Monthly Archives: October 2016

Mini case study of an online game guild

(I apologize for the length and tardiness–this ended up being much more than I intended to write. I could have written more, but I needed to end it somewhere!)

While most of the content in Net Smart has been both useful and relatable, none of it has resonated with me so much as Rheingold’s frustrated, “Don’t tell me that my life online isn’t real” (163). Partially because of introversion and partially due to being geographically dislocated from my support network, my “online life” is a very important part of my day-to-day. In fact, much of my former “real life” has become “online life” due to moving. Outside of my workplace, all of my social relationships (other than my husband) are based online, even if they didn’t begin there.

Rheingold’s discussion of virtual communities (guilds) formed in massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) was of particular interest to me because my husband and I ran one such guild in a game called Final Fantasy XI (FFXI), a precursor to World of Warcraft, which is mentioned in the book. Thus, I am providing a mini case study here to showcase Rheingold’s ideas.


My original copy was on 6 CD-ROMs, back in 2005. via

The FFXI guild TEAMSeaSlug (or TSS—the name was derived from a Japanese anime popular at the time) began directly due to the building of social capital. My husband defeated a monster that only appears once per day and generally requires a small party (6 or more) of players to defeat. A player competing for the same monster requested my husband’s help the next day. My husband agreed to help this stranger, and they joined forces for several days. Over the course of these days, the stranger brought friends who also needed the monster, so my husband helped them out as well. Recognizing shared interests, a high skill level, and a shared need, my husband formed the guild with these new friends, with himself as the leader (and ultimate arbiter) and myself as second-in-command (serving a sort of “human resources” function for the group). Through this guild, my husband and I would benefit many times in excess of the original help he provided strangers who needed that monster—and we would help many others as well.

TSS was formed to solve a social dilemma. FFXI at the time was based very strongly on collaboration. Most high-end monsters and dungeons required large parties (12 or more players) to complete, so many well populated guilds (50 or more players) existed to conquer these challenges. However, with more people come more complexity, more opportunity for interpersonal conflict (I had recently left a guild due to such), and more chances of freeloaders (a particular pet peeve of mine). TSS solved this social dilemma by being a small (fewer than 20 players at its peak), tight-knit core group of highly skilled players who could take on much of the game’s content with much smaller parties. While there was still occasional conflict, the smaller group size meant it was worked out more quickly and cleanly.

This group was very successful for several years, likely because we fulfilled (completely by accident) many of the suggestions Rheingold lists for successful online social systems. For the sake of brevity, I am only providing two examples here:

“A small number of simple, clear rules, sparsely enforced, with an explicit expectation that the community’s own norms will emerge later” (166).

We only had two major rules: 1) Be respectful. 2) You get one “freebie,” (item, monster kill, etc.) after which, you are expected to reciprocate by continually helping other guild members. This rule built a large amount of general social capital (Rheingold, p. 221) between guild members, who were always helping each other out. It got to the point where if you mentioned you were frustrated by something, somebody would inevitably help you out without being asked, whether that meant they showed up to help you fight a monster or resources miraculously showed up in your in-game mailbox.

This rule also served to weed out free-loaders. Sure, many people showed up for the “freebie,” and were never heard from again–or they would stick around without reciprocating and get frustrated that they never got anything else—and were never heard from again. This suited us just well—we were only interested in those guild members who self-selected for reciprocity and generosity. While we preferred having highly skilled players, we would always make room for a generous person with room for improvement in their game skills.

More rules did sprout up as needed, but they were generally specific to certain dungeons—loot and resource distribution and the like.

“Social capital is also key to the power of online social networks, where individuals and groups can cultivate, grow, and benefit from it” (p. 218)

Rheingold contrasts networks and communities. If our guild was a community, then the rest of the guilds and individuals was a network. Our policy of reciprocity served us well, as it allowed us to build social capital on the network scale—our guild members self-selected for generosity, and they would rarely hesitate to help anyone in need, regardless of their guild affiliation.

Rheingold adds, “The same networks that foster norms of reciprocity also facilitate the flow of reputational information” (p. 221). As our guild members went around helping strangers and building their networks, word got around that TSS was a pretty good guild to work with—both highly skilled and generous. Each member was a bridge to another network, whose members could potentially reciprocate at any time. This helped us face our greatest weakness as a guild: our low member base.

The nature of FFXI was such that some challenges required higher numbers of players, no matter how skilled. In these cases, TSS was left behind, unable to muster the manpower on our own. However, because each member built their own networks based on reciprocity, we were able to call upon willing  outsiders to help us defeat these challenges—and they came because of the social capital we built as a guild. Sometimes, this even resulted in growing membership for our guild, as people who came to our call decided to stick around.

There were still certain challenges we could not face. The short term solution was to individually join specialized guilds specifically for those tasks (some of which required 24 or more players). However, our long-term plan was to begin teaming up with other guilds like ours: small, highly skilled, with high social capital. Sadly, that never came to be, as the game developers made some drastic changes that eventually led us to quit.

However, TSS lives on, and some of those core members are among our closest friends. Our paths have crossed in subsequent MMOGs, and we teamed up successfully in those, raising the TEAMSeaSlug banner each time. Our paths have crossed in real life, as well. We have been to each other’s (real life) weddings. We’ve commiserated with each other’s frustrations and celebrated life’s milestones.

So when anyone questions the validity of online communities, I react the same as Rheingold: Don’t tell me that my online life isn’t real!

Collective Intelligence in the New Age

Working together can create more meaning and bring more understanding of the world around us. The ideas in Chapter 4 of Net Smart by Rhiengold (2012) especially regarding collective intelligence and the function of the Internet to create communities, groups, and audiences that create a deeper meaning of what is happening around them is very powerful and applicable to our work with analyzing and reviewing social media principles as well as our work as technical communicators.

I have heard complaints from the generation before mine, professors, staff members, and students that came before, that the way we learn and take in information currently does not take the same amount of effort and time that it used to, thus we are as a whole not as smart as we could be, as they had to be in the world before the World Wide Web.

I wholeheartedly disagree. Are things different? Definitely. For the most part, we do not have to deal with card catalogs and worrying about not obtaining the library book we need because someone already has it out. But what we do have is mountains of information at our fingertips that needs to be read through, researched, analyzed, and ultimately accepted or discarded as useful to the project that need to be completed.

Thinking about it as the natural reaction our society has had to the advent of technology and connectedness, collective intelligence seems like a great place for us to be in.

“Now that we have gained access to digital tools that enable us to share what we know and aggregate small contributions into large knowledge repositories, a new level of collective intelligence is possible” (p. 160).

Just as a reality, it is fascinating how much I find myself depending on the opinions and knowledge of others in my personal and professional life.

I read Yelp reviews and will search through a few pages for tips and tricks about shopping: how to do it effectively, where to go for the best prices, and when to go to avoid the most foot traffic.

I use my coworkers as sounding boards when working on projects, running edits, changes, style issues, and new copy by one or more people to see how they react, even when we’re working on completely different projects.

This trend is so important to the way we think about knowledge and learning. It may seem like an obvious idea. We learn currently from teachers and professors, those who go to school and study techniques specifically to learn how to instruct and impart knowledge on others, but to my mind there is still so much stigma associated with the spirit of collective intelligence in schoolwork.

Beginning your career as a student, you do not learn that it is your right, I would say responsibility, to question the font of knowledge: a teacher. In order to retain control over groups of wild children, teachers must be seen as the ultimate authority in their spaces. As you grow older and become more comfortable with yourself and the idea that you have to have your own opinions and thoughts about the world around you, you are inundated with cultural norms and taboos. They are subjects you can’t bring up in public without receiving a negative reaction: sex, politics, and religion. There are other subjects that only apply to you and place you into a subgroup: race, gender, sex, socio-economic status, ethnicity.

By high school you have hopefully learned all the rules, overtly taught to you and covertly gathered by osmosis and have gone through puberty so hopefully you have become a version of yourself that can function in society. You have created PowerPoints and book reports and scientific models. But beyond being forced into groups by your teachers, it is still up to the teacher as the superior figure to create meaning and focus your attention on the facts and figures that you need to know.

That long analogy is meant to draw attention to the fact that with the Internet and social media, it is up to us to create meaning and monitor the information and knowledge being influenced and cultivated around us. I cannot say with complete certainty that children are reacting differently in classes. There are thousands of studies and reports about classroom teaching and management that are authored about the changes going on in classrooms because of technology and the Internet.

What works for me is the idea that we are demanding more of our teaching professionals and of ourselves than we have before. Yes, the Internet gives everyone a platform to shout their opinions from the rooftop (leading to a degradation of fields like traditional print media). It also gives us the ability to share what we know with each other, outside of the limits of a roundtables and desks with tiny chairs. Even outside the bounds of an online course taught by a PhD.

Rheingold, Howard. (2014).  Net Smart: How to thrive online. MIT Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Crowdsourcing: Your Friend

Lately, I’ve been having difficulty trying to figure out how to make the best decision for many things. I turn to digital technology to get the help I need from my friends and colleagues on a multitude of things.

It’s easy to get things done quickly online and get the feedback you need from your tribe.

I rely on the Internet for help. Someone will have the answer I need and I am always happy to provide the answer for them when they ask. As a kid, I was told I was to fear the Internet and it was not a great place to be in. However, I disagree because I feel it’s a place where I can get reliable and honest feedback. I also can find good software and advice and most of the time it’s free. The only thing I need to pay for is an Internet connection.

One of my favorite sites right now is Quora. If you are unfamiliar with Quora, it is a social network where people ask interesting questions and anyone has the opportunity to answer them. If you ever get a chance, go on there and find something interesting to discuss. This is where I can spend more of my day reading articles from

There are many more, but I believe you get the point that people have some awesome stories to tell where you can get some great information because people are willing to share their stories on this platform.

For me, I’ll put my two cents:

And then I can ask questions and hope people can provide a decent answer

Seriously, if you know why technical writers are introverts, I encourage you to answer it!

I enjoy having Quora around for this reason. According to Rheingold, we “collaborate publicly without requiring or expecting any direct reward” (p. 155). Quora will curate questions and answered based on my preferences, so I can enjoy reading people’s answers which I deem worthy and I get to upvote or downvote their answer based on my thoughts. Above all, I’m here to learn on this social network and have an open mind about anything because I see the human condition written by others who are like me.

Giving Away Something Helps Everyone

My first participation in crowdsourcing was downloading and installing SETI@Home. I would help crunch data in exchange for a pretty screensaver. Yes, I know it would eat up processing resources and electrical power, but I felt I was doing something helpful running the program and looking at my units that I completed. Rheingold noted that I was part of a group of people who would donate time and computing power for “mass collaboration in response to” science (p. 168). It’s a feel-good thing where I could directly help “scientists understand the universe or assisting biomedical researchers who are seeking to cure a disease…” (p. 169).


SETI@home Classic screenshot from Berkeley.

One thing I missed was the Folding@home project where I could have helped in another way. By that time, I didn’t have the time and I moved on to using a laptop instead of a desktop and it would not be helpful for me to overheat my laptop. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t stop helping whenever I could on the Internet.

Occasionally I’d fix a problem a problem with grammar on Wikipedia, update a listing on Google Maps, or edit a manual on iFixIt. I love these kinds of websites because I’m invited to edit content to make it better. I actually enjoy the moment I can make a change on Wikipedia, which is kind of like a nice thing. At work, our content management system works in a similar fashion, except we have a few administrators (me and my co-workers) who approve content updates. What makes my job awesome is that I get to make those edits to the content updates before we get to click the publish button every time.

The Professional Network

Whenever I think of a social network that is helpful, it is my group of colleagues who are spread out across the world who know about technical communication and content strategy. Whenever I need help with a tool or understanding about a new concept, I can send them a message on any of the social networks I’m connected with. In a sense, Rheingold calls this a PLN, which is a “personally curated network of people I want to learn from and a network that learns together” (p. 228). What I try to do is maintain my network all of the time by following people I am interested in, ask questions whenever I can, and feed my network by providing answers. Somehow doing this for several years with my colleagues I’ve met at the Society for Technical Communication Annual Summits have earned me a place in the field. This year, I’ve presented a couple of times and am reviewing session proposals for the 2017 Summit. On the otherhand, I also have gained a couple of side gigs at another conference.

So far, maintaining and building that network online has taken me to places like Las Vegas, Portland, New Orleans, and Dublin. In fact, without this network I would not have had the opportunity to attend this class. I certainly attribute and appreciate these connections for giving opportunities at the right time. I have tried to return the favor by helping out with the Society for Technical Communication whenever I can.

I want to mention that Rheingold’s last chapter is a great summary of the book. In fact, during my conference I have had the opportunity to talk with a lot of colleagues about the books I’ve been reading in this class and a couple were considering to add them into their future reading lists. Let’s see where it goes from here! I may now have a new hobby to find books that are interesting that my colleagues would be interested in. No, I will not create a technical communicators book reading club (but I probably will).

The Long Tail…

When I read Chris Anderson’s presentation, The Long Tail, the first slides immediately made me think about Spotify and Netflix. They do such a great job of suggesting things based off of our interests because we have a nearly “unlimited selection” that “is revealing truths about
what (we) consumers want…” (Slide 4). One of the best things that has come to the world of consumer media is that I can get the media almost immediately instead of waiting for it to arrive.

Three Examples

  1. Movie date night with a girlfriend can be as easy as downloading a feature film in five minutes from
  2. DJ song request instantly bought and downloaded to play within minutes even at the same dance event
  3. Class project which requires a book which can be downloaded instantly and read on any device

Lastly, I love how digital technologies are available on most devices. It’s not like I need to have a specific device to use my content. As long as I have a multi-use device, I can read, listen, or watch what I download. It’s not like the past where I need to buy a DVD player to play movies or a CD player to listen to music. However, I’m worried that our multi-use devices will become nostalgic. Tonight, I get to watch a movie on DVD, which required unpacking my DVD player from my box. Maybe next week for nostalgia-sale, I’ll find my VHS player stored at my parents, blow the dust off the VHS tapes and watch The Lion King.


Anderson, C. (2004, December). The Long Tail. [Presentation Slides]. Retrieved from  

Rheingold, H. (2012). Net smart: How to thrive online. The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA

The Power of Living Online

After reading The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, I was inspired to write about a recent experience of mine with my new job.  As all of you know by now, I’m not tech savvy nor do I have a great understanding of social media.  With my new job, I’m tied to my laptop and am VERY quickly learning all about managing Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, creating a WordPress blog, and I’m on Twitter a lot.

Chris Anderson discussed how Amazon users rated an unpopular book well and caused a second-coming of success for a book called Touching the Void.  Something similar happened to me after special event held by my company last Thursday.  TRUE Studio offers “pop-up” yoga events in the city of Janesville.  Over the summer, TRUE Studio held seven rooftop yoga events called Yogabrews.  Each event was three hours long–one hour to register, set up your mat, and socialize, followed by an hour of yoga, and then a social hour afterwards where participants could have a glass of local beer with the proceeds donated to a local charity.  The same has been done recently with additional Yogabrews events, but this time it was with a Halloween-esque twist.  The events featured “glow” yoga.  The set up with similar, an hour before to socialize, and hour of yoga, and a wine/beer social afterwards.  This time, however, the room was set up with black lights and dance lights so folks could “glow” during yoga.

The first event brought in 23 people and was considered successful.  The second event that took place a week later brought in almost 40 people and it was quite amazing to see that many people “glowing” under the black lights.  During the balance portion of the yoga practice, I went up to the balcony with my phone to do a Facebook Live feed from TRUE Studio Janesville’s Facebook page.  Not very many people saw the feed while it was live, and I was really disappointed.  By morning, the video had been seen by over 400 people.  Today, the video has been seen by 1,232 people.  While I don’t work over the weekend, I’m still checking in on all of our accounts and get updates about activity on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Since Thursday, our Facebook has been visited by a heavy influx of people, TRUE Studio has been rated on Facebook 13 times by new members, classes are filling, and people are talking about us on social media.  I think the video I posted had an impact on this flurry of new activity.

At first I was leery about posting a Facebook Live feed.  The CEO and I recently had a phone conference with one of our consultants who said NEVER to post pictures or videos of classes because it could attract bad press and negative comments.  For example, yoga purists wouldn’t approve of the high-intensity music and light playing during yoga.  Many purists practice in total silence or just to a cello.  Our yoga philosophy is different, and I think it’s important for us to advertise all of the amazing new things we’re doing.  The new activity and positive things happening with TRUE Studio online is similar to Chris Anderson’s message in The Long Tail.



What Was Once Out of Reach is Now in my House!

Chris Anderson, in his article, “The Long Tail,” discusses the availability of obscure, lesser known, and low-demand movies, books, and music.  While movie theaters choose to show only movies with predictably high turnouts, Netflix can offer any movie regardless of popularity.  While Barns & Noble is a huge bookstore and can offer 130,000 titles, Amazon can offer 2.3 million (Anderson, 2004). 

As the manager of a band, this is something that really resonated with me.  In the 1980s and earlier, recording original music was very expensive and very much out of reach for common people.  Hopeful artists would solicit labels for a contract in hopes that the label would spring for the recording of an album. Studio time was very expensive and sound engineers were highly skilled.  Unfortunately, the only way to record original music, if a contract wasn’t in the works, was to buy studio time and expect to pay upwards of $100,000 for an album. Often, the only affordable studio time was in the middle of the night. Even more difficult was that the recording studios were mainly located in the music hubs such as Nashville and L.A. (Sound City, 2013).  Watch Sound City

Sound City is a documentary of the recording experience in the 1970s and 80s.  The studio of yesterday is very different from the studio of today.  It also discusses the closing of some legendary studios.

Today technology and the internet make it much easier for local artists to record their music and get it out to the people.  Programs like ProTools bring hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of hi-tech studio equipment into a private home.  Experts and novices alike use ProTools to produce music.  Rhapsody, CD Baby, iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, YouTube (to name a few) are tools that allow a small town band to be heard worldwide.  Unlike radio, these venues can host a much larger inventory of music simply because digital music doesn’t take up shelf space and the users can create their own playlists simultaneously. That means they aren’t confined by time (Anderson, 2013).  Not only do these venues suggest potential new music for a listener, but social networking allows listeners to spread their love of new music (Rheingold, 2014). 

How Does That Affect Little ‘Ole Us?

For the band that I manage, this new digital process and accessibility has allowed a group of high school kids with a ton of talent to record with a producer who has worked with Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Kesha, and more. Josh Stoll, from Northern Minnesota got a two year sound engineer degree from McNally Smith in Minneapolis.  As his internship, he worked under Dr. Luke in L.A. He returned to Minneapolis and started his own recording studio and his own band (Summertime Dropouts).  My son was recruited by Josh Stoll to be the lead guitarist for Summertime Dropouts.  Josh did all of their own tracking and sent the tracks via Dropbox to his friend in L.A. (Clint Gibbs) who is Dr. Luke’s assistant.  Gibbs acted as Executive Producer on the Summertime Dropouts CD’s.  The mixed tracks were then sent (again via Dropbox) to New York where Darren Vermaas mastered them.  Finally, Vermaas created a digital image of the CD and sent it out for replication.  Within two weeks, 1000 CD’s were delivered to Josh’s door.  Of course I bi-passed the creation of the artwork, but that was digital as well. Interestingly enough, the songs were tracked at my home in central Wisconsin rather than at a recording studio in a major city.  So, because of technology today, musicians in central Wisconsin were able to access the expertise of people on each coast to create their music. 


The next step is promotion.  Using social media, bands can promote their music themselves without having to spend money on agents and promoters.  Because of the tech savvy skills of Summertime Dropouts, their music has been featured on MTV, Rich Kids of Beverly Hills, Portlandia, and much more. 

How has that affected the band I manage?  I met Josh Stoll through my son.  We were able to hire him (using a family-friend rate) to track our music.  Josh was our Executive Producer.  We then sent our music to New York for mastering and then submitted to digital retailers.  We get a check every couple of months for the online purchases of our music.  This is something that could not have happened to a young local band 25 or 30 years ago.  Technology has changed the music industry and likewise, it’s changed the movie and book industry as well.  I am attaching links to music by Summertime Dropouts and the band that I manage.  Since a recording studio can by housed in a computer tower, listen to see if you can hear a quality difference between these songs and something that would have been tracked in a major recording studio.  Songs must have a much higher demand to land radio airtime. However, due to the ability to get our music out globally using the internet, the band I manage is getting airplay all over the world and most recently was picked up by a radio station in California.  It’s simply amazing to see how our reach is much different today. The format of digital music is getting easier and more popular than ever.  I used to hold out and buy hard copy music from the music store simply because I wanted to see the photos and get the information that could only be found inside a CD.  Today, that information is rampant all over the internet.  Instead of listening to a new CD and browsing the pages of a CD insert, I can listen to new music while I sift through uploaded articles and photos of my favorite bands.

Summertime Dropouts


It’s simply amazing to see how our reach is much different today. The format of digital music is getting easier and more popular than ever.  I used to hold out and buy hard copy music from the music store simply because I wanted to see the photos and get the information that could only be found inside a CD.  Today, that information is rampant all over the internet.  Instead of listening to a new CD and browsing the pages of a CD insert, I can listen to new music while I sift through uploaded articles and photos of my favorite bands.


Anderson, Chris. (2004). “The long tail.” Change This. Issue 10.01. Creative Commons. Stanford, CA.

Grohl, David. (2013). Sound City. Roswell Films.

Rheingold, Howard. (2014).  Net Smart: How to thrive online. MIT Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts.

An Ornery Answer

I’ve generally agreed with most of the readings so far this semester, but this week I found myself skeptical on a few points (perhaps my “crap detector” was overly sensitive this week).

Closeness in Online Communities

Rheingold enthusiastically presents the benefits of online communities, but most of his examples of truly strong communities had non-digital aspects. He talks about having dinner with people he met online, having a picnic for 150 people in an online group, and raising money to support families going through cancer. Interestingly, this actually fits with the first definition given by Merriam-Webster for community: “a unified body of individuals, such as people with common interests living in a particular area.” This understanding of community has a physical and even geographic dimension.

To be clear, Rheingold does distinguish between networks of “weak ties” and communities. He writes, “To me, the difference between an online social network and a community has to do with the quality, continuity, and degree of commitment in the relationships between members” (pg. 163). I agree that there is a difference between your broad social network and your actual community; however, I’m still not sure how to reconcile the physical/geographic aspect of community included in Webster’s definition and in Rheingold’s examples with a solely online group. I think it is certainly valid to develop online relationships and strong groups that support each other without ever meeting in person. Turkle has numerous examples of this as she discusses people absorbed in Second Life, online games, or other digital worlds. Yet as Rheingold’s own examples prove, his most meaningful online relationships also have an offline connection.


Herriman Community Newsletter.

Managing Your Network

Rheingold’s point about social capital and cultivating your network certainly resonates with most professional development advice today. He discusses reciprocity and doing things for others as an investment for when you later need help yourself. I approach networking a little skeptically because I don’t just want to be using people for my own gain. According to this Forbes article, I’m not alone, and studies have shown that networking leaves some people, especially those lower in the power hierarchy, feeling “physically dirty and morally impure” (Morin).

I think networking is effective when people are bound by a common goal, have a more nuanced  relationship, or have a mutually beneficial situation. Rheingold argues for the return on investment for “weak ties,” but it seems to me that most weak ties never produce tangible outcomes (although arguably it takes only that single “weak tie” to help you land your dream job). A professor once advised me to connect with people on LinkedIn only who I knew well enough that I would be comfortable introducing them to someone else. In the sprawl of friends-of-friends, that’s a tough line to maintain, but I think it’s a good standard. Unlike Rheingold’s approach of collecting contacts even beyond Dunbar’s rule of 150, I think we can embrace the age of networking without just ballooning our friends list or using others.

The Power of “The Long Tail”

Rheingold introduces the concept of the “long tail,” and Chris Anderson adds as the first rule of the long tail to make everything available. This assumes that both the “trash” and the “hits” maintain their individual value independently of each other. However, I think that making more available can actually detract from the value of the “hits” by making them harder to find and decreasing overall usability. Anderson hints at this in his third rule and with the example of, but he comes at it from the angle of leveraging the hits that people like to filter and identify obscure music that they might also like.

I think this approach misses the heart of the issue. People don’t want to wade through the long tail — they want to jump right to the best. The current economic model of elevating the hits and ignoring the long tail serves as an initial filter to identify what people are most likely to want. Yes, there are casualties as high-quality things are undervalued and fall into obscurity because of outside factors, such as marketing and promotional money, instead of based on their own merit. However, limiting the number of options instead of making all available helps cut through potential choice paralysis. As in the famous jam experiment, people buy more when they have fewer options (Tugend). This returns to the idea that we discussed earlier this semester, where technical writers serve as mapmakers or navigators. Consumers are looking not just for everything possible, but for direction toward what is best. An overwhelming number of options can actually make it harder to find the greatest hits and detract from the overall experience.  


Behavioural Econcomics.



Behavioural economics ideas that you can use in UX design. Retrieved from

Community. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2016, from

Morin, A. (2014, Sept. 11). How to network without feeling dirty. Forbes. Retrieved from

Tugend, A. (2010, Feb. 26). Too many choices: A problem that can paralyze. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Collective Intelligence: Content Curation + Social Collaboration

For all the negative criticism the internet receives, it has enabled us to bring together more minds, thoughts, and ideas in one collective space than we ever thought possible. Howard Rheingold’s (2012) examination of collective intelligence combines content curators and collaborators, essentially a digital “think tank” that is available for the masses. “If you tag, favorite, comment, wiki edit, curate, or blog, you are already part of the web’s collective intelligence” (Net Smart, p. 148)

I’m intrigued with “content curator” from Rheingold’s (2012) chapter on participation, the process of collecting, organizing, and sharing information. This filtering process not only narrows down information, but it also allows you to become a sort of expert. Once you become a seasoned curator, you’ll build trust with followers who will likely contribute more to the conversation. With this collection of content and knowledge, you can share with others to create a collective knowledge. Because we know that “two heads are better than one” to solve a problem.

Social network sites, not only limited to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or a blog, but also anywhere that you’re able to contribute via a comment or share feature is considered social collaboration. Rheingold says the important elements of collective intelligence is combining participation and collaboration skills from virtual communities (p. 161).

collaboration concept. Chart with keywords and icons

Elements of collaboration. Courtesy of

Social collaboration and collective intelligence is how we’re able to create and improve everything. Matt Ridley, author of the Rational Optimist, says “collective intelligence produce the items we use in our everyday lives” (Collective Intelligence, 2015, YouTube). For example, improving cell phone technology. I remember the first cell phone I had was about the size of a walkie talkie and I could only use it for calling and texting. Through collaboration and collective intelligence, cell phones became compact and added technology to take digital pictures, connect to the internet, send photos via text,  GPS mapping, and so much more. Ridley and others share their ideas about collective intelligence in the video Collective Intelligence (start at the 2:40 mark).

What I found most interesting about collective intelligence is how it has enabled more people to participate and contribute to sites such as Wikipedia, crowdsourcing and crowdfunding (


Rheingold, H. (2012). Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA.

“Collective Intelligence.” (5 Jan. 2015). OnEnglish Online. Retrieved October 29, 2016, from

A Networked World

I found Howard Rheingold’s (2012) chapter on networks in Net Smart to be interesting and extremely applicable to the discussion of social media’s use in the professional world. While it seems obvious that social media (especially sites like LinkedIn) has been beneficial in extending and utilizing networks to obtain professional opportunities, what Rheingold makes clear is that social media can also be very effective in use by companies and organizations to communicate with their users/buyers.

Although he does not specifically mention the use of social media by organizations, his discussion of “social capital” clearly can be applied to such uses. Social capital is the trust and reliability one creates (in this case online) through acts of goodwill, reciprocity, compassion, etc. This could be an extremely useful tool for companies and organizations to use to improve their image and create a “network” of satisfied customers. By using social media to quickly and compassionately respond to concerns or criticisms, organizations can build “social capital” with the public, which will directly correlate to a better image and more revenue.

This has been my argument for the use of social media by businesses for a while; my paper for Rhetorical Theory last semester focused on utilizing social media in just this way. One way in which social media could become more of a hindrance for companies, however, is the idea of user-generated content. Some people are advocating for  the ability of users to create their own documents “on behalf” of the company – much like a wiki. The danger of this was examined a bit in Rheingold’s discussion of Wikipedia; there is a distinct possibility and danger of “trolls” and those who would (either on purpose or unintentionally) post incorrect or damaging content. This possibility has poses a bigger risk when discussing the documents for an organization versus Wikipedia. The incorrect or misleading information could end up decreasing their social capital, as the reader may not know where the information came from.

There are probably many people out there who would still advocate for such content, but in my opinion, social media should be used by businesses to create a conversation with their users/customers, not to let the public create for them. By creating social capital for themselves by promptly responding to their consumer base and maintaining a positive ethos for themselves, businesses (especially big companies) can certainly benefit from utilizing social media.

Using Social Media the RIGHT Way

Last night, my husband and I were out eating dinner before a concert we were attending. My husband was on his phone (as always). I’m giving him the stink-eye, he looks up at me, then back down at his phone – completely ignoring my blatant irritation at his phone use. In a fit of rage, I reach across the table and grab the phone away, hiding it beside me, much as a mother might have to do with an unruly child. 

This story is fairly typical of many of my interactions with, not only my husband, but many of my friends and family as well. I am one who avidly utilizes themti5otiwoda5mtc4nde3mtyy internet and my phone, but I have learned that there is a time and place for it. Sitting at dinner with your spouse or friend is not the time for it. When someone is trying to carry on a conversation with you, that is not the time for it. It has become an endless frustration that so many people seem unable to look away from their devices and connect with the real world – and I’m sure I am guilty of it as well. It can be hard to separate yourself from the nagging urge to check your texts/Facebook/email. I have experienced it as well, but much like Howard Rheingold (2012) outlines in “Net Smart” I have learned to focus my attention when necessary.

I am a huge advocate for the social abilities that technology has made possible. As someone who suffers from (at times debilitating) depression and social anxiety, the ability to “connect” while not being physically close to someone is something that has helped me tremendously. Additionally, there is such support out there (on the web) for people who suffer similar challenges, the communities that the internet and social media make possible can be endlessly beneficial. However, as Rheingold eloquently put it, “the same activity can be a lifeline for one person and a distracting compulsion to others” (2012, p. 8). This entirely sums up the differences in the evolution of use of social media between my husband and myself.

As a young adult I, like many other young adults, thought myself to be exceedingly important and felt the urge to post even the most mundane and uninteresting things to social media. As I learned to navigate these media, I began to see their propensity for good as well as their pitfalls. That was when I began to change the way I used such technologies, creating communities of trust and comfort while eliminating the more banal and unimportant posts from my profiles. This has helped me immensely in building a sense of belonging and allowing me to more easily cope with my circumstances.

My husband has a long history of becoming addicted to video-games, to the detriment of his academic and professional life at times. This is why, when he spends our dinner staring at his phone, I get afraid that it will become a compulsion he will not be able to stop. For the two of us, our technology and its social affordances creates two very different worlds.

This is why I think that Rheingold’s idea of “controlling attention” is so vital. While technology and social media can be extremely beneficial in connecting with others and creating/maintaining communities, if let run wild, they can be distractions that keep us from living our lives in the moment.


Both photos courtesy of 

Thinking about thinking about thinking about…

In several of the readings we’ve encountered this semester, we’ve encountered sad stories of parents neglecting children on playgrounds in favor of their smart phones, of adolescents exhausted by the demands of social media, and people who have nearly died from information overload. The theme we are seeing over and over again seems to be that technology – and social media in particular – is a one-way train to the downfall of society. And we are riding it gleefully.

I’ve found myself quite frustration by these doomsayers. Sure, technology has its downsides, but it overall has a net positive if treated properly. The same can be said for other communication technologies that were heralded in their days of harbingers of the end of civilization. For instance, for Socrates, reading itself was a threat to society. In fact, in Net Smart, Howard Rheingold identifies a cycle wherein 1) a technology arises to massively increase communication efficiency, 2) that technology causes an information crisis and panic about the future of society, and 3) humans develop methods to handle the new technology and information it presents (p. 100). This cycle occurred for writing, books, the telegraph, the telephone, etc.

The question then becomes what tools do we need to develop to adjust to the current information crisis? The doomsayers argue that the only solution is an abstinence-only, zero-tolerance policy toward these technologies–quitting them cold turkey. To Rheingold, this is not the answer. “Human agency, not just technology is key,” he argues, “teaching people how to practice more mindful mediated communication seems the most feasible remedy” (p. 56-7).

Rheingold argues that the solution already lies within our own minds: metacognition (thinking about thinking) and mindfulness (paying attention to the way you pay attention) (36). By exercising these skills, we will be able to filter out all but the most essential information and focus our attention productively to complete goals.

Metacognition, or thinking about thinking, is so powerful that, according to Rheingold, just thinking about thinking about thinking starts change the neural networks in the brain. It takes advantage of the brain’s neuroplasticity to teach the brain new tricks.

Mindfulness, or paying attention to the way you pay attention, allows us to develop control over our attentiveness such that we actively choose to perform activities relevant to our goals and intentions. It allows us to “attune to the part of [our] information environment that matters most, and tune out what is irrelevant, at least for the purpose of [our goals” (p. 42-3).

Getting started, Rheingold says, is as simple as breathing. Seriously, the first step in creating attention awareness is to pay attention to breathing (p. 45). From this humble starting point, “attention processes… can be strengthened through exercise” (p. 62). He argues that small steps, repeated at regular intervals become habit–in other words, repetition of mindful cognitive tasks start shaping the brain’s neural networks in ways we want. By the end of all this, we become capable of focusing only on information that helps us reach our goals, while filtering out all of the other “noise” that distracts us away from our intentions.

I am personally quite familiar with mindfulness. I’m still an amateur, but I have applied it to my life in a number of ways, including improving my eating and spending habits. I am more aware of my posture, and I even try to be mindful of the way I walk–I am trying to consciously correct a slight limp that I didn’t even notice I had until I started paying attention.

Mindfulness is a very powerful tool that enables you to make conscious decisions rather than moving through life on “autopilot.” However, after reading these chapters of Net Smart, I would like to pursue mindfulness further, perhaps even beginning meditation. I have a very active (i.e., disruptive) mind, and I would like to develop tools to quiet it or, even better, harness that activity to complete goals.

This is When Everything Changes: Cluetrain and the Technological Experience

If a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

The only thing that’s changed about this adage is that now we have the ability to Google the answer with the press of a few keys. Working in that atmosphere, where technology and the Internet have allowed us all to access an endless amount of information on a variety of subjects

Reading through the 95 theses from the Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business As Usual by Levine, Locke, Searls & Weinberger is an interesting little web page to look over. It’s full of a lot of sage advice and theses that I find to be completely obvious. Though there is power in making statements so I guess I can see the point in creating a very pointed guide for companies to read through.

Image result for puzzled face

Source: (

Let’s break some of it down, shall we! It starts out by stating:

“A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.”

At first glance, this is all standard fare. Yes, we are now more of a global community. The Internet has allowed us to friend, follow, and tweet at anyone around with the world with WiFi and a digital social life.

More than that, we are discovering and inventing new ways to communicate and convey information. This idea is particularly important, to our greater class discussion and to the Manifesto. Outside of the limited amount of countries that actively limit the scope of the Internet for their citizens, surfing the Net is such an individual experience, mostly because no one can truly lay claim to it. We all have the ability to create blogs, websites, videos, music, and a variety of content, post it, and have it read 1,000 times before lunch. This freedom is something that is exclusive to the Web. As Americans, we live in a country where the Freedoms of Speech and Expression are protected, but as always, putting that into action inevitably causes friction with other people, groups, religious organizations, and/or the government.

The online space, as much as it is open to manipulation and abuse, is viewed as safer. We have the ability to hide behind screen names and anonymous messages, giving us the option of both utter honesty and utter depravity.

When the opening to the manifesto talks about relevant knowledge is where I drew up short. This might just be a personal opinion of mine, but what information can you not deem relevant? Yes, time period, setting, and other factors provide context. Your office job is not the place to talk about that rash you have, unless you work in a hospital or urgent care center. But that knowledge will come in handy eventually, like all knowledge.

What’s relevant to businesses is to understand that customers are people who cannot be neatly pressed into columns, lines, and graphs on a spreadsheet.

Image result for spreadsheet death

Source: (

As you have probably heard from a parent, professor, elderly person on the street, Turkle, the age of the Internet, mobile devices and social networking has brought about many detrimental changes to our society. We do not learn or retain information in the same way. We do not connect with friends and neighbors like we used to. We can’t understand how vital it is to connect with people face-to-face in order to be an actual human being.

They have done their part by creating a dialogue about this topic. It is now up to us, those of us working with technology now, and those of us who come later, reared in the cradle of mobile devices and online communities.

What’s relevant to us as content creators, digital consumers, and technical communicators, what we must all understand is that we do not live in binary opposition with technology. It is not either or. The human experience has to be allowed to evolve. Change comes when we’re placed into new situations. Technology has affected the way we relate to each other, yes. It has driven businesses to look online for customers. It has caused innumerable automobile accidents and driven progress in health care, defense, travel, and commerce.

Levine, Locke, Searls & Weinberger work to clarify the position of the audience as autonomous agents who do not need companies to tell them what to want anymore.

So where do you fall on the spectrum of this argument? Do you feel that the rise of texting, Facebook, Snapchat, and every other social networking site and digital communications tool has led to the simplification of meaning? How much does what you buy have to do with the method/medium you are exposed to it?

Critical Thoughts on Attention, Crap Detection and Participation in Digital Media

Attention Deficiency

As I begin to write this blog, I am already distracted by several tabs open on my browser, an audible ring of a new text message, and a calendar reminder that my favorite radio program begins in five minutes. Carr in Net Smart (Rheingold, 2012) explains these interruptions or distractions are causing us to lose “deep, sustained focus” (p. 52). These distractions or lack of attention are dissuading our intention to achieve a goal, in this case, write this blog.

Rheingold uses Sherry Turkle’s 15 years of research to amass ways to become more mindful of how we’re using digital media and participating in online activities. Although he cites research that our use of digital media is detrimental to society and weakens our capacity to think critically, he also provides solutions to increase our aptitude and critical thinking skills.

Learning how to be a Crap Detective 

Reading Rheingold’s (2012) chapter about deciphering websites’ credibility supports my pet peeve of friends believing and sharing fake news stories and Facebook privacy policies. The proliferation of false news stories promotes our own inability to think about the content’s truthfulness and impact to others. I refer to to determine whether a story is true or not and post the link online. I have recently read several posts about Facebook releasing all our personal information  and photos. This was crap four years ago and people are still sharing it. I re-shared the truth via and warned my friends that I would stop following their feeds if they continued to post the crap. 

Eight years ago I worked for an online media startup where we used SEO to get a website to rank authentically within the first three pages of Google, but Rheingold suggests that we look beyond the first 30 search results to find more credible websites. Does this mean the crappy spam sites are doing a better job of SEO than the credible counterparts? 

Other sites to determine the validity of digital content are, and Note the url extension as well this is one predictor of reliable information; however, any website can choose a .org or .net, but .edu or .gov. The latter two must be verified an educational institution or government entity. 

Participation Online

There are multiple levels of participatory engagement from reading content, sharing a link, interactive gaming sites, “likes” to clicking on a hypertext link. How we participate also contributes to how we curate content. Rheingold (2012) explained, “The voluntary curation contribution of every person who ever puts a link on a Web site, blog, or tweet is what enables Google to…rank the sites in order of popularity” (p.127). And with that popularity, we provide information that becomes a powerful dictator of knowledge or stupidity. 

Is the Internet a cesspool of folklore and truthiness?

Or The Internet is full of adventure and can we learn to love and live with it?

It takes time to understand the fluency of the Internet. The wool is never pulled over my eyes when it comes to the junk the Internet has to offer. However, how can you blame the Internet for tricking us? Anyone with a connection can post whatever they want to get our attention. In the book, Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, Howard Rheingold says that “the web undermines authority (by enabling anybody to publish)” (p. 89). The amount of content waiting for our attention is enormous. Whenever I see dubious posts that talk about folklore or “truthy” on the social media, I do a quick search on Google to see if the content is real or fake.

Sometimes Google search results give me a article. I tend to believe the Snopes website because it has been around busting urban folkore and “truthiness” for over twenty years. If you think I made that up, check out Rob Walker’s profile on the person behind the most well-known website for clearing up the internet’s (dis)information. Because of the amount of information out there these days, “we need Snopes more than ever” (Walker, 2016).

In the Futurama episode, “Attack of the Killer App,” the characters get eyePhones installed in their eye sockets, which the device mimics features found on actual iPhones. Bender, the narcissistic robot, uses his eyePhone for the purpose of getting attention through the device. He posts on the social media site, Twitcher (a parody of Twitter), about his kayaking trip around the world while sitting comfortably at a pizzeria.


Screenshots and captions from “Attack of the Killer App” from Futurama.

Bender then says, “Can you believe 50,000 idiots swallow that crap?” and he accidentally sends that message to his followers. This example is a great one to showcase that people will believe anything and somehow Bender amassed a following of people who believe he is an authoritative figure. In a sense, do we believe what people say online as true or do we need to step back and question the content we consume?

Working out that skepticism muscle

I think it’s time we start working on our skepticism muscle. I propose using this analogy: work out your skeptical muscle on the internet by critically thinking about the content you consume. You will get better exercising that skepticism muscle every time you get a chance to.

In my case, I research a lot of information and gauge the data by how well the website presents itself and if it is corroborated by other reputable sources. Rheingold says “journalists talk about ‘triangulating’ by checking three different, credible sources” (p. 79). I know whatever’s on the web should be taken with caution and I question everything before I believe it to be true. However, critical thinking should apply not only for the internet, but anything else posted elsewhere, such as the yellow and tabloid journalism peddled at checkout aisles in grocery stores.

During my earliest days using the Internet, I learned quickly how to tell what was true and fake. Rheingold says that “age can be a factor in crap-detection fluency, experience and engagement may be more important” (p. 84) I agree that it takes experience and years of reading online content to gather that kind of heuristic for detecting what is junk and what to believe. “The danger of … credulity is made possible by digital media” says Rheingold, and there is something we can do about it: “make skepticism [our] default” (p. 77).

Rheingold includes Dan Gillmor’s five “Principles of Media Consumption” (pp. 95-96) as a good guide for figuring out how to work that skepticism muscle in order to process information better and not take anything for granted.

  • Be Skeptical
  • Exercise Judgment
  • Open Your Mind
  • Keep Asking Questions
  • Learn Media Techniques

Gillmor says that we need everyone to understand that “we are doing a poor job of ensuring that consumers and producers of media in a digital age are equipped for these tasks [of consuming media appropriately].” Additionally, Gillmor and I agree that in order to build these skills, “this is a job for parents and schools” and unfortunately “a teacher who teaches critical thinking in much of the United States risks being attacked as a dangerous radical.” Luckily, in my educational upbringing, I was told to question and research everything before I decide to accept it.

Can we patch the human?

Lastly, I am fascinated how people could fall for most well-known digital scam: phishing. In my last job I worked with an information security team as a technical writer. One of the security measures the team would test for was phishing and my co-workers were good at hacking the human since most of the computer systems were already hardened with security patches. How easy it it to fall for the everyday phishing email? Very easy. You’d be surprised that despite all of the security efforts made to secure systems so hackers can’t get in, people always were the weakest chain.

It boggles me how anyone can be so trusting to give away passwords!

In essence how can we train ourselves to figure out scams or fake authoritative figures via email? Can we “social engineer-proof” the average person to catch subtle hints everywhere on the Internet to be aware of? I think it is possible to help everyone to detect these types of scams instead of relying on software to filter the scams out of our email.

We need to educate people early on how to detect these kinds of things on the Internet. I would hope that these days, not only parents, educators teach online literacy. That doesn’t mean scaring kids and teens away from the internet, but teach helpful skills in consuming media like using Gillmor’s five principles. Whenever a friend or family member posts a hoax on Facebook, I check it and decide if it’s worthy to explain to them that they posted junk information. I gently prod them by posting a link to, like what Rheingold mentions we do to debunk online rumors (p. 81) because it’s important to stop the junk from misinforming other unfortunate souls.

To me, I liken it to telling people Comic Sans and Papyrus are terrible fonts and you need to use something like Gothic or Perpetua or Cambria. You don’t need to suffer awful junk from the digital world. We can do better.


Gillmor, D. (2008, December 26). Principles of a new media literacy. [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Rheingold, H. (2012). Net smart: How to thrive online. The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA

Verrone, P. (Writer). (2010). Attack of the killer app. [Television series episode]. in Cohen, D. X. (Executive producer). Futurama. New York, NY: Comedy Central.

Walker, R. (2016, October 19). How the truth set Snopes free. Webby Awards. Retrieved from

Information – It’s Not All That

The abundance of available information at our fingertips, simply a Google Search away, is changing the way we do things.  It changes the way we spend our time, the way we learn, the way we read, and the way we think.  Sherry Turkle, in Alone Together, states that because of this, the quality of information is suffering.  People get quick email answers, quick Google Search answers, quick trivia, and don’t take the time to write or read extended written works or books.


Because information is abundant and fast, because anyone with a smartphone can upload video and details about an event taking place, journalists have new competition.  Turkle says that people are losing their respect for a long, in depth answers.  More than that, people lose their patience for quality information. I recently was drawn to a news article by a headline.  An event had taken place, and I wanted more information, so I clicked on the article and was taken to an online news website.  The article was poorly written, disjointed, and riddled with misspellings, grammatical errors, and sentence fragments.  It was literally painful to read and the event I was reading about took a backseat to my horror at the “news” article.  How could I trust the details if there was no effort put into the publishing of this article.  A simple read-through could have fixed a multitude of errors.  I commented on the article, expressing my disappointment that the author couldn’t proof read his own work before publishing his article.  I pointed out that the errors in the article distracted me from the content and I would not return to this particular website for news anymore.  The author replied to my comment.  He defended his article and said that he was on the scene when he posted it.  He wrote the article on a tablet, which made typing difficult.  He didn’t take time to proofread because someone else may have uploaded the article first.  He prides himself on being first to get the news out. 


That incident was my first revelation that the quality of information was at stake because of the demand for instant knowledge.  I was reminded of this as I read Howard Rheingold’s response in Net Smart to Nicholas Carr’s assertion that we rely so heavily on internet searches, that we no longer have the capacity to “know.” It’s true.  I find myself less inclined to memorize information since I can pull it up in an instant.  Today, I was packing up books that I had had for years; books that I saved in case I ever needed to know about the topics.  As I was packing them to donate, I thought about what would happen if the internet went down for any amount of time.  The books about math, electricity, art, history, etc. are all waiting until I need to look something up, except I haven’t touched them in years.  We are very dependent on the internet for our knowledge.  On one hand, the internet can go with us everywhere.  Therefore, we have knowledge whenever and wherever we need it.  Frighteningly, we’re dependent on the internet for far more than information.  What if something happens that takes down the internet for a significant amount of time.  We won’t know anything.  Carr is right in this point – the internet is making us stupid.

In addition to poor quality information, we have to contend with inaccurate information and purposefully deceiving information.  Many colleges and universities do not recognize Wikipedia as a legitimate source because of the high risk of faulty information. It used to have an open policy which means that any person, even if they did not have a Wikipedia account, could edit, add, or change information, making that information unreliable.  They have changed that policy, however, limiting and approving edits (Wikipedia Editing Policy). Therefore, since we, as readers and users, have to be able to identify when we are getting solid, or destructive information, we can’t check our brains at the door. Memorizing and “knowing” might not be as prevalent as in the past, but using reason, verifying facts, cross referencing are all becoming new skills. Perhaps the internet is teaching us to develop out critical thinking skills. 


Rheingold, Howard. (2012). Net Smart. The MIT Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Turkle, Sherry. (2011).  Alone Together. Basic Books. New York, NY.

How to Avoid Drowning in Information Overload

In Net Smart, Howard Rheingold recognizes the same trend as Sherry Turkle of the historically unprecedented amount of available information through the Internet. However, Rheingold confronts the challenge of the volume and velocity of digital media with much more optimism. He sees it as a huge opportunity, if people understand the right strategies for managing it.

In his Tedx Talk “Attention: The New Currency,” Sree Sreenivasan argues that getting and keeping attention is critical for success in this world of overwhelming volume. Sreenivasan says, “It isn’t just that our attention spans are getting smaller and shorter but that there’s so much more stuff coming at us and so much more stuff competing for our attention.”

Rheingold makes the case that one way to handle the volume is increased mindfulness about what is getting our attention. He argues that the issue isn’t that multitasking is rewiring our brains, but rather that we do it without even being aware of it. The Washington Post article “Is the Internet Giving Us All ADHD?” suggests that although rates of ADHD are steadily increasing and the Internet facilitates behavior often recognized as ADHD, there is no evidence for a causal link.  As the volume of information on the Internet continues to explode, we don’t need to fear possible brain damage, but rather be mindful about where we are putting our attention. Sreenivasan quotes Les Hinston, former publisher of the Wall Street Journal, as saying, “The scarcest resource of the 21st century is human attention.”

However, simply knowing where our attention is going is only the first step in managing information overload. In Chapter 2, Rheingold suggests a dashboard approach to “infotention.” Savvy users organize and manage content in a dashboard style so that they can easily access the most relevant and useful information. When you’ve decided how you want to prioritize your attention, the dashboard approach helps you organize the information that you’ve decided is worth your time.

A third strategy is relying on others as curators. Rheingold tells several cautionary tales about bogus websites and warns about the need for “crap detection.” However, being a “detective” and investigating the source for every website that you visit just makes the volume even more overwhelming. In my experience, leisure users rarely go through the trouble to research a site’s author and dig for source material. Instead, most users have the online news site that they always read, and they trust it — no further investigation necessary. I haven’t been able to find a comprehensive study, but I’m curious about the percentage of time that people spend online on just a handful of favorite sites. I’m guessing that for most people, the majority of their time online is on just a couple of sites that they have deemed as passing the crap detection test.

Beyond curating your own list of favorite sites, people turn to social curation. Just as Google uses the PageRank algorithm (Rheingold, pg. 83) to boost search results based on links from other sources, so we turn to the wisdom of the crowd to help us determine which information in the sea of possibilities should get our attention. I saw this article “Social Curation in Audience Communities” about how a Finnish newspaper deemed the participation of their readers in”liking” and sharing articles as one of the most critical factors to their success and how they used strategies to begin leveraging this social curation. The article includes the statistic that up to 75% of the online news consumed by American audiences is forwarded through email or social networking sites. You could argue that this is because of peer pressure, the desire to read what our friends are reading, or other social motivators, but I think it’s also a coping mechanism to handle the volume of information available. When there are too many options, one way to decide is to take the recommendation of others. I think it’s the same as asking your dinner date what you’re at a new restaurant and trying to pick from a huge menu.

Finally, Rheingold pushes us to go one step further: “Google itself is not the curator; we are. Every time a person references a link, they help to curate the Web.” (pg. 127). After we’ve waded through the huge amount of information and deemed what is reliable and attention-worthy, we can participate by becoming the curators. Theses 72 in the Cluetrain Mainfesto gets at this: “We like this new marketplace much better. In fact, we are creating it.” As a community of curators, we’re no longer just consumers of corporate rhetoric, but we are empowered to determine value for ourselves.


Three sails to staying afloat in information overload. Drawing from Coloring Son

Actually, Rheingold’s principles for being a “filter blogger” bear a surprising resemblance to what we do as technical writers. We take on a huge amount of information and distill it for what is important. Although technical writing then moves to the next step of content creation, it begins with managing and curating available information. We daily practice the skills of culling information and can appreciate the wealth of opportunities offered by the Internet without being swept away.


Dewey, C. (2015, March 25). Is the Internet giving us all ADHD?. Washington Post. Retrieved from

Sreevnivasan, S. (2015, April 20). Attention: The new currency.” Tedx Broadway.

Villi, M. (2012). Social curation in audience communities: UDC (user-distributed content) in the networked media ecosystem. Journal of Audience and Reception Studies. 9.2. Retrieved from

#92 Y2K… Wow, That Took Me Back

I found cluetrain’s 95 Theses an exhaustive list of pretty much any and all situations that could possibly be linked to how “the market” is changing because of technology.  I read along the list finding myself curious and in mostly agreement with the items on the list.  When I got to #92 it dawned on me that this list is outdated and I checked the publishing date.  Towards the bottom of the list, it says “Companies are spending billions of dollars on Y2K. Why can’t they hear this market timebomb ticking? The stakes are even higher.”  That made me think: How different would this list be if it were written seventeen years into the future?  Would many of these items remain the same or would the utter onslaught of burgeoning technology render the list useless?  Perhaps it wouldn’t be useless, but I think it would look a bit different.

I’d like to reflect on what technology and forms of media I was using during Y2K.  I was in sixth grade and twelve years old.  On New Year’s Eve 1999 I was at a hotel with my family and a lot of their friends we went camping with every summer plus all of their kids.  Luckily, many of us were around the same age so it was a very fun New Year’s Eve.  I don’t recall understanding exactly what Y2K was, but I knew that 2000 was going to be a big deal.  I was too young to understand the fear of the doomsday preppers and people’s concern that technology wouldn’t be able to comprehend the number 2000 and the world was going to blow up.  The technology I was using as a twelve year old sixth grader included a grey discman with stickers all over it, a Gateway home computer without internet, and a TV with a VCR.  I had never heard of e-mail let alone could I even contemplate social networking and what technology and emerging media looks like today.

Image result for discman

These days, my life is inundated with technology and the way it affects the market and business as a whole.  As I’ve been discussing during this semester, I just started a new position and am now the marketing and communications manager for a fitness company called TRUE Studio.  Being involved in so much technical communications has been very overwhelming this first week.  I have taken over not only the company’s three corporate Facebook accounts, but their Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, corporate e-mails, and am learning different platforms that I am totally unfamiliar with.  Hootsuite, MindBody, Constant Contact…just to name a few.  It’s amazing how much technology is required to remain viable as a business.

The one concept that did resonate with me from the cluetrain reading was the fact that they pointed out that end users and consumers should be viewed as human beings and not simply part of various demographic groups.  I think that’s important for a business person to consider.  The desired audience should be viewed as a collective of people with individual and unique experiences and not simply a cluster of folks who may or may not react similarly to marketing and communication techniques.


Culture + Communication + Humans + Design

Technology can go only so far as to connecting us together in a virtual way. Thanks to technology, we are separated further and further away from other humans. When was the last time that you spent more time talking with a person instead of communicating through a device? Bernadette Longo says that “[p]eople value human relations. We want to feel connected to other people” (Longo, p. 156). Yet it’s funny that more and more recently, we are interacting through electronic devices instead of face-to-face.

I love the idea of using technology to communicate quickly and easily. I admit that I spend more time making plans via text message with my friends instead of calling someone up or talking to them in person. As we speak, my friends and I are discussing travel plans for next weekend. Questions arise from: “Are we staying at an Airbnb?” to “Should we rent a car or use Uber?” It used to be we’d sit together and get everything planned out. These days, it’s a group text. What will it be in the future?

I think we’ve been sold on a bad bill of communication goods because, despite the way technology has made our entire world more and more connected and easier to reach. According to Barry Thatcher, “[e]mail seems to have the distance and isolation of individualistic cultures” because it can’t even substitute for the personal interactions between people occupying the same physical space (Thatcher, p. 181). Nothing compares to it and yet somehow technology substitutes parts of that communication but not entirely everything.

In a sense, we are developing a virtual world that mimics the real one that we’ve created for physical items. Take for instance the iconography within digital environments. I have to refer to a well-known graphic artist: Susan Kare. She “helped establish the paradigm of icons as a navigational tool in graphical user interfaces.” “Her icons are metaphors” (Hurst, 2013). It’s interesting how we use metaphors for objects in a digital environment and sometimes they work really well and are accepted. However, sometimes there’s a metaphor which causes issues like the confused and misunderstood hamburger button.

On Culture

I’m really interested in how much thought goes into culture and rhetoric. Longo points out that we “technical communicators can learn about cultural contexts by studying language and the social relationships embedded in how people use it” (Longo p. 149). My favorite examples come from color symbolism.

What Colors Mean in Different Cultures

Infographic from Visually.

Living in the western world, I believe we forget that “our cultural values and beliefs are ‘normal’ and we notice what is different about other cultures” (Longo, p. 149). I think there is nothing wrong that ideas, feelings, symbols, and communication is different in other cultures but if we were aware of these cultural contexts, we would be better technical communicators. I’m pretty thankful that I have family in South America and that helps me understand a bit better how others function in different countries. I theorize with my mom about the technology shifts and how Colombia may skip steps in technology that the United States has first experienced.

The world works differently elsewhere and I’m okay with that. We technical communicators (as well as all humans) need to recognize the environment we enter when working in a cross-cultural setting. What may be culturally acceptable will not work well elsewhere. Barry Thatcher learned that difficulty while working as a technical communication teacher in Ecuador. I even learned that difficulty trying to talk with my cousins in Colombia because of the way they prefer communication over what I preferred. Thatcher says that “digital media simply do not fit all communicative and cultural traditions the same way.” It’s true in my experience, in Thatcher’s words, I “assumed that another culture will simply use digital media the same way” as we would like (Thatcher, p. 170). For me to communicate with my cousins, I had to find another digital technology that worked for them as well as for me. After years of struggling to find a perfect communication system, we finally nailed it down to WhatsApp. Now I can communicate with them quickly and I’m not as disconnected in their daily lives either. Even the phone calls are free.

Going along with technological advances, I’m not okay that the technology have-nots may get stuck behind. I understand that Rheingold’s model of an “inclusive community relies on economic and cultural gatekeepers” (Longo, p. 151) but technology creeps everywhere. Also, I want to point out that prisoners who have not been released for decades can fall behind on technology too.

Lastly, here’s a question for the ages

What’s our ethical use of our line of work? Can we find ways to communicate ethically as technical communicators? It was interesting to find a reference to Nazi Germany and technical communication. Katz (1992) found the “ethos of expediency” in a well-written memo, I want to counter that technical communication was also considered by the Allied Powers. I wrote in my own blog that “during WWII, Winston Churchill wrote a memo which asked for simpler language when communicating within his team. He wanted short and crisp messages, include headers, and remove ‘wolly’ phrases because he felt it was merely padding. Why? He didn’t want his staff to waste time reading long reports when there is a war going on” (Renteria, 2016).

I understand that we “technical communicators attend only to the utility and expediency of our work, we risk falling into the ethical trap of rational inhumanity in the same of creating universal good,” (Longo, 155) but we don’t have to think that everything we do for the sake of quickness and efficiency will be for used for evil. We do have the right to question how our work will be used and I would hope what we create in any kind of media will be used for the greater good.


Hurst, N. (2013, April 24). Meet the woman who launched a billion clicks. Wired Magazine. Retrieved from

Longo, B. (2010). Human+Machine Culture. In Spilka, R. (2010). Digital literacy for technical communication: 21st century theory and practice. (pp. 147-168). Taylor & Francis. New York, NY.

Renteria (2016, March 20). Writing for the Web – Simplify Your Words! WriteTechie. Retrieved from

Thatcher, B. (2010). Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures. In Spilka, R. (2010). Digital literacy for technical communication: 21st century theory and practice. (pp. 169-198). Taylor & Francis. New York, NY.

Audience and the Boundaries It Makes

As Part III of Digital Literacy for Technical Communication explains, there are a number of factor key to the field, chief among them is audience. This is nothing new. The idea of audience driven content has ruled the world for ages, well before literacy, digital or otherwise, became the rule instead of the exception.

Audience is everything.

We are taught to think about audience almost as soon as we begin formal schooling, maybe even before that. It’s built into the very systems that sell us the houses we live in, food we eat, cars we drive, and classes we attend. Technical communicators have to look at audience from the other side of the glass. It is so important to us and what we do as content managers, translators, technical writers and edits, UX designers, and professors.

The question becomes, how does that information serves us, as technical communicators, as citizens, and as audience members?

A powerful point is made in Chapter 8 of Spilka when it states,

“She [Longo] contends that the ‘idea of a universal community … is as illogical as it is compelling.’ As she puts it, ‘In order to form a community, some people have to be included and others excluded … Without boundaries, the community ceases to exist” (p. 201)

I had to stop and reread this sentence a second time because it rings with so much truth. The idea of community has been expanded as a result of ever increasing technological advances. It’s not just about where you live anymore. Social media has changed the way we relate to one another by allowing us to relate to people we can never meet. Sharing and exchanging knowledge, culture, techniques, and even basic discourse has become the new normal. We all have opinions and technology has given us the platforms to disperse those as far and as wide as it reaches.

How has mass media accounted for this difference? The Internet is where it’s at in terms of advertising. Air time has been subsumed by streaming and working in the modern age means working online.

Companies who want to sell us things, government entities who want to be elected, professors who want to teach us lessons all have to follow a simple structure: meet the people where they live.

But conducting audience analysis and creating audience-driven content means figuring out who to target. Now, this may not be intended to be exclusive, but it does certainly create an “Us vs. Them” mentality. Spreading yourself too thin means that your message is less likely to hit the mark. With the rise of the Internet and online culture, casting your dragnet without key targets means spending tens of thousands of dollars and battling Ad Blockers, Virtual Private Networks, and other measures users put into place to shield themselves.

When we are talking about pure marketing concepts, this divide cannot be so clear cut. Selling jewelry or cars or textbooks is based on a two-pronged attack: create and maintain a loyal customer base and attract new customers at the same time.

Do we do this as technical communicators? I’m not so sure. A lot of my work in the field is based on fulfilling established needs. As a government contractor, I work to fulfill the requirements established by the client. I am not involved in enticing new customers, just making the already established customer happy. This work does take place, in my case at a higher internal level. Freelancers of course do this automatically in order to keep afloat

On the other hand, on a personal level, this is what’s necessary for technical communicators, at least for me, as job seekers. Through practice, academics, networking, and general curiosity, we work to establish ourselves with steady work and paying clients, with coursework and portfolios. By nature of the field, we also have to keep an eye out for emerging trends and technologies to stay current and up to date.

So where do our boundaries lie? How do we decide what and who to keep and who to throw away? For us, this is an even bigger challenge. Our field is still in flux. There are so many professional titles, so many technical and soft skills, so many things that make up the “technical communications” spectrum. Do we even need to create boundaries then?

To my mind, they are created by companies and contract mandates. By others in our field conducting research and creating standards. By professional organizations like the Society for Technical Communication.

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Source: (

Where do your boundaries lie?


Blakeslee, Ann M. (2010). Addressing Audience in a Digital Age. In R. Spilka (Ed.), Digital literacy for technical communication: 21st century theory and practice. (pp.199 – 2529). New York, NY. Routledge.

Audiences all the way down…

As technical communicators practicing or in training, I’m sure most of us understand the importance of audience in our work. We are taught to anticipate the audience and any secondary (tertiary, quaternary, quinary, senary…) audiences. Who are they? Why are they using our documentation? What do they need? How will they use it?

Chapters 7 and 8 of Rachel Spilka’s Digital Literacy for Technical Communication both consider audiences. In Chapter 7, “Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures,” Barry Thatcher develops a framework and lexicon for communicating with audiences from other cultures. In Chapter 8, “Addressing Audiences in a Digital Age,” Ann M. Blakeslee considers traditional audience analysis and discusses what may need to change as technical communicators’ products become increasingly digital.

Communicating Across Cultures

In Chapter 7, Thatcher recounts the challenges he has had working with teams in South and Central America. While ordinarily one would assume challenges across borders would be due to language barriers, Thatcher’s problems went more deeply than that. Although communications and instruction were in the correct language, they were not written with the target cultures in mind.

As a result of this experience, he has created a framework of cultural traits and communication recommendations (oral, writing, e-mail, or hypertext) that can be used to effectively communicate with other cultures. These traits are:

  • individual (p. 176)
  • collectivist (p. 176)
  • universal (p. 176)
  • particular (p. 177)
  • diffuse (p. 177)
  • specific (p. 178)

I have worked on international teams before, with members in Europe, South America, or India. Language and time zone were issues, but there were other problems (especially with the South American and Indian teams) that I just could not figure out what was going on. Thatcher’s observations rang true with my experiences working with these other cultures, and his recommendations for communicating make sense in retrospect.

Most recently, I worked on a project with team members in India, as well as locally based team members from India.  The problems mostly came from e-mail miscommunication and their struggle in understanding our expectations for their product. Thatcher asserts that Asian and Middle Eastern/Arab cultures tend toward collectivism, with particular and diffuse characteristics – so I am assuming these traits for India.

E-mail: Thatcher observes that e-mail can be too ambiguous for a collective target audience and too nonverbal for a diffuse audience (p. 185). Often I would send an e-mail that seemed, to me, perfectly clear – only to receive responses (in the case of offshore teams) that didn’t seem to match my email, or simply confusion from the recipient. The local teams would almost never respond to my e-mail; they preferred, instead, to come to my desk and talk to me in person, where we would hash out any confusion.

Work product: One of the biggest frustrations I had working with this team was that no matter how much guidance we gave (style guide, examples, templates, etc.) for how we wanted their finished product to look, feel, and sound, they struggled to meet our expectations. I chalked it up to the fact that English was a second language for the offshore team and most of the local team. However, in retrospect, I realize it may have been more cultural than linguistic. Thatcher’s observations illuminate two critical cultural differences that may have cause these issues.

First, particular cultures are much less likely to use signposting, templates, linearity, uniformity, and consistency – which are traits that technical communicators value in our writing (p. 188). While cultural important to an American audience, it was less so to the offshore team who produced the documents – they didn’t realize their importance and didn’t emphasize those traits.

Second, writing style was a huge issue. We wanted “plain language,” but we ended up with meandering sentences with too much jargon and context. Of course, this is partially due to nonfluency in English, but I think a large part of it was cultural. According  to Thatcher,  Americans (individual, universal, and specific) emphasize writing that is “reader friendly” (p. 176) and targets the “lowest common reading style” (p. 109). Meanwhile collective cultures prefer “writer-friendly writing patterns” (p. 176); particular cultures prefer writing that is more based on social relationships as context and uniqueness (p. 177); and diffuse cultures prefer more indirect and holistic writing (p. 189).

In short, the cultural expectations driving their output were completely different from the cultural expectations driving our requirements. It wasn’t simply a communication barrier; it was cultural as well. I still work with teams from India and the Middle East, as well as teams from Asia (particularly China). Moving forward, I’m sure I will refer to Thatchers wisdom again when attempting to communicate with other cultures.

Digital Communication, Ethics, and Freedom of Speech

It’s common knowledge that people are on their best “verbal” behavior in certain social situations.  For example, when a person is at work, they know to be careful with how they talk, what they say, and how they present themselves to their supervisors and customers.  Yet, at home people can relax, be themselves, and share their feelings, thoughts, opinions, and beliefs with their close friends and family members.

Ethical lines can somehow get blurred when using other methods of communication. Steven B. Katz and Vicki W. Rhodes, in their article, Beyond Ethical Frames of Technical Relations, as published in Rachel Spilka’s Digital Literacy For Technical Communication, gave an example of how employees of a company refer to clients as “handicapped” or “disabled” when the company would never publicly refer to clients in that way, which it considers demeaning.  The employees are most likely not trying to demean the clients, rather, they use terms that are easier in a digital format. Often, email is used for it’s instant transfer of information.  A person can simply cast their thoughts into the keyboard and hit “send.”  Ethically, the companies publicists would frown. 

Let’s consider other forms of ethical violations.  Facebook users list their place of employment on their profile.  When the user’s face appears, often you can see who your mutual friends are and their place of employment without even going to their page.  Therefore, they are representatives of their employer in the digital world.  Should that person complain about work, or use derogatory language to describe customers, that could present ethical concerns.  Yet that user is simply using free speech to complain to their own “inner circle,” on their own time. Is it right or wrong?  If someone has a really bad day, a customer was rude and inconsiderate and the employee takes to Facebook to unload, does the company have an obligation to address it?  Do they have the right to address it?  After all, their name is associated.  I once read a thread of conversation about a controversial topic.  One particular individual was spewing hate, being vulgar and offensive.  I hovered the curser over his name and his place of employment came up.  Not once have I ever visited that business.  Very purposefully, I have avoided that business, simply because of what one employee posted on Facebook.  Does an employer have the right to limit a user’s content if they are employed at their company?

Facebook is becoming a popular business tool, but email tends to be a significant method of communication for businesses. One reason I like to use email and other forms of digital communication is for a “paper trail.”  I can look back and remember what I said, what I promised, or other important details.  I also have proof that I addressed a topic, followed through, or took action.  Often, if I talk on the phone about something important, I’ll follow up with an email that says, “As per our phone conversation, I wanted to recap our next steps…..”  That way I could always pull the email if there is ever a “he said – she said” type of situation.


Photo Credit:

The authors, however, address a much deeper form of ethics in digital technology, and that is that our digital selves do not always resemble our real selves – our digital being (p. 238).  Email creates a relationship between a user and technology.  Interestingly, email is a popular form of workplace communication with which the users develop “relationships” using email, even if the recipient and the sender never actually speak, or the recipient is just a couple cubicles down (p. 243).  The authors ask if it’s possible to remove one’s self from the email communication, and to keep the message “neutral.”  They ask if that is a fair ethical standard for a company to expect of their employees (p. 250).  My answer is – not always.  Consider shooting emails back and forth, discussing important details of a project, and the other person has an alternate motivation or goal.  How can a person remove themselves from the content of the email when they evoke emotions.  What if you’re protective of your work, putting your whole self into the projects, and someone on the other end of the email isn’t as committed as you are? 

Another consideration is that person-less email can often be read as cold, impersonal, rude, or negative.  My rule of thumb is to always try to have my email communication take on a friendly, positive tone (which is not always easy to do if I’m frustrated).  I like to be somewhat personable, to make the recipient feel valued, important, or in the very least – not bothered. That means that I am not keeping my email impersonal and detaching myself from the communication.  At some companies, would that mean I am acting unethically?  I like to think that is professional and reflects well on the company, but that’s just my opinion.



Katz, S. B. & Rhodes, V. W. (2010). Beyond ethical frames of technical relations. In R. Spilka (Ed.), Digital literacy for technical communication: 21st century theory and practice. (pp.230 – 256). New York, NY. Routledge.

The Importance of Culture

The grand focus in Chapters 6-9 in Rachel Spilka’s Digital Literacy for Technical Communication (2010) was culture and considering audiences.  Culture is a very tricky subject to pin down and agree on, but I’ve always enjoyed discussing culture and what exactly that means.

As a foreign language student, I’ve had the opportunity to not only learn how to speak a second language, but I have also learned a lot about respecting other cultures and ways of life.  I’m competent in German, and throughout the many years since I began learning the language, I feel as though I’ve learned just as much about German culture.  It’s also been fascinating to me what is considered appropriate in one culture and offensive to others.  For example, certain American hand gestures are considered fine for us–like the peace sign and thumbs up–but in other cultures they can mean something completely different.  The peace sign for Japanese people is the Victory symbol.  For Americans, thumbs up usually means that something is “good.”  In other cultures, it means something more along the lines of “up yours.”  In India and other Asian countries, eating is always done with the right hand and never with the left because the left hand is used for personal hygiene purposes.  In Germany, it’s considered extremely rude to show the person the bottom of your shoe (also equated with “up yours” more or less).  Additionally, tipping a server in Germany is strictly verboten whereas in America stiffing your waiter or waitress is considered very rude.  While I was studying in Italy in 2010, I learned it perfectly culturally acceptable to imbibe whisky or other spirits in your morning espresso.  And business or academic meetings, even ones that occur at 9 a.m., often involve sharing a very strong drink of grappa before the talking starts.  One of the biggest discrepancies between Italian and American culture is the concept of time.  It only took me one day to learn that Italians are much less strict when it comes to punctuality.  My guide told me he would pick me up for dinner at 9 p.m., which is around the time Italians eat dinner, but didn’t show up until nearly ten.  Classes started at 9 in the morning,  but many of the teachers wouldn’t even show up until 9:30 or after and students would trickle in and out whenever.  Siesta is also largely practiced which includes having a long, leisurely lunch midday many times with wine and a long break before heading back to the office, school, wherever.  A practice I happen to have adored.  American business people would not be appreciative of business partners being almost an hour late and taking a two hour lunch, but in some cultures that’s just the way things are done.

What I’m getting at is that culture, even electronic culture, should be considered and respected just like it should be if one were to travel to a foreign country or enter the home of someone from a different background.  But the problem lies in that our digital culture is still being built and defined.  As technology itself and the many modes of communication that we use shift and change so does the overall culture.  In an allusion to not only digital culture but also to culture at its core, Bernadette Longo explains that “Communicators make choices that effect [sic] social relationships; the more aware we can be of the cultural implications of those choices, the wider the range of consequences we can see” (p. 156).  I believe Longo’s implication in this statement is important for everyone to consider rather than just communication students.

It’s important to continue to consider culture not only as a human race but digitally for those of us who might work interculturally in the future.  Barry Thatcher explains the difficulty in digital communication in regards to the differences between American and Mexican culture.  According to Thatcher, the system they used “work[ed] well in the United States because of its values of individualism, universalism, and specific orientation.  This cycle, however, did not work well in Mexico, which tends to have more hierarchical and interpersonal values, thus implying different uses of digital technologies” (p. 171).  Normally, when we think about traveling internationally, we think about language barriers, being able to get around, understanding their currency, and being able to ask where the bathroom is, but we now also have to consider protecting social relationships based on daily cultural life for the locals, whomever they may be, and how their culture is different not only from ours physically but digitally as well.


As an aside:  I got a Facebook this week.  THIS IS A SOCIAL AND ACADEMIC EXPERIMENT.

Understanding Your Audience

Before airing a new T.V. show, networks and studios test the pilot on an audience focus group. The audience members turn a knob based on their reaction to different parts of the episode, and their response can determine whether the show makes it to the screen or dies right there (“Test Audiences Can Make or Break New T.V. Series”).

In the technical communications world, understanding our audience and receiving audience feedback is also vital to creating high-quality documentation, but it’s much harder to achieve. Blakeslee writes about “the importance for technical communicators of continuing to give careful thought both to identifying their audiences and to accommodating their audiences’ needs and interests” (p. 200), yet she says that our industry has failed to investigate audience needs in the digital age. It seems to me that we misunderstand our audience in several ways, including their relation to technology, and the lack of audience awareness can severely limit our documentation.


One pitfall of not appropriately understanding our audience is falling into the activity theory framework, where we narrowly define our audience based on a single task instead of a comprehensive cultural understanding. As Longo states,

“If, as technical communicators, we make decisions based only on our understanding of activities and not of the cultural contexts in which these activities are embedded, we run the risk of proposing documents and systems that do not fit well with the organization where we work and our goals for the future” (p. 160).

At the company where I work, we constantly walk the line between specific task-oriented instructions balanced with a larger understanding of strategic and operational needs. Here are the steps to set up XYZ printer. Why? Because a certain type of medication label only prints on XYZ printer. Understanding that context, can we also guide readers about how many printers they’ll need and where to place them?

Not only do we need to learn about our audiences’ situation and goals, but we also need to learn about how the audience approaches the documentation itself based on their cultural context. In “Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures,” Barry Thatcher gives several warnings about how the culture of our audience changes their approach to documentation. Although his main example is about internal communication, the same principles apply to customer-facing documents, as reflected in the school websites that he analyzes. By knowing more about the culture of our audience, we can tailor tone and content to appropriately address an individualist vs. collectivist mindset, or universalist vs. particular understanding. I shudder sometimes to think about all the things that I ignorantly say just because my perspective is so limited. The American Marketing Association actually published “The Olympics are Coming: Lessons for Cross-Cultural Advertising” to head off some foot-in-mouth moments.

Finally, as Blakeslee alludes to, we need to understand how our audience approaches documentation differently when it’s digital. This goes directly to Katz and Rhodes discussion of six different ethical frames through which audiences might approach technology. I might seek ways to optimize electronic document delivery, seeing it as both a means and an ends. My reader who gets the document likely sees the delivery process as only a tool and having value only as a delivery mechanism. Similarly, if we approach our documents assuming a sanctity frame, we could alienate task-focused readers who have a “us and them” mindset to technology.

Technical communications doesn’t get nearly as much help in understanding our audience as T.V. shows. Instead of focus groups, we get occasional blog comments. However, I think the more we know about our audience, the more we can create content that addresses their specific context, culture, and relation to technology.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Digital Media Literacy


Digital media literacy is not universal in different cultures.

  1. Digital literacy has different interpretations. According to Barry Thatcher (2010), it means “accessing, understanding, and appropriately using digital media in specific situations” (p. 169). While Bernadette Longo (2010) defines culture in the context of digital communities as, “ways in which people relate to each other within a particular social context” (p. 149) and technical communicators can learn about digital cultures by “studying the language and the social relationships embedded in how people use it” within these communities (p.149). Ann Blakeslee (2010) delves further by explaining that digital media audiences can be targeted for a specific situation or reader; however, she explains there hasn’t been enough research to understand the unique needs of readers with digital documentation (p. 204). (Refer to #3 for digital audiences.)
  1. Digital media literacy is not universal. What is understood in one country is not true for another. Thatcher’s experience working with Mexican and U.S. collaborators clearly identifies that digital literacy has differing rhetorical and cultural traditions that require greater understanding for cross-cultural projects (p. 169). Technical communicators should research and collaborate with other technical communicators and translators in other countries if the another country will be one of the audiences targeted. By due diligence, Thatcher “developed a framework to compare features of human life that all cultures share regardless of their value(s)” (p. 175) rather than follow an ethnocentric methodology – an assumption that another cultures uses digital media the same way that another does (p. 170). Specifically, Mexican culture and their rhetorical traditions regarding digital media.
  1. Digital media audience needs are specific. The internet is vast and digital media provides many outlets for various audiences to interact with media besides reading. Consider online documentation to operate your mobile phone or troubleshoot your PC. While this documentation is available to everyone, it also has a specific audience – those seeking answers for the equipment. Ann Blakeslee (2010) explains the characteristics of digital documents have implications “how audiences perceive the documents, how they use them and what expectations they bring to them” (p. 220). It is the responsibility of technical communicators to research intended audiences as well as tertiary audiences when they are creating digital documents (media). Audiences who not only read, but use and respond to digital media. Blakeslee states that to understand audience needs in response to digital literacy more research is needed (p. 222-223).
  1. Digital media needs to be user-centered. The shift from paper to digital documentation requires a “seismic shift” from system to user-centered. Documentation, to be useful and effective, requires consideration of its audience, their needs and digital literacy knowledge. This is difficult to acknowledge and understand since paper documentation was always one sided and did not receive much feedback from the user. However, almost all digital media requires a user-centered approach.
  1. Digital media literacy has its own rhetorical genre. Longo, Thatcher and Blakeslee (2010) all reference “rhetoric” or “rhetorical genre” in their articles and the importance of understanding and/or researching digital media rhetoric. Digital rhetoric, a definition evolving as much as digital media, is “the application of rhetorical theory (as analytic method or heuristic for production) to digital texts and performances” (Eymand, 2012, Digital Rhetoric Collaborative). Longo asserts that technical communicators contribute to digital rhetoric with identifying audience inclusion or exclusion as well as understanding the “human+machine culture” (p. 147). While Thatcher says to develop cross-cultural digital literacy, technical communicators must, “adapt their communication strategies to the different rhetorical expectations of the target culture” (p. 169). Finally, Blakeslee identifies that content and context need to be continually revised so that the application meets the needs of the end-user thus changing the role of rhetoric with each type of digital medium.

The list above provides a few key takeaway points from Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, Rachel Spilka (Ed) (2010) Chapters 6 – 8.

Honing in on Audience

In part III of Spilka’s Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, the focus is on the relationship between technical communicators and their audience, taking a deeper look at ideas such as ethics and communicating between different cultures. The overarching theme is the emphasis that technical communicators must, and for the most part do, place on their audience.

Although I am not yet a technical communication (TC) professional, as a student of TC I have quickly learned the importance of considering one’s audience in the field of TC. It is one of the first and most highly emphasized points in many of the foundational courses for TC and it is not hard to see why – the purpose of a technical communicator is to advocate for the user/reader/audience and ensure that all associated documentation is easily accessible and understood. An important part of this user-advocate role, I believe, is understanding the rhetoric involved in communication of all kinds and attempting to write or design for the appropriate rhetorical situation. This, to me, is what sets technical communicators apart from other communicators (e.g. writers) – the emphasis placed on how the audience will perceive what is being communicated and utilizing that rhetoric in appropriate and ethical ways.

As I was reading this section, my mind kept wandering to one of the many “articles” I find linked on Facebook daily. With the uprising of so many “social news” sites (e.g. Buzzfeed), it is hard to get away from articles that use pop-psychology and serve no purpose other than entertainment. As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning, I came upon this article:

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In case you want to read the article, it can be found here

Out of curiosity, I went to the page and read through it (though these sites are notoriously difficult to navigate with only one portion of the list on each page – known as “click bait”). In situations like these, I most often like to read the comments that other Facebook users have posted on these links. As usual, this post was littered with comments of offended women going on about how they don’t care what a man thinks about their hair, they will do what they want, etc. Other comments were in response to those negative ones, claiming that the article was not telling you how to style your hair, or even that you should base your hair choices on what men think, but that it was just a little bit of insight into what men’s opinions are.

Aside from the fact that I don’t trust or believe these type of “survey” articles, due to lack of substantial research or any reliable study methods, it struck me as interesting that the primary controversy of the article seemed to be (as is often the case) about what the authors were actually trying to say with this piece. While this type of controversy is probably encouraged in the “social news” world, it is exactly the opposite of what a technical communicator strives for.

This is what I believe sets technical communicators apart from other communicators. The goal in TC is to be clear, precise, understood and to approach the situation from an appropriate rhetorical perspective so as to convey exactly what he/she means. This is not as easy as it sounds – as was exemplified by the above article, each reader’s perception is different and is clearly colored by past experiences, current opinions, and overall personality. This makes the technical communicator’s job that much more difficult to attempt to find a way to unite all those differences in opinion to convey one message.




Designed by humans. Used by humans. Never perfect.


Gosh, where do I begin? I love creating technological things. Whether it’s designing a website, creating Word templates, or forms, nothing screams that loudly that I’m a technical communicator. But what I create is not exactly perfect and nothing will be. What surprises me is who uses it and where it shows up.

At my current position at the community college, I am intrigued at what happens to my work. Sometimes it gets mixed up and reused for other purposes. Sometimes I end up reusing my own ideas to base new ideas with. For example, I take photos for the social media channels and sometimes I find that my work is reused and remixed for other purposes. I’m not upset that it gets reused, but I’m fascinated that people look to me for coming up with the idea and design of these communication pieces.

Michael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski explains that “[w]e build spaces and then we cannot control how users interact with them, and that horrifies and excited the ‘designer’ and the ‘architect’ inside each technical communicator.” In a sense, I’m not horrified or excited, but amused when my work pops up in the least expected places.

Different Flavors of Communicating

Information design is something that I am passionate for and somehow it’s funny that whatever we create, we build upon that framework for the next thing that we use in the future. For example, Twitter is one of those funny social media networks that is an alternative to other full-service networks. Since it’s designed to be open, anyone can find what they are looking for. Twitter is like the Southwest Airlines to social media experience, but it’s not like the full-service experience you can get with Facebook. In either case, Twitter is designed for replacing some aspects of instant messaging and live broadcasting, which would have taken the life of a telephone call and email.

I do like that email is being replaced by many other tools. Much like email replaced the idea of paper-based genres that were internalized and naturalized (Salvo, Rosinski, p. 105). But can we go to the extreme and say no more email? Luis Suarez from IBM quit using email as a primary means of communication and decided to use internal social media tools to communicate with his co-workers (2008). Perhaps maybe going too far won’t be sustainable for most of us technical communicators, yet maybe using a chat system like Slack and a project management tool like Asana can reduce the amount of unnecessary email overhead.

Designing Forms for the Web

When it comes to frameworks, creating and using online forms comes to my mind. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but online forms are difficult to design and use. I say this because at work, I sometimes have to rebuild forms using a form generator and they are not exactly going to function the same as the paper-based counterparts. I don’t like to tell clients that the form is going to not look visually the same as the form they’ve built in Word, but it will serve the same purpose. Instead, I sell the benefits of using an online form, which sometimes helps them make the move to using a form. I always will say that technology make things easier, it just doesn’t always look pretty.

Writing for the Web

In addition to making things not look so pretty is writing for the web. One of my biggest requests at work is adding an FAQ. Instead of tacking on an FAQ to a website, my job went to great lengths to explain why we don’t use them. For the web, we emphasize writing in plain language, use headers, bullets, paragraphs, and short sentences. In a sense, this reinforces one aspect of technical communication because we ensure contextual orientation to design.

What I wish we could do is explain to everyone else that we are the experts in what we do and people around us could at least understand that we aren’t making things up and this is based on best practices that have been tried, tested, and verified.

Lastly, I think these readings were quite interesting, but mostly topics I’ve learned from since attending conferences and experience in the workplace. It’s interesting how much of the communication within technology applies to our field.


Salvo M.J. (2010). Information Design. In Spilka, R. (2010). Digital literacy for technical communication: 21st century theory and practice. (pp. 51-81). Taylor & Francis. New York, NY.

Suarez, L. (2008, June 29). I freed myself from e-mail’s grip. New York Times. Retrieved from


What Do We Learn? Skills. When Do We Learn Them? On the Job or Whatever!

Working as a technical communicator over the past two years without an undergraduate grounding in the skills, methods, and research tools has been enlightening. While it has given me a greater appreciation for the work being done by my coworkers and others in the field, it has also caused me to reach out to sources like the Society for Technical Communication and a master’s program in order to secure essential skills and new tricks to show off to supervisors and future employers.

What exactly am I looking for, you may ask? Social media, content management systems, Adobe Creative and Technical Communications Suite, User-Centered Design, and Project Management, to name but a few. Beyond the skills that I have a personal interest in or am curious about, I find that trolling through job descriptions to look for what will impress and keep me relevant in a community that is designing, defining, and streamlining what technical communications means and what is necessary to work in the field.

One of the key skills I am looking to pick up from the MSTPC program and put into practice is learning how to learn, and I have found that it is definitely a critical skill that I’ll need on my side moving forward.

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Source: (

As Michael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski (2010) said, “search and retrieval – or findability – as well as navigability become increasingly important as the information age produces more documents than ever. As the volume of information increases, designing for storage and retrieval becomes more important in the planning stages of writing. After all, information that cannot be easily retrieved when needed is useless” (103).

Now this makes sense when you’re talking about the basics of the technical communications field. Authoring, editing, designing, displaying, distributing, and analyzing all the content constantly put out by companies, universities, social networking sites, and academics takes a lot of time and effort by practitioners and academics under fire by Chief Financial Officers Wading through the amount of content that

When it comes to us as a class however, my mind starts thinking about how we as technical communicators work to gather, study, and disseminate information. Learning how to read, analyze, and write papers for my English undergrad along with internships for my Journalism minor made me an attractive, moldable candidate for the Technical Editor position I got shortly after graduating, but that position did not offer anything in the way of training documents or files.

It was entirely a mentor-based position. That was both a positive and a negative, I came to find as I delved into the world of technical editing. It was great to work side by side with practitioners who had years of experience in the field and in the government contracting sphere; I was exposed to a lot of insider information that no one bothered to write down because it was industry standard or specific. There were breakdowns in email content based on the office I was contacting and the military or civilian title in front of the person’s name.

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I learned quickly and started keeping my own folders and Word docs with acronyms, workflows, and Department-specific language no one would ever use (and I would get graded down for if I showed any of it to one of my professors).

The problem was that as soon as I was hired, the company started to lose employees. When I was hired I was told it was a stable contract with no turnover but everyone was leaving so all of the great mentors were jumping ship and it was up to those of us who were newer to train employees and help them learn the process.

So while we were learning we were also training new people, designing SharePoint sites, and teaching classes to government employees. Needless to say, the situation could have better. It was enjoyable to take more of a leadership role with incoming coworkers and I also got the chance to design a few training sites and standard operating procedures. Whatever problems I may have had with the company, it was clear that I had been allowed to really grow into a role and put on the different hats expected of me by the field.

My next job was a different story. I had walked into a great company with an understanding boss, but the work itself functioned on a sink or swim basis. I was expected to dive into the work and start working. No real oversight. Clear cut design and structural rules to follow but how I got there was all up to me. Yes, I was encouraged to reach out with any question but I wanted to make a great first impression so I just got my hands dirty with the research, writing, and designing of technical materials and documents for client approval.

The chapters talk about information design, content management, and the rhetoric of technology, but how do we use this in our full- or part-time job lives? For me, it’s become critical to seek the keys to staying up to date on information, technology, communication, and other trends essential to my work and moving forward in the field.


Spilka, Rachel. (2010). Digital literacy for technical communication. “Information design: From authoring text to architecting virtual space. Taylor & Francis Group. New York, NY.

A new breed of technical communicator

If Part I of Rachel Spilka’s 2009 anthology Digital Literacy for Technical Communication was intended to frighten the reader of portents of being outsourced (and presumably destitute as a result), then Part II was meant to assuage some of those fears. In fact, my concerns about managers playing the “everyone can write” card was almost directly addressed by William Hart-Davidson in chapter 5, “Content Management”:

But managers do need to recognize the following: that writing needs to assume a high status in corporate work, and be viewed as a critical means to just about every organizational end. The lingering idea that writing is somehow a “basic skill” rather than an area of strategic activity for a whole enterprise sometimes causes managers to make poor choices…. Many see these as a chance to automate or, worse, eliminate the work that writing specialists do. I hope this chapter helps to dispel that myth and prevent such decisions. (pp. 141-2)

In other words the “writer” should be so much more than a writer. Hart-Davidson’s chapter describes how a technical communicator can pivot into any number of essential job roles related to the managing of content.

Similarly, in chapter 4, “Information Design,” Michael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski argue that to be truly digitally literate, technical communicators must understand information design and information architecture and by doing so, remain relevant and vital to their organizations. In fact, they state that technical communicators have always had a greater task than writing alone: “Effective technical communication has never been simply about writing clearly, but rather, about effectively organizing written communication for future reference and application” (p. 123).

Both chapters agree that although writing is still essential, the structure, high-level design, usability, findability, and reusability are all vital parts of content generation. Technical communicators are uniquely suited and situation ensuring all of these needs are met while anticipating potential future needs.

Salvo and Rosinski provide several reasons why technical communicators are ready to evolve from content production to information architecture and design. First, technical communicators have historically applied effective design principles regardless of context (p. 106). Second, technical communicators understand historical principles of user-centered, which can be built upon to innovate, yet still advocate for the user (p. 106).

Finally, technical communicators have ensured that good design remained a focus, even as the scope of documentation evolved from simple content writing to building full Web sites. One part of this was making sure that design was driven by context; that is, the designs developed were appropriate for the context in which they would be viewed (p. 108).

Taken together, these three points argue that technical communicators can either call upon past experience, genres, and conventions and apply them to new contexts or develop new practices and styles for these contexts, all while anticipating and meet the user’s needs. They are able to effectively straddle the documentation of the past and the information design and architecture of the future. However, Salvo and Rosinsky point out, this requires that technical communicators maintain an ever-increasing knowledge of publication contexts—in other words, they must be digitally literate and remain so.

Returning to chapter 5, Hart-Davidson tells us, “Today’s technical writer… is typically expected to… perform a host of other tasks that relate directly to the management of content and not necessarily to its creation” (p. 128). In addition to content-creation tasks like writing or designing templates, the technical communicator must also manage the documentation, how individual pieces of documentation are related, and the workflows and production models used to produce and publish content.

When considered together, Hart-Davidson and Salvo and Rosinsky’s advice offers two ways technical communicators can remain relevant in a world that—regrettably—no longer values traditional writing or editing skills. The first is to shift from creating content to developing new, modern ways of presenting information in never-before-seen contexts—or adapting preexisting genres and conventions to these contexts. Second is to manage the content in addition to creating it—and also manage all aspects of content creation.

Combined, these new modes of technical communication should lead to a new breed of technical communicators that become future proof by continually adding new value to their organizations.

Twitter and Classical Rhetoric?

Once again,  I found myself puzzled and intrigued by the weekly readings. In particular, I focused on David Clark’s (2009) Shaped and Shaping Tools (2010, Spilka).  Let it be noted by all that I am giving it my best to be academic and objective when it comes to reconsidering modern technology and social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram because it seems like the audience isn’t interested in my disdain.  In fact, many of my peers are calling me out because I’m a 28 year old technical communications student going to graduate school exclusively online but all I can seem to do is bash technology.  I assure all of you, if going to school traditionally, face to face were a realistic option for me, you bet that’s what I’d be doing.  I don’t enjoy the online learning experience as much as others, but I also can’t fathom drawing my degree out over the course of several years.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m desperate to be finished and doing it online in a year works best for my life.  So, do I particularly like online schooling?  No, not particularly.  Am I grateful for this particular mode of technology?  Yes, very particularly.

But, alas, I digress.  Go figure.

Let’s talk about David Clark and his approach to the rhetoric of technology.  Specifically, Clark discusses Twitter at length.  I remember the first time I learned about Twitter.  It was around 2010 and I was watching sports highlights or the news maybe at the bar where I worked at the time.  I remember seeing a Twitter username, or “handle”, and something like a status update along with a hashtag for something.  My friend Chris and I were puzzled, and talked about the fact that we had no idea what that was all about.  I kept asking people, “What’s the deal with the pound sign on everything these days?”  At the time, I was 22 years old, so I was out of touch back then, too.  Clark, later in the chapter, goes on to use Twitter and classical rhetoric in the same paragraph.  He begins with “classical rhetoric as a means to argue that the ancients saw technologies as arts in which the end was the civic good to be produced by the product, not the design and making of the product” )p. 93).  I take this to mean that, even according to the classic rhetors of ancient times, Twitter could certainly be considered among creating rhetoric and art.  Of course, I have a serious problem with this when you compare Twitter feeds among the great epics and poetry of good ol’ yesteryear, but then I tried to think about it in another way.

One thing I have noticed about Twitter that makes it really quite unique compared to anything else is the fact that it makes celebrities and public figures so much more accessible to the public, fans, and followers.  Never before has the general public been able to instantly know what was on the mind of their favorite actor, comedian, or even the president.  It’s a second-by-second update of the people we look up to the most.  It allows artists and fans to interact with one another as though they were “everyday” friends.  I’ve learned by listening to the radio that a lot of singers these days have “fan armies” that identify themselves as  being mega-fanatics of that celebrity (i.e. Justin Bieber’s “Beliebers,” Taylor Swift’s “Swifties,” and Beyonce’s “Beyhive” (yikes, y’all)).  When I was a kid, I just “really loved” Hanson and the Spice Girls.  There wasn’t a name for it.

That made me think.  Maybe to the younger generation, Twitter is going to be their classification of rhetoric.  In hundreds of years from now, I suppose anthropologists will be looking back at our history and seeing Twitter as how people were documenting their lives.  And perhaps in the future rhetoric and technology will be even more mind-numbing and pervasive than now.  I remember writing a fan letter to Jonathan Taylor Thomas in elementary school and I got a signed postcard back from him.  (Swoon).  Maybe getting a tweet back from your idol is today’s version of receiving mass-produced autographed fanmail.



Spilka, Rachel. (2010). Digital literacy for technical communication. “Information design: From authoring text to architecting virtual space. Taylor & Francis Group. New York, NY.

My, How Things Have Changed

The best description of the term genre as applied to information design is the term “fluid.”  Michael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski, in their article, Information Design: From Authoring Text to Architecting Virtual Space, explain how the evolution of print documents to digital documents represent the history if the genre of information design. Fluid is an accurate description as the presentation of information will change form depending on the vehicle being used.  As the vehicle advances, or changes, the way in which people receive and use the information also changes.

Years ago, when I planned my wedding, I bought a wedding planning kit that contained a book of check lists and reminders, a timeline and schedule, and a million different advertisements and pieces of valuable information.  I ordered invitations through the mail, from a print catalog.  I sent out RSVP cards with self addressed, stamped envelopes so my guests could easily, with no cost to them, let me know if they planned to attend.

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I kept my family and wedding party in the loop with constant phone calls.  I sent out (via the United States Postal Service) information packets containing a schedule, itinerary, and phone numbers & addresses to the dress and tux shop, venue, hotel, etc.  I did all of my shopping for decorations, favors, in person.  I found the most recommended DJ and cake lady by asking the event planner from the venue for referrals.  Because I worked at a newspaper, I had the luxury of designing and creating my own programs, using colored paper, art catalogs, a typewriter, and a photocopier.

Last year, I helped my son and his fiancé plan their wedding.  Kari (the bride-to-be) created a private wedding website for her to post her ideas, plans, thoughts, likes, etc.  That way, I could log in, see her ideas, and know her vision.  We used interactive spreadsheets to account for RSVP’s.  We designed the invitations using publishing software and ordered them online. We inserted small cards with RSVP instructions for text, email, and snail mail (for the technologically challenged).  We used Google to search for ideas, decorations, recipes, favors, or anything and everything we needed.  We used Facebook groups to keep family and wedding party members informed.  We found the best places to get a cake and entertainment by asking the Facebook world for suggestions.  The wedding party simply had to submit their measurements and payments via the shop website.  We used software to pre-plan the room layout. 

Salvo and Rosinski, in their article, discuss the evolution of communication in small changes.

“Over time, small changes accumulate and result in new emerging genres.  In the clearest example, memos have become email, but so too email has been altered quickly into instant messages, Twitter posts, and position papers and diaries rearticulated online as blogs” (p. 107).

As I realized the jump that RSVP’s took, from mailable cards with self addressed, stamped envelopes, to text and email, I began to consider how much the whole entire process of wedding planning has changed due to technology and information design. 

Likewise, I remember a day when I checked my email first thing every morning, and several times throughout the day, just to see if my friends or family sent me something.  Today, I check it out of obligation, knowing that I’ll find advertising or business notices, and nothing fun and exciting.  Instead, my friends and family use text or Messenger to contact me. 

Remember when voicemail was the best thing ever?  My dad had one of the very first answering machines, called the Code-a-phone.  Today, if I leave a voicemail for my son, he flips out.  “Mom, I can see that you called.  I’ll call you back,”  or “Mom, don’t leave a message.  Just text it to me.”  Apparently, it takes too much time and effort to dial voicemail and listen to the message. By the time I catch on, texting will be out and he’ll have a new message preference.


Spilka, Rachel. (2010). Digital literacy for technical communication. “Information design: From authoring text to architecting virtual space. Taylor & Francis Group. New York, NY.

Understanding the Rhetoric of Technology

Dave Clark’s (2010) “Shaped and Shaping Tools: The Rhetorical Nature of Technical Communication Technologies” article is reminiscent of my Rhetorical Theory class as he examines the newest micro-blogging site, Twitter and rhetoric of technology. This is most interesting because I was working with an online media/SEO company when Twitter exploded online. Are there similar studies on the rhetoric of technology with other social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, or Pinterest? And how have these social media sites influenced digital rhetoric, genre and activity theories for technical communication? What is the importance of learning about new technology, Clark (2010) asks.

Learning and assessing new technology

How do we learn about new technology? This was one of the first questions asked in English 745 and we were asked to identify ourselves as early adopters, medium adopters or late adopters. Where did you put yourself in this range? Clark (2010) asks the reader “what it might mean to be a literate user of Twitter (or any other type technology)” (p. 86). What do professionals expect technical communicators to know about technology? How can we transfer and apply this knowledge in the appropriate environment?

To understand technology, Clark (2010) says we must also understand the rhetoric and analyze the research. Clark (2010) categorizes his approach to explain the “rhetoric of technology into four groups: rhetorical analysis, technology transfer, genre theory, and activity theory” (p. 92). I’ll examine the first two groups below.

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Rhetoric tag cloud. Retrieved from (another blog of interest).

Rhetorical analysis of technology is relatively new and should not be compared to rhetoric of science since it has its own foundations. However, it’s a good place to start. Clark (2010) cites Robert Johnson’s premise that

“as a field we must argue for a rhetorical approach to technological design and implementation that places users, rather than systems, at the center of our focus, and that we have ethical and cultural responsibility to learn and argue for collaborative approaches to technology design” (p.93).

There’s more than using technology like Twitter (or Facebook, etc.), we must also analyze the design and ethical responsibilities of its use. (Johnson’s book, User-Centered Technology: A Rhetorical Theory for Computers and Other Mundane Artifacts (1998) can be a difficult read, but insightful how technology is not always user-centered.) This is difficult to digest at first – understanding technology design for rhetoric and ethical practices for the user. However, if we understand that technology is constantly changing and improving then we can become more cognizant of new technology design and its effects on the user.

The second category Clark (2010) discusses is “technology transfer,” the movement of an engineer’s idea from desk to putting it into public use. Notably of importance to technical communicators, Clark (2010), states they are “constantly expected to design, evaluate, document, and implement new technologies” (p. 94).

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This is the answer to Clark’s (2010) primary question. Before we can design and implement new technology, we must be able to understand previous technology, document the success and pitfalls and evaluate to improve it. However, technology transfer must also be “negotiated, constructed, and reconstructed in the minds of the participants” according to Doheny-Farina in Clark’s (2010) research (p. 95). I’m still digesting this concept. I remember when Twitter was new and users were experimenting with all the features and everyone was tweeting anything that came to mind, hence, no filters were on. Then in 2010, Twitter announces that it will supply an archive of tweets to the Library of Congress ( Yikes!! Filters applied. What can technical communicators infer and learn from this rhetoric of technology?

Final Thoughts

The discussion on genre and activity theories is very interesting and I would like to write about both of them in a separate post. Overall, the rhetoric of technology needs further examination and discussion to understand its implications, our responsibilities, and other theories.