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.


References

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

Posted on October 2, 2016, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I found this article very interesting too. Intriguing that our technology development has been somewhat intuitive and helps us with timely tasks like sending invitations and providing weekly updates for wedding details. How do you think the future will influence our lives with advanced technology and communication? As a technical communicator, what is your responsibility with digital technology and using it appropriately?

  2. When one of my cousins got married, they not only had a “wed-site”, they also designated a Twitter hashtag so people could easily share their photos afterward.

    I didn’t have a “wed-site”, but I did use technology similarly to that used to plan your son’s wedding. I had a Google spreadsheet that I tracked expenses, invitations, RSVPs, etc. Communication with my vendors was entirely through e-mail–I even signed contracts electronically. I used Pinterest to keep track of ideas I liked (and haven’t touched Pinterest ever since). Everyone who RSVPd “yes” was added to an e-mail list, and that was how I communicated with guests.

    I even took advantage of crowdsourcing during the planning process. I was part of a very supportive wedding forum (since gone away, sadly), where I could request local vendor recommendations (found my photographer and my seamstress through this forum) or ask for feedback on the design of my invitations (which I printed through VistaPrint). When I had stress or people problems, I was able to vent and get Internet “hugs” or advice for how to get things back on track. They even helped me pick my dress!

    The social aspect of this forum was lifesaving for me because I had nobody local to help me plan–and I know that others on the site had similar experiences. And afterward, I was able to share my experiences and lessons learned with others on the forum who were planning their weddings. I am very sad it is gone.

    • As someone who planned her elopement with about 4 emails, I’m all for the technological interventions to make life easier! But lately I feel the wedding hashtag is overdone. I like it for the photosharing, but it reminds me of the need for every celebrity couple to have their own portmanteau, I’m guessing for PR purposes?

  3. You highlight a lot of the ways in which the media and technology has changed, but I think there is also a lot that remains the same. Even though your son and daughter-in-law used different tools to plan their wedding, they were still married. At the end of the day, I think a lot of the attributes of high-quality writing remain the same. Even though the actual working out of technical writers has changed, at the core, it’s still about getting the right information to the right people in the right way. What would you say has stayed the same since you first joined the industry? I like to think that the heart of what we do will continue to be valued for decades to come, even as the tools and format around it evolves over time.

  4. The act of having a wedding and getting married is the same. The tools to make that happen are different. I wanted to show how the tools for technical communication have evolved over time. My focus is on how things have changed. I understand that you’re saying there are things that have stayed the same. I think traditions tend to stay the same with some modifications, though I believe that more has changed than stayed the same. This, I believe is due to an instant gratification society. We’re all in a hurry. I wonder how Jane Austen would be received today. Compare the need for constant action and adventure to the long, beautiful, detailed descriptions of scenery. While this isn’t an example of technical writing, it lends to the difference in user preference today. I think technical communication has changed, not only because of the tools, but because of the access, and the user. Access is significant because we can all be do-it-yourselfers because of the technical communication that is available to the lay person.

    • Nice continuation of the conversation here. And it reminds me of how quickly things change in terms of user preference. Two years ago I had never used Uber or Airbnb, and now as I prep for a trip to Chicago, I know I have those options. And they’re as easy as opening an app on my phone!

  5. Great blog post. It’s fascinating to see how much things have been allowed to change through the advancement of technology. Weddings, by their definition intimate and personal events, have gone digital, with prepackaged patterns, lines, and plans, websites where you can be ordained at the drop of a hat, mailing lists and Amazon wedding registries.

    It’s like you say, small changes, made to tighten and streamline processes, snowball into huge innovations and sweeping additions to basic wants and needs. What does that mean for us, as academics and practitioners?

    Some institutions, like the federal government, are afraid of innovation and haven’t yet discovered the power of digital signatures or laptops. Other companies, like Google and Apple, pride themselves on a revolving door of new ideas and innovative technologies to keep up with and pull ahead of the constant expansion of technology.

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