A Rose by Any Other Name
After reading the first two chapters of Digital Literacy by Carliner and Dicks, I find myself thinking that their entire premise is flawed. Each refers to a Technical Communicator as a job title and not a skill. By doing this, they have contradicted themselves in their message or are at least naïve in their conclusions.
Carliner summarizes the impact of digital technology on technical communicators. He explains how changing technology impacted technical communicators negatively and forced them to take on new job titles or alter how and what tools they used to complete their work. He also alludes to the shrinking market for technical communicators. I disagree. The same technical communicator, by job title, may be someone such as a web designer. Instead of constructing information bulletins for easier interpretation by the end user, they are constructing a website to enhance the end users experience during their visit. He continues his negative outlook by stating “However, those who develop and produce content have been facing dwindling work opportunities.” (p44) Just two pages earlier he contradicts this statement when he quotes Shank 2008 “e.g., the home page of newspapers changing every 15 minutes”. (p42) Wouldn’t a website which changes content every 15 minutes create more opportunities? I believe this would especially be true with a content provider that needs to be clear and concise with their information and would require a professional that was capable of executing this effectively.
Here is a perfect time to insert the argument that technical communicators document or convey scientific, engineering, or other technical information. Surely you can’t document the changes in technology and how it impacts technical communicators over the last thirty years and assume that the definition of what a technical communicator is would remain static to the old industrial mindset. Clearly a technical communicator is anyone who effectively addresses the arrangement, emphasis, clarity, conciseness, and tone (Kostelnick and Roberts) when presenting persuasive or instructional information.
Dicks goes on in the second chapter to go through changing business models and their negative effect on the job outlook for technical communicators. Again, in the 1982 definition, he would be correct. However, I reiterate my opinion that “technical communicator” is not just a job title, it is a skill. The general contradiction I find in this chapter can be summarized by Dicks himself “… many communicators are seeing the nature of their work altered considerably.” (p75) I would argue that the communicators are the ones altering their work to fit their new environments. On page 60, Dicks highlights the problem of value added for technical communicators. Except for sales people’s production measured in dollars and a manufacturer’s production in units, how does any employee justify their value added? Marketing, management (except for sales and manufacturing units), lab workers, IT, and engineers are all examples of employees that must adapt and evolve to show their value to a company.
If the two author’s purposes were to inform, they should have allowed the context of the technical communicator to evolve with the world in which they work. If Dicks and Cauliner were trying to persuade, they did a poor job in my opinion and their work is more apt to gain a following in the next Yahoo article of five ways technical communicators jobs are changing.