Author Archives: jenlynngregz

The digital divide and how technical communicators can help close it

My paper was inspired by my personal experiences from working in the mobile sales industry and encountering people from all types of different backgrounds that did not know how to use their mobile devices for basic functions. The main complaint I heard from each of these people is that the instruction manual that comes with the phone is not helpful. My paper discusses the vast differences in the technological skill levels of people and seeks to discover ways that technical communicators can improve or wholly change their methods to better help people master new and emerging technologies.

Written items: Most often vs. Most valued

I enjoyed Blythe, Lauer, and Curran’s (BLC) article immensely because it directly ties into my post from last week that discussed the value of a writer.

In one section of their study, BLC display a graph that shows the most often produced written materials as well as the most valued written materials.  The first four items in each graph (email, websites, instructions/manuals, presentations) are the same, which did not surprise me because these seem to be the standard documents any tech writer is responsible for in a modern workplace.

However, a trend began to emerge after the first four.  I noticed that it seemed as if the writings that had more value were written the least often.  This appears to be true, save for the top four items, which may require further exploration and research to find out why these four things are mirrored on both lists.

For example, press releases are not highly-valued yet they are written quite frequently.  Research papers on the other hand are written less frequently, but have a high value.  The most interesting aspect of this article was the inclusion of fiction, which I found odd for an article regarding tech writing.  What is even more interesting is that fiction is listed as being valuable, but it is nowhere to be found on the most often written chart.

These graphs and discussion of the value and frequency of different writing types was a small section in this paper, but a very important one that I think has the potential to be explored in more detail in future research studies.  BLC may be well on their way to pinpointing exactly why writers are often undervalued and understand what makes other types of writing more or less valuable than others, even if it is written at high frequencies.

The value of a writer

Zachry and Ferro’s article, Technical Communication Unbound, helped me organize my thoughts on a topic that has been circulating in my mind for some time: the value of a writer.

This particular part of their article was the source of inspiration for the topic of this post:

“..it now appears that the tasks of those working in the profession are necessarily expanding to include such concerns as real-time monitoring of texts and other communicative performances that circulate in the network of social media.”

Since the responsibilities of a writer are evolving and expanding, I would hope that this means that the respect and appreciation for tech writers is increasing with it.

In my own personal experience, this is not so.  At my place of employment, more importance is placed on skills such as design or coding, which has been made completely clear to me from recent conversations with my boss.  In fact, I’ve been told that my position as a content writer, “requires no real skills.”

With the emergence of social media and its emphasis on shorthand writing forms, it is easy for one to think less of writing or not even think of it as a useful skill at all.

I suppose that I worry that, with the increase of responsibilities, tech writers will be thought of more as an administrative assistant with a laundry lists of tasks to accomplish and less like a professional with useful skills.

Digital Communication: Accomodate differences or establish a universal standard?

Barry Thatcher’s article, Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures, brings up one of the most important, but rarely discussed aspect of digital communication: cultural differences.  No matter where we are in the world, we can access the Internet from the same types of devices, but not always the same websites.  Or, sometimes one website is adapted to display differently according to region and native language.  We are using the same Internet, but not always viewing, absorbing and processing the same things.

I work for an ecommerce web design company that is based in the US but works with several contractors in Pakistan and India.  Aside from working with people overseas on a regular basis, we get clients from all over the world.  Lately, I have been noticing that a lot of our clients want bi or multilingual websites, which, from a coding and design standpoint, can be complicated and ultimately expensive.  Additionally, a lot of the major ecommerce platforms we work with will allow multi-language support, but only with a lot of custom coding, which, again, can be quite expensive.

One of the most complex problems we have yet to find a solution to is the ability to create a bi or multilingual ecommerce store with the checkout process to be in the language of the shoppers’ choosing.  Yes, even with custom-coding and advanced functionality, it is incredibly difficult to translate the checkout process in a language other than English with a hosted ecommerce platform.

Thatcher’s article had me thinking of this particular issue because we are able to translate every part of the online shopping experience except for the most important: the checkout.  This is where actual money is exchanged and people want this to feel the most comfortable, but we are unable to do that for them.  I’ve been doing some research on this for work and I have discovered that many international shoppers simply accept this as the norm, but I feel like it is unfair for this to be so.

Ultimately, cultural differences on the Internet have led me to contemplate the benefits and downfalls of ignoring cultural norms an instead create a universal, digital culture with its own set of beliefs, language and functions.  Some may argue that this already exists, but as Thatcher has us realize, we have only been viewing the Internet through a North American lens.  The Internet is different everywhere and we need to take that into consideration more often.

Managing information overload

Trust me, there are plenty of days in which I use my access to the Internet very “stupidly.”

I watch funny cat videos, take a look at the most recent viral videos, read nonsense celebrity gossip, and “browser shop” for things I definitely can’t afford.  In reality, I really ought to check out my RSS feeds in Feedly and do some research on the ecommerce industry or read digital marketing tips for work.  I really ought to be reading the news to see what’s going on in the world.  I really should be using the Internet smarter, but some days I just don’t want to.

I think part of this may be due to the fact that I often feel overwhelmed at the amount of quality and interesting information that is available on the Internet.  I want to know everything and the fact that there are so many different ways for me to access “everything” at once is overwhelming to me.  I feel like I can’t keep up with all the information and so instead I take a few minutes or hours to ignore the world’s most powerful knowledge tool in exchange for entertainment and killing brain cells.

Rheingold’s book, Net Smart, is making me rethink my approach to the Internet.  I need to be more focused on what I am doing because I often get sucked into the depths of YouTube while I have an important deadline looming in the near future.  I am interested in many things and I can often get caught in a web of interesting and useful information just as quickly as I can get caught up in a windfall of Internet stupidity.  Rheingold offers some excellent pointers for effectively managing this endless amount of information.  Chapter 6 of his book, “How (Using) the Web (Mindfully) Can Make you Smarter,” brings all of his information management and “crap detection” tips and tricks together and explains how his methods can help you widen your own personal knowledge base.

Rheingold’s book has helped me to stop being so overhwlemed about how I approach the amount of information on the Internet and has taught me different ways I can manage and even filter the amount of information that I see every day.  By doing this I can use the Internet smarter and more effectively instead of being tempted by the cyber black holes of funny cat videos.

You don’t need an app to detect bullsh*t

“We are immune to advertising.  Just forget it.” – Cluetrain Manifesto

There it is.  The secret of the modern day consumer.  We know this is all a game that is geared to make us buy stuff and guess what?  We’re not buying it anymore.  But, we are still buying.

Recently, I’ve been looking into purchasing a Chromebook for myself, but it definitely wasn’t because of some incredible advertisement I saw.  Nope.  My coworker bought one, showed it to me, and now I’m a bit interested in getting one for myself. So, naturally, my next step is to hop on the Internet and start doing some research on the different models, pros and cons, specs, etc.

As I’m researching and poking around on different websites, I decide I want to post on Facebook about how I am searching for a good Chromebook and am open to suggestions from my network of friends.  As I start typing my post, I notice an ad in the corner for the new Toshiba Chromebook.  Coincidence?  Definitely not.

I am immune to advertising and, in fact, it turns me off to a product more than it grabs my attention.  I’ve actually stopped looking to buy a Chromebook now because my experience on Facebook made me feel so invaded, almost violated.  I was actively searching for a Chromebook, I didn’t need some sneaky, “stalkerish” advertisement algorithm reminding me of what I was interested in buying.

There are many points in the Cluetrain Manifesto that make me want to raise my smartphone in defiance to big, faceless and emotionless corporations that don’t care about their customers. I don’t view corporations as “godlike” figures.  In fact, I feel a little bit sorry for them that they are trying to convince me that seeing advertisements for an item my browser history is loaded with is pure coincidence.

“However subliminally at the moment, millions of people now online perceive companies as little more than quaint legal fictions that are actively preventing these conversations from intersecting.” – Cluetrain Manifesto

Precisely.  Let’s cut out the bullsh*t.  Stop trying to sell “my demographic” a product.  In fact, stop trying to sell me a product altogether.  If I want it, I’ll look for it.  That’s what the Internet is for.

Do you believe in magic?

Content managers face the twin pressures of simultaneously reducing the total investment a company must make to produce content and increasing the quality, quantity, and sustainable value of that content. – William Hart Davidson

There it is, black and white, plain as day; the centerpiece of the modern business structure.  We must create more with less while making our creations higher quality than those before them.  Logically, it makes no sense.  How can you create more things with less materials and resources?

Magic, of course.

Thankfully technical communicators are not only trained in various technical disciplines, but the Arcane Arts as well.  Some of their specialties include time travel (yes, travel, not management) and The Impossible.

From the beginning, Hart-Davidson’s article struck a chord within me.  Primarily, I liked that he got right down to the heart of the matter: the expectation to do more with less.

It boggles my mind that companies truly believe that this model works and that their employees are getting their degrees in magic on the side to keep up with the workflow.  Newsflash: Everyone does not get a letter to Hogwarts.  I would know since I’m still waiting.

I recently started a new job at a startup ecommerce web design company and I already feel the pressure of this expectation.  I’m supposed to split my mind in three different ways simultaneously and accomplish several tasks at once.  These tasks vary in nature and focus, but somehow I manage to get them all done.  I just internally worry about the quality of my work, but not for long, because the fast pace always forces me to keep moving forward and not dwelling on what has already passed.

I don’t foresee this issue getting any better with time, but worse.  I can understand the need to be competitive, but realistic expectations goals need to be set.  Like I said before, not everyone was lucky enough to get their Hogwarts letters to study magic.

Technically… it’s not “outsourcing”

I just recently started a new job at an ecommerce web design company in my hometown, Philadelphia.  It’s a startup environment and even though I am starting at the bottom of the food chain, there is a ton of room for advancement and growth – which has me excited and accepting of the low starting salary.

It seems pretty “American,” a few young guys in an office near downtown Philadelphia, working at making it as ecommerce web designers.  It’s the new American dream – the successful tech startup.

Here’s the kicker; neither of them are web designers and neither of them have a background in web design.

This company either pursues a client lead or a client calls in, they hear what the client needs for their site, they send a scope of the project and an estimate of the cost (never less than three grand) to the client.  If the client says yes, the company contacts their design team in Pakistan and voila! in a few weeks you have a website “homegrown” with good ol’ Philadelphia web designers.

It blew my mind, really.  All of the design and SEO is done in Pakistan!  It’s actually my job to edit blog articles and social media posts that are written poorly in English and make them sound more “American.”  Yes, this does fit the entry level description of a technical writer, but it still makes me uncomfortable that the bulk of the work is outsourced, or, as the company describes it “created in collaboration with design teams in Pakistan”.

Dicks’ discussion in Chapter 2 makes me think about my current job.  Yes, they hired me because they needed me but I realize that I really do need to prove it to them that I am valuable to the company and that I can prove to be an asset to their operation.  All they need is to find someone in Pakistan that has excellent mastery of the English language as well as knowledge and understanding of American culture and I would be out of a job!

Let’s complain about the Internet… using the Internet

This is one of my favorite things in the world: people complaining about the Internet via the Internet.  I love it when Facebook users post angry status updates every time Facebook makes another privacy-invading change or UI disaster.  They complain and yet they adapt to the changes because, if they want their voices to be heard, they must remain on the network that allows them to be heard.

In this debate, Mr. Keen is this exact kind of person. complaining about the thing that he hates, while using that exact thing.  It’s like complaining about how much you hate peanut butter as you slather another layer onto your bread.

I view this debate from a more philosophical point of view as opposed to technical.  Humans created a technology that has both advanced and hindered society.  Mr. Keen feels as if this technology is more of a hindrance than a boon.  Yet, Mr. Keen runs a blog with hundreds of readers, taking advantage of this very technology.  He claims that the Internet is best used for activities such as research and the sending of information.  What he does not say is that his blog is not contributing to these tasks at all.  His place in the blogosphere is a waste of space, a waste of the infinite Internet.

This debate of technology is a great example of the flaws of humanity.  We are able to have excellent debates, gain followers, make enemies, all while we contradict ourselves.  We are intentionally unintentionally (yes, I said that) hypocritical but somehow the validity of our arguments still stand.

Additionally, we also learn a lot about narrowmindedness – which I am not using in a negative light.  Mr. Keen claims that the Web is used solely for the distribution and consumption of pop culture, consumerist things.  However, he comes to this conclusion by searching the Top 6 blogs.  Of course the top anything blogs will be associated with pop culture because, well, that’s what makes it popular.  It is unlikely that anyone could kind valuable information on the Internet without doing a fair amount of careful research.  It was once a popular idea that the Earth was flat, this does not make it right.

So, yes, I agree that the Internet is littered with virtual garbage, but that does not mean, with careful digging and a good cleanup crew, treasure cannot be found.

Technical Communications & Social Media: Digital Frenemies

I don’t remember the first time I heard the term “frenemy” used in conversation, but I do know that I immediately took a liking to it and could instantly apply its meaning to several people and aspects of my life.  Frenemies are the people you love to hate; the coworker that has great ideas but poor execution; the friend that loves to party with you but doesn’t invite you to the next event. Frenemies are sweet and sour; you’re not a fan of either part of them yet you still give them your time anyway.

Social media itself is a lot like a frenemy.  You spend a huge portion of your time posting statuses, pictures, videos, and stalking your ex from high school, only to be reminded that the dude who bullied you in middle school is now making six figures and drives a Cadillac.  You get mad, jealous, green with envy and yet you keep scrolling, posting, and soaking up all of the negative vibes in your newsfeed.

Yet, you are a consumer just like the rest of us, and you utilize social media because “everyone” is on it.  Businesses owners, media outlets, musicians, artists, politicians – you name it – realize that the majority of people are not taking the time to search websites, but rather click on links posted through their social media newsfeeds.  Writers are then employed to master the art of social media writing in order to compete for the attention of consumers.

On their off days, those same writers check their social media profiles to be faced with the same information that they are paid to flood into social networks.  They are more conscious of the pitfalls of social media and thus “play it safe” when posting to their own social media profiles.  Even though they regularly utilize social media in their daily lives, they realize the devastating things that could happen if the wrong material was seen by the wrong person at the wrong time.

This good/bad dichotomy between writing and social media is what creates the Frenemy Effect.  Communication between consumers and companies/entities has never been easier and more direct since the emergence of social media .  However, companies have never been under so much close scrutiny since the emergence of social media and consumers have never been more invaded with advertorial content.  Social media does not create a clear line between “editorial” and “advertisement” content; there is no sense of what is honest communication and what is an attempt for consumer attention.

It will be interesting to follow social media trends to see if these lines between advertising and honest communication continue to be blurred or clear distinctions and honest intentions shine through on social media.  For now, I will remain a cautious, yet avid user of social media.

It was the best of blogs. It was the worst of blogs.

Of all the different social media platforms, blogging is by far my favorite.   One of my first blogs was through Xanga and was likely named xxdisenchantedxx because, I, like millions of other tweens at the time, was convinced that having the letter “x” in one’s screen name or Xanga URL marked me as an individual.  My Xanga was about nothing in particular and utilized more like a diary.  It is highly likely that I penned hundreds of digital pages about music and how nobody understood me.

As I matured, so did my taste in blogging.  I abandoned my woes and complaining on Xanga to LiveJournal, where I focused a lot of my blogging on showcasing my creative writing pieces and poetry.  I was a member of several writers groups and made a lot of cyber friends.

For some reason I can’t really remember, LiveJournal became dull and my interests started to veer into darker areas.  I became obsessed with the occult and the New Age movement, which led me to Vampirefreaks.com, a website geared toward the goth subculture.  There, I discovered a passion and love for body piercings and tattoos and found many other people interested in New Age religions such as Wicca.  I chronicled my experiences in my spiritual search through my blog hosted on the website which helped me connect with other like-minded people.

Again, time passed and the community of VF started to change into a meeting ground for teenage girls obsessed with sparkling vampires.  I decided it was time to move on to Blogger.

I started and stopped several Blogger blogs, each about specific topics: music news, Wicca, guitars, and poetry.  During this time, I was involved in a ton of extracurricular activities in school, worked a part-time job at a restaurant, and had a long-term girlfriend.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to blog; I just didn’t feel like I had the time for it.

High school ended and college began, giving me even less time to manage a blog.  I tried to keep up with at least a personal blog through Blogger, but that ultimately fell into the blog graveyard.  In my sophomore year, I was introduced to Tumblr, which had me hooked faster and harder than any other blogging platform I had used in the past.

Tumblr was and still is the perfect social blogging platform.  It has the quickness of Twitter, the connectivity of Facebook, the customization features of Xanga, the blogging features and simplicity of LiveJournal and the community closeness of Vampirefreaks. I haven’t looked back from using Tumblr as my primary blogging platform for my personal blogging of my interests because I find it to be the most perfect blend of social media and blogging that is available right now.

I am still plagued with the starting and stopping of specialized blogs; I just can’t seem to find a topic and stick to it.  More importantly, I can’t seem to make the time to actually blog consistently.  Currently, I am veering a step away from Tumblr and am currently working on a professional/academic blog powered by WordPress, which, after using Tumblr for so long, am finding to be incredibly frustrating and not user-friendly.

I plan for my professional blog to feature posts about technical writing and how it is important in closing the technology gap (which I have deemed to be a global crisis).  I found Joshua Mann’s article to be particularly useful as I plan posts and create a blogging schedule and strategy for my professional/academic blog.  I also enjoyed the little tip about becoming an affiliate to generate some extra money using the blog.  Monetizing a blog is something I had previously thought about, but did not know how to begin.

I suppose that is enough of my rambling for now.  I’m looking forward to this course so I can directly what I’m learning to my own blog to make it as effective as possible.