government was pretty effective in “transforming outdoor use of keitai from talking to overwhelming texting instruments” (233), mostly because of collective governance . This results from the need to negotiate appropriate activities in public space.
However, no culture mentioned this week has been terribly effective in separating the boundaries of home and the outside world (symbolized by the tradition of removing shoes before entering the house in Japan and India, Baron, p. 230) when it comes to mobile devices.
There was a lot of data to absorb this week, and I’m afraid I got distracted on numerous occasions, stopping to look things up (I suppose this is a good thing!), but nothing disconcerted me so much as the statistic in “Always On” that 51% of American teenagers preferred land line phones. That just astounded me because I work with so many young people every day, 99% of whom seem to have cell phones, and I hardly ever hear of anyone interacting on a land line. I thought maybe it was a function of the fact that the article was published in 2008, so I did some research and found this PEW study from cnet. com (http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57400439-93/teens-prefer-texting-over-phone-calls-e-mail/ ) that says that the number has indeed gone down.
In this study, the number has gone from 30% in 2009 to 14% in 2012, so that seems more in line with what my daily experience tells me. Fourteen percent still seems high, but I am dealing with a pretty homogenous demographic, so my experience is most certainly skewed.
Examining Our Assumptions
The discussion of intercultural communication this week came shortly after I was in a workshop for intercultural communication in which we were asked to reflect on some of the assumptions we make in our communications with our international students, faculty, and staff on a whole host of issues. The presenters showed this video, which I had seen before, but I still got a good laugh and good reflection out of it, so I thought I’d share: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajq8eag4Mvc
For the most part, writing for a digital audience requires the same considerations as writing for traditional audiences. You must first look at the rhetorical situation. To do this, technical communicators must ask themselves a series of questions, including this question:
Who is the target of my message?
As you know, your audience can be broad and varied, or very specific. The problem with the digital world is that the audience tends to be the former, which can make it very challenging to decide how to create your message. How do you write a universal message for a non-universal group of people?
Well, I hate to say it, but you have to generalize the audience members. You can’t feasibly create a message that will work for each and every individual out there, so you just have to try to identify the most common features so you can address MOST of them.
How do you identify these common attributes? One of the best ways is learning directly from the user. Blakeslee (2010) talked about interacting with readers in this week’s readings – what you might call a “collaborative” audience or user-centered design. Of course, this hinges on having the audience provide feedback in order to help improve technical communications. However, like in the case study from TaxSoft, what if you don’t have direct contact with the customers? Or, in my own personal experience, what if it’s like pulling teeth to get user feedback?
Audience Challenge #1 – No Contact
In the TaxSoft example, one of the employees interviewed said she had to get secondhand feedback from other departments or review call logs to see what customers were saying during conversations with their call center (p. 208). They did this because she (and her fellow technical writers) didn’t have a direct relationship with the customer. She commented that “writers are not subject-matter experts in our company, and, as such, it would not be appropriate to step into that relationship with our users” (Blakeslee, 2010, p. 209). I think this is very unfortunate. Perhaps this company needs their technical writers to start getting more involved with the customer?
The SecureNet case study, on the other hand, showcased employees who DID have relationships with their customers, going so far as to interview some of these audience members before starting a new project (p. 210).
Audience Challenge #2 – The Unengaged Audience
This is the audience that doesn’t provide feedback, or is very difficult to get feedback from. I have had this experience quite a bit in my place of work. A specific example is the online customer portal we launched earlier this year (that I’ve mentioned in previous blogs). We rolled it out in four groups. After each group was introduced to the site, I sought feedback from group members on the features of the site, if they were using it, what areas they liked best, etc. I probably sent out over 100 surveys and only had three or four returned to me. Those that were returned had little to no helpful feedback. What did I do wrong?
Well, it comes full circle because it has everything to do with the audience. My audience is not terribly tech savvy so many of them just weren’t using the site. Filling out a survey for a service they weren’t using didn’t make sense. For those that WERE using the site, they didn’t send us a survey back because they preferred to tell us in a more personal way. The most useful feedback we received was gathered during a phone conversation. Seems a bit old school, but, again, going back to the type of audience I have (not tech savvy), doing a telephone survey makes more sense.
Fortunately for me, my audience is typically quite specific. This can make it easier for us to create our message, although it’s not foolproof. But, this is actually one of the greatest things about digital technology! If we don’t get the message right the first time, we can change it anytime we want for little to no cost and for a modest amount of labor. With traditional communications (print), it can be time-consuming and costly to make changes. I just think about all those companies out there that still put together catalogs and how much time and resources that must cost them.
U-Line is a perfect example. They mail us a catalog once a month. Then, they send us a catalog with each order we place from them. Sometimes, we will get up to six or seven catalogs in a month! We think it’s a waste of paper and also prefer looking up products online anyway. Maybe this company needs to evaluate their audience a little better!