Death Sentence?

I have to say reading through the beginning of Digital Literacy for Technical Communication was a little bit sobering for me as a technical communication student.  When I was researching graduate programs and schools, I found that the options were limited for what I was planning on doing.  I knew I wanted my Master’s degree in Communications, but was not interested in technical communication.  It just so happened the only graduate program available through any UW school that could be earned online is the MSTPC program at UW-Stout.  So I’m more or less incidentally a technical communication student.  But I suppose these days, communication is technical or digital regardless.  As Spilka points out, communication has evolved and “every aspect of our work has changed”. (2010, p. 7).

What was sobering for me during the reading was the realization that I am most definitely resisting becoming “digitally literate.”  As I’ve stated before, I’m not very keen on technology, computers, social networking, etc.  I’ve never been very technologically inclined and I tend to stay away from computers and other electronic devices except for when I’m at work.  And at work, I mostly use e-mail and the Microsoft Suite, so it’s very basic.  I have a smart phone that I use for texting, checking the weather, GPS, and scrolling through Pinterest when I’m bored.  That’s really the extent of it.  Right now I work at the Rock County Council on Aging and an elderly lady asked me last week to help her with her iPhone and I couldn’t!  I have never used one and I couldn’t figure out how to access her voicemail like she needed.  As technology has evolved, I’ve kept my head buried in the sand.  I figured if I avoided it, technology wouldn’t have an effect on my life.  Now I’m hoping that my ignorance doesn’t negatively affect my educational success.

Spilka mentions survival, evolving, and adapting or dying.  When did we take a right turn into The Hunger Games?  Spilka assures the audience that the purpose of the book is not to “alarm, scare, warn, or provide ultimatums” (p. 3) but I have to say it certainly felt like it.  Realizing how behind I am and how I fundamentally disagree with a lot that comes with the world of technology–the voyeurism of Facebook, the obsession created among children, the effect of blue screen on the body and mind–sort of makes me feel ill-equipped to take on the remainder of the MSTPC program.

At this point, I’m going to swallow my pride and look at digital literacy from an educational perspective rather than a personal one.  There is so much more to it than I had previously considered.  So much so that the experts are still trying to properly define it and agree on a single definition.  Heck, they’re still finding new terms to describe the practice itself (p. 7).  I’ve always approached technology with a place of disdain, but, like the book says, it might come down to “adapt or die”.  I’m still barely starting to create my professional self.  The last thing I want to do is “die professionally” before I even begin.

About mollynolte

MSTPC grad student scheduled to graduate in May 2017. Lover of the outdoors, my dogs, autumn, yoga, and travel.

Posted on September 25, 2016, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. While it’s difficult to divorce the “technical” from technical communication, I think the key is the “communication” part. The good thing about most technical/professional writing programs is that the skills being taught can be applied widely to other types of communication: marketing, business, policies and procedures, proposals, training, etc.

    You mention that experts are still trying to define digital literacy and I think that the same can be said for technical communication as well. What used to be a small field where writers documented complex hardware or software, has now ballooned into a huge field encompassing many types of writing and even communication that; isn’t writing at all (videos, live training, etc.). The Society for Technical Communication has struggled for years to put the field into a neat box, and it has not been particularly successful.

    And I think that’s one of the best things about technical communication: it’s such a huge field that there is very likely a niche for anyone.

    • I think the reason the experts can’t seem to pin down an exact definition for the practice is because technical communication/digital literacy itself is ever evolving. How can we define something that changes every day? It’s like a living, breathing organism.

    • Well said, Jessica! We tell our undergrads all the time that strong writing and attention to detail matters most. If that writing happens in WORD docs or on Twitter doesn’t necessarily matter since one’s audience should be considered before posting.

  2. I definitely agree that the field is so undefined, we’re still trying to map out what’s happening and how to define it. As a practitioner, I find that fact incredibly exciting. I’m a bit of a rebel so I do like the fact that it’s up to us, as technical communications professionals, to really forge ahead. The trouble comes in on the academic side: how do we define digital literacy? how do we measure it?

    I do not struggle as much with current tech as you seem to, but I do understand feeling a bit removed from it. For me, social media is such a hot mess of people, opinions, and advertising. I am aware of its power and how essential it’s become to us. I play the role of observer on sites like Facebook, Twitter and the like. Every time I turn around there are new norms and standards that fly over my head,

    Hopefully, this class will give me some tools to work with. Like you said, technology, social networking, and everything in between is already here. We’ve got to learn how to ride the wave or be drowned by emerging platforms and devices.

    • My husband and I don’t have kids yet, but we talk about how we might raise them if we have them. I’m so against computers, game consoles, smart phones, and tablets that I wouldn’t want my kids to have them. But he smartly points out that if we deny our kids access to technology we’re setting them up for failure once they enter school.

  3. I can indirectly relate with what you say because my husband is a lot like you. He thought that diving into technology and using the “hip new devices” made him look like he’s trying to be young. He said, “that stuff is for the kids.” I think he thought it was all a fad. Now, he’s made progress. Being a college professor, he has to utilize the technology available for his classes. However, he still will not carry a cell phone or engage in social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. It’s a matter of principal for him. He says nothing is so important that he needs to know instantly. I know, it’s more than just being available. It’s also information at your fingertips, a way to manage a schedule, a navigator, and access to work (email) when you have downtime away from home or work. Now, he’s just being stubborn. However, he’s slowly coming along. He made a Linkedin account because it’s for professional use.

    I do laugh at the cell phone soapbox, however. He almost chased me down the road today because I forgot my phone at home. What if he needed to get a hold of me? But he’s gotten so much attention for not having one, that he won’t carry one even though he wants one. When we go out, he always asks if I have my phone with me. I’ll get him converted yet.

    • I totally understand your husband’s aversion to getting a cell phone even though he might want one at this point. That’s how I feel about Facebook. I’ve spent so many years trashing the stupid site that I feel like if I get a Facebook account now, at age 28, I’ll be nothing but a big, fat hypocrite.

  4. It’s hard to leave “technical communication” at the office desk once you leave work at the end of the day like you can a job that you don’t take home with you. Technology has invaded that delineation between work and home and it doesn’t seem to get any better through time.

    But that shouldn’t dissuade you from resisting “digital literacy.” In a sense, I do like how Dicks shows that we’re becoming more like symbolic-analysts and it’s better to understand the concepts and ideas behind it rather than the technology and tools that underpins our field.

    Technical communication such a huge umbrella of fields and we are never going to lose demand for technical communicators that their primary production tasks is to write, edit, or illustrate. Instead, it’ll be harder to specialize in that particular set of skills since the demand is more on the analytical and strategic side.

  5. Molly,

    I think it’s a little funny that you take such a stance against technology, but you are in an online graduate program. 🙂

    While I don’t necessarily agree with your points on technology, I can certainly understand your (and others’) reluctance to “jump on the bandwagon” so to speak. However, I do think that an open mind (at least from an educational perspective as you mentioned) is important in order to at least learn about these technologies – even if you don’t use them yourself, it can be helpful to know how others use them so you can understand where they might be coming from.

    • Hi Gina,

      I completely understand the irony. I actually don’t really like going to school online, but there’s no way I’d have time for face to face classes and work as much as I need to. I also didn’t want to be like my mother in law and take eight years to get my Master’s. Not that there’s anything wrong with that–it’s just not for me. So even though I don’t *love* going to school online I find that it suits my lifestyle.

    • Nicely put, Gina. I agree. Keeping an open mind is key, but also realizing you don’t have to do it all.

      Molly, I think you’ll notice in the social media case studies that even the most successful companies are still learning how to use social media and probably don’t need an account on EVERY channel. So blogging here in WP might be the first step and then seeing what else might happen in a wiki, Google DOC, or Facebook.

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