Author Archives: laurajoy79

RUN! (Week 12)

While reading the Paine Schofield and Joinson report, the term “survival of the fittest” came to mind.  It seems that rather than having to be fast enough to literally outrun bears and lions, we now need to worry more about the safety of our non-physical identities.  We must protect ourselves from theft of our time, money and ideas, along with voyeurism, forwarding of information detrimental to our professional lives, and personal attacks of any number of other types.  Those who manage to stay in control of their own privacy are those who are fast and smart enough to keep ahead of the “bad guys,” or those who just happen to luck out.

That’s me… the one on the right. Probably shopping.

My husband and I have a friend who will NOT make a purchase on the internet.  In the past, if something he wanted to buy was only available online, he would come to our house, I would order it online with a credit card or PayPal, and he would reimburse me on the spot.  I never thought anything of it – in fact, my husband and I both think he’s kind of silly for being so “paranoid.”  This friend has never had a bad experience with privacy or technology, but he is a generally untrusting person and really, this is probably a responsible way of thinking.  He is, perhaps, one of the “fittest.”

Our family, on the other hand, buys nearly everything online.  Santa Veach has been doing all of her shopping at Amazon.com and Walmart.com and a variety of super-fun specialty stores, having a grand old time flinging debit and credit card numbers left and right across the virtual abyss.  I don’t think twice about it.  We don’t hold anything back on our very active Facebook accounts, except for things that I obviously can’t share because of security concerns at work (not that my friends would care, anyway.)  Our son has had a Facebook account since he was six years old, as do many of his school friends, although they all use false birthdays in order to allow the registration.

We are ripe for becoming victims of some kind of privacy issue or identity theft, but even acknowledging this fact does not convince me or my husband to back off from being so open and “out there” online.  It is just too convenient to have whatever I buy show up on my doorstep, even though I’m giving out sensitive financial information with every transaction.  It’s too much fun for my husband to always check in wherever he is on Foursquare, letting everyone know he’s not home and giving them a rough estimate of how long he’ll be gone.  Our 9-year-old HAS to have a Facebook account because everybody else on Earth has one, and he wants to show everyone the picture of the fish he caught, even though he’s in the age group most susceptible to identity theft.  I suppose sacrificing our privacy is a price we are willing to pay for the benefits we receive from our technological adventures.

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Facts schmacts, but not culture schmulture. (Week 11)

I found Ishii’s research to be informative, but somewhat… I don’t know… predictable?  For example, on page 358, he offers figures demonstrating that tweens and teens are less socially skilled than adults.   It seems that that is a basic attribute of people in these age groups – it’s largely physiology and brain development that humans generally develop more social skills as a result of maturity and life experience.  Also, the discussion of adolescents using text messaging and mobile phones to keep their social interactions away from their family seemed fairly obvious.  Perhaps it was worth investigating because Ishii is from Japan, where family seems to be more sanctified than it is here.

Anyway, the topic of differences in the use of technology based on culture is an interesting one.  While I haven’t seen differences in “niceties” as demonstrated in Spilka’s examples on pages 172 and 173, I have definitely noticed differences in how people from different cultures view the urgency of e-mail messages.  At work, we have a small percentage of foreign military sales (FMS) contracts, and under my title of contract administrator, I am the main point of contact for our customers.  In one case, I have been trying to obtain some necessary information from a Brazilian customer whose product requires an export license.  Our time zones are only an hour or two off and we could logistically speak on the phone, but I don’t speak Portuguese, and the contact person at that company writes much better English than he speaks, so he corresponds via e-mail only.  I remember learning in an earlier college course that people in Central and South American countries rarely see things as urgent, and are not pushy because pushiness is considered rude.  Obviously, any statement about the people of an entire continent is a generalization, but our Brazilian customer certainly makes a case for this generalized statement.  Every time I need to send an e-mail requesting information, it takes at least a week or two to receive a response.  This is very unusual in our industry, as customers generally want their products as soon as possible.  In drastic contrast to the Brazilian customer is our customer in Japan.  Regardless of the subject at hand or the urgency of the issue, it is unusual to wait more than 20 minutes for an e-mail response.  Likewise, if they do not receive a response to an e-mail they have sent within an hour, they begin sending “second requests” or forwarding it to other contacts they have at our company.

Oh, hello, Mr. Japanese Customer. I see you flew to Wisconsin because it took me an entire hour to respond to your e-mail.

Yeesh.

In looking for evidence in the internet of how widely intercultural business communication is addressed, I found there is a website that offers guides specifically geared toward business communication unique to several individual countries, as well as guides for just about anything else in a country that is influenced by the surrounding culture.  I can see how this could be of high value to industries involving a lot of interpersonal communication or where customer service in the traditional sense is of a high priority. In general though, it seems the nature of my particular industry trumps our respective cultural traditions, at least in part.  There is a basic, professional, courteous-yet-firm “voice” used that is fairly universal, at least in my limited experience.  When it comes down to it, we all just want to get our work done without having others walk all over us and the company we represent.

What LinkedIn means to paranoid employers (Week 10)

I’ve worked for the same company for seven years.  Before that, I worked at my previous employer for eight years.  It should be fairly clear that I’m a stable, loyal employee.

Our company had to lay off 50% of our workforce in June of 2011.  It was a terrible day, because we are a very small company and our employees are a pretty tight bunch.  I joined LinkedIn around that time to keep in touch with those who were let go and to see what kind of new jobs they subsequently found.  Somehow, the senior company management caught wind that I had a new profile on what they considered to be a job-search website, and they questioned me about it within a few weeks of my joining.  Why was I looking for a new job? Did I need to talk? Was there a particular individual layed off that I disagreed with?

At least I got a free therapy session out of the deal.

Considering that was over a year ago, they are likely over it by now and realize I was honest in my reasoning behind creating an account on LinkedIn – that I simply cared about the people who were let go and wanted to see when they found new employment.

Apparently, a lot of people are annoyed by LinkedIn, judging by the 44% statistic at http://amplicate.com/hate/linkedin .  Of course, this link should probably be taken with a grain of salt, since it seems to be a message board for complaints.  Their complaints are relevant, though, especially those involving incessant e-mails from the company.  Since joining LinkedIn, I get e-mails several times a week asking if I know certain people or telling me I should update my profile.  To be quite honest, I’m hesitant to add contacts or add details to my profile because then the newly-added contacts receive e-mails telling them I’m expanding my network or that I’ve updated my information. My employer’s paranoia has made me paranoid, and I’m worried that another red flag will be raised and I will be considered “on my way out the door” at work.  Maybe this would have a positive impact, and I’d get a raise or added benefits if they don’t want to lose me, but it’s probably more likely that I’d be considered disloyal.

The benefits of LinkedIn are fairly obvious to those actively looking for work or who work on a consultant basis.  Those individuals need to create a large network and get the word out about their skills and what they can offer as an employee or consultant.  Those of us with steady jobs, though, need to understand that from some employers’ perspectives, LinkedIn looks like a great website for headhunters and people “exploring their options.”  Industries involving aspects of security requirements, employees in whom companies have invested time and money to train, intellectual property concerns and the like foster employees with incredible value, and they obviously don’t want them to go anywhere.  I suppose LinkedIn could be seen as a threat to companies wanting to retain their workforce.

Week 9: Content Management is Never Done

(Post 2 of 2)

Content management is one of those things that we don’t really think about when it’s done well, but can make us very crabby when it’s not.  We’ve all experienced the frustration of not being able to find something we need, especially if the need is urgent.  Until I began the Tech Comm program here at Stout, I hadn’t thought of it in the least.  Now I’ve had two classes in it, and I realize how much effort goes into the initial design of a content management system.

(Forgive me for the following big ol’ reference to quality management-I’m responsible for our quality system at work and we have a big audit coming up in November, so I’m armpit-deep in that subject right now.) One of the basic tenets of a quality management system is continual improvement.  In the quality world, this means that once procedures are put into place, they are not set in stone.  We should always be looking for a better way to do things, usually through inputs from our own employees and customers.  The problem with continual improvement is that people in general don’t like change.  The original writers of the procedures can feel dejected or insulted because it can seem others don’t think their work was good enough.  Users of the procedures can be annoyed with having to learn how to do the same job a different way.  Neither of these reactions is helpful.  Everyone must buy in to the idea that they are all members of the company “team,” with a common goal of the business’s success.

I suppose continual improvement is a big part of both information design and content management.  It’s not possible to please all of the users all of the time.  Changes are bound to be suggested, even if we do all of the research beforehand, with usability studies and such.  Not all problems can arise during testing stages, and the corrective actions are one of the forms continual improvement takes.  Changes to information design concepts discussed in Spilka’s Chapter 4 are limitless, as there is no one correct answer to design issues.  Content managers do their best with usability data they can accumulate and with skills and understanding of concepts of mapping, signposting and general use of space, but they need to stay open to suggestions for bettering their project.  A teamwork attitude has to just be part of their personality in order for them to be successful, and pride can only hold the project and the company back from improvement.  Their job is never really done – they make it the best it can currently be, but tomorrow a change might come along that makes it better.

Week 9: Businesses are to Individuals as Apples are to Oranges

(Post 1 of 2 for the week – they are fairly unrelated)

I don’t own a business, but sometimes I like to pretend I own the company I work for because it helps me learn more about running a business and therefore, makes me a better employee and expands my knowledge base.  What I’ve learned while pursuing this pseudo-goal is that companies have different considerations than individuals have.  Individuals have a lot on the line, but businesses have more on the line, because bad decisions can have a negative impact on the lives of many people.  My opinion is that businesses are the “laggards,” as Moore says in his white paper, for good reason.

Or, wait until someone else breaks it and see how they fix it.

First of all, if business is good, why rush to take chances on new marketing and technological endeavors?  An established company has a lot to protect – its existing customer base, trade information, employees, reputation.  If the company is to begin openly and freely giving information to everyone, they are really giving that information to everyone, including the competition.  Of course, the extent to which this is a concern is highly dependent upon the industry involved.  Think of the companies that pride themselves on being thought of as stable, or the standard in their business – insurance or investment companies, for example. Jumping into new arenas is a big deal. My head is spinning thinking of all of the guidelines that might need to be put in place for employees entrusted with an organization’s virtual identity.  Virtual identities aren’t that virtual anymore.  The general population is going to form an impression of the company from its website, Facebook page or Twitter feed, and likely assume all of the information presented through those sources is representative of that company.  There would need to be at least a second set of eyes on everything in order to mitigate the issuance of misinformation and faux pas.  Why not wait and see how the competition goes about it, and analyze the response they receive?  I firmly believe in letting someone else make the costly mistakes and learning from others’ experiences for free.  This may make the company seem like they are behind, but once they are up and running, I don’t think people care.

First we were all professional photographers… now we’re all doctors, too?

Our growing dependence upon taking others’ advice is scary to me when I back off and think about it.  Seeking advice on purchases as Qualman describes on pages 89-99 is just good economical sense.  We can save a lot of time, money and frustration by learning from the experiences of others and have our eyes opened to aspects of the purchase or the item itself that we hadn’t considered.  But hmm… medical advice from Facebook friends and acquaintances?  I can see the sharing of home remedies and suggestions for minor health issues, as with the burn example on page 100 of Qualman’s book.  However, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t, say, put a photo of a mole on my arm on Facebook and take a survey as to whether or not they thought it was cancerous, then subsequently base my decision whether or not to go to the doctor on their opinions.

That being said, I do participate in exchanges like this all the time, as both the person asking the question and one of the individuals offering opinions.  Do I think I know what’s best for whatever a friend’s ailment might be?  No.  I just want to help and not seem as if I’m ignoring a friend’s concern.  We have a saying at work, “trust but verify.”  (I know, we seem to have a lot of sayings at my workplace, but they fit a wide rage of situations.)  We take our friends’ input into consideration, but I don’t think most of us take the advice of our social networking friends as seriously as Qualman makes it seem – or at least we shouldn’t.  I acknowledge that on further down page 100 he says that, “After their physician, nurse, or pharmacist, people look within their network from those they trust for good advice on medical treatments and medications.” He then further cites an iCrossing study that suggests that, “Some even list the advice from their friends above that of their physician.” Yipes.  Don’t get me wrong – I know doctors are people like everyone else, they make mistakes, they are working for a paycheck, and there are “good” doctors and “bad” doctors. But even though I have some pretty intelligent friends, I’m sure that in eight-plus years of medical school and continuing education my doctor and the Walgreens pharmacist learned something about health and illness that even my smartest Facebook friends haven’t.

From http://www.pagecovers.com

Hold on, Dr. Whoever. I need to get a second, third, fourth and fifth opinion from my Facebook friends.

I suppose the basis of my concern here lies in how disturbing it is that so many people distrust the medical field in general that they would even consider taking friends’ advice over a trained professional.  Often, if we ask six people the same question, we will get six different answers.  Isn’t it likely that we will pick and choose our favored answer, even if it is subconsciously, potentially ignoring something that requires medical attention?  We can talk ourselves into and out of things and allow our friends to convince us one way or another, but hearing a diagnosis or advice from a medical professional carries a certain amount of authority that our friends simply can’t or shouldn’t provide for us. We don’t know the big picture of our advising friends’ situation, even if it seems they’ve experienced the same issue we are asking about, but doctors with access to medical records can take into account details we may not realize are related to the condition. Qualman states on page 101 that the increase in our health care and medical equipment discussions via social networking is benefitting society, but I think this is only true if we apply a healthy dose (pun intended) of common sense, and unfortunately, not everyone has that.

Employees are as valuable as they choose to be.

For this post, I am mostly considering the “Management Principles and Practices” discussion on pages 59-68 in Spilka.

Now more than ever it is important for everyone to demonstrate his or her value as an employee, regardless of the industry or professional field. Our company has experienced an over 50% cut in our workforce in the past 18 months. Before the layoffs, I was our quality management system director. After the layoffs, I am still responsible for the quality system, but I am also taking care of all contract administration duties and some production management and executive assistant tasks with no raise in pay or any added benefit other than not having to join the unemployment line. I have taken on this added responsibility with a big freaking smile on my face because all four of those titles are considered “overhead” positions, meaning that financially they only cost the company money rather than make it money. People in these kinds of positions are easy targets for the chopping block, and being able to afford to hire individuals for these positions can be seen as a luxury when executive management is getting desperate to cut costs and ultimately save their business. However, just because the position is considered purely an overhead cost doesn’t mean the individual doing the job is doomed to provide no added value to the organization.

One recurring question in the Technical Communication bachelor’s degree program here at Stout was, “What is technical communication?” There is no single correct answer. The ambiguity of our profession really puts us at an advantage if we know how to present our answer when asked what exactly it is that we do. While simply going to work and doing one’s assigned tasks is widely accepted as a sufficient work ethic, it does not allow someone in an overhead position to add value to him- or herself as an employee. So how do we add value to ourselves? A value-added employee is always thinking of ways to do things smarter, more efficiently, more effectively. We need to always be on the lookout for areas in which we can apply our skills, even if it is outside of our comfort zone.  If attending college has taught me anything it’s that I, and everyone else, is capable of much more than we assume ourselves to be.  Our chosen field is something that can be applied in any industry, and it is difficult to think of a document we can’t generate from scratch or improve if we understand the intent and the “big picture” of the company and its goals.  The more we learn about our employer as a whole, the better we can do our job and the more work we can find for ourselves to do within the company.

The only person that can make an employee valuable is the employee him- or herself.  It is not always about learning the most up-to-date technology, but it is always about demonstrating a concern for the company and its needs and acting upon them.  With a little extra effort, technical communicators have unlimited opportunities to do so.

“Thank you, old media.” “No. TY, new media.”

Qualman’s first chapter brought on this little post.

Oh, yes.  Old media vs. new media: the oft-discussed subject in the Technical Communication and MSTPC programs.  Both have their pros and cons, and I think that at this point in time, each has its proper place.  Since my son just celebrated his 9th birthday and we’ve been working on thank-you notes, I’ll go with this comparison:

Old media is to handwritten thank-you notes

as

New media is to sending thank-you e-mails.

Handwritten thank-you notes are a must for grandparents and other respected individuals. This thank-you media requires more thought, effort, and even comes at a higher monetary cost (stationery, stamps, smiley-face stickers, etc.)  We are likely to send them out with correct spelling, capitalization and punctuation.  Errors or missing details can’t be added once the thank-you is sent without going through the entire process again.

E-mail thank-yous, however, will suffice for close friends and other situations in which informality is acceptable.   We may let punctuation and spelling slide, and e-mail is a free service, so it costs us nothing.  An e-mail can come across as more of an afterthought, with generally less time and effort put into it.  We could turn around and send an additional e-mail correcting errors or adding things we forgot in minutes.  There is a more fleeting feeling to them, and recipients are not very likely to keep them once they are read.

Likewise, old media creates more of a record, whereas new media seems fleeting and fickle.  I think of watching a story develop over the course of a day, and watching the headlines change on CNN.com.  We can get very different information, depending on at what point of the day we check the website, and we understand it’s best to wait until everything is sorted out before taking the online news reports as complete and accurate.  Old media (newspapers in particular) gather the information once per day, so there is really only one opportunity per day for erroneous stories.  While the possibility of misinformation still certainly exists, it is not nearly as rampant, and it is not acceptable when misinformation appears in hardcopy print because we expect these outlets to verify their sources and information.  They, themselves, are often considered to be more respectable organizations because their reports are more reliable.

This might seem like a case against my argument, but it demonstrates that when old media gets something wrong, it’s a big deal, but when new media reports something erroneously, it’s no big whoop.

For similar reasons, I think we are more likely to keep, for example, a newspaper clipping of our graduation announcement rather than printing out the online version of the article.  We might see the article online first, but we would be prompted to go out and buy that day’s hardcopy newspaper for scrapbooking or archiving.  It is my opinion that we have a lot more trust in old media than new, but we are drawn to new media because of our love of instant gratification.  Humans are a pretty impatient species, and new media can give us what we want instantly.  There’s a saying at my place of employment: Do you want it done now, or do you want it done right?  New media does it now, but old media is more likely to do it right.

Social networking is only for entertainment in my world. And for spying.

You know why we love social networking?  Because we love ourselves, we naturally compare ourselves to others, and we are nosey.  Also, we feel important when we self-publish.

What?  That’s just me?

Boyd and Ellison

Friendster failed because it tried to tell its users what they should be, rather than allowing them to (even unknowingly) contribute to the development of the site’s features.  Facebook has been more receptive to the directions in which users themselves are taking the site.  A main point of social networking is to allow individuals to express and define themselves, and Friendster seems to have been hellbent on nipping that in the bud.

Qualman

In Chapter 3, Qualman discusses Millennials as though they are all committed to bettering the world.  Qualman seems to assume Millennials are keenly aware of world happenings, but while they are exposed to much more information than previous generations, might much of that information not be from reputable sources?  In fact, in our world of instant communication, there have been embarrassing incidents of incorrect information given out by reputable sources that jumped the gun and reported results of elections (for example) prematurely.  The speed with which news must be reported in order for outlets to be competitive, and the desire to create eye-catching headlines compromises the integrity of even the most trusted sources.

Also, are Millennials really that much more interested in bettering the world?  Or is it just that they are in their mid-20s, fresh out of college, and it seems that anything is possible?  Weren’t hippies the same way in the 1960s?  Perhaps if social networking were available to hippies, they would be branded the same way Millennials are in the present time.  Now they are “baby boomers” and considered to have different priorities from Generations X and Y.  Of course they do!  They’re at a different point in life!  They’ve experienced things that demonstrate why change is difficult to make in the world, and they’ve moved on to working on the things they have control over.  Qualman points to the fact that so many Generation Yers voted in the 2008 election, compared to lower numbers of Generation Xers who had voted when they were the same age.  This factoid used as “proof” that Generation Yers are out to change the world fails to consider that the 2008 election was a huge deal, with more voters participating overall, due to several economic and social factors in the U.S., along with the first African American candidate.

I realize this was not the main point of this reading, but I get frustrated when any large number of people are assumed to have the same (albeit generalized) set of values.

I was also bothered by the practices Qualman brings to light, especially the quote from Allison Bahm on page 46, “I’ve started relationships and signed contracts exclusively within social networks.”  Yipes!  While I don’t know the exact nature of Ms. Bahm’s business, this practice would make me very nervous.  The work world I live in requires everything in writing, documented, confidential and hand-signed.  It is difficult for me to imagine my employer or any of our usual customers considering any SNS to be suitable for professional use, but then again, we government contractors are an anal-retentive bunch.

Hey, baby. What’s your Telex number?

“Is Social Networking for You?”

I have to admit I couldn’t relate very well to “Is Social Networking for You?”  The company I work for sells products to the Department of Defense rather than the general public.  At this point, there is no way government buyers are allowed to source products or manufacturers through social networking.  We are called out on drawings and official documents as approved sources for certain part numbers, and sometimes the customer has no choice but to buy the product from us.  I suppose social networking is not “for” our company, but involvement in social networking can obviously be beneficial for those that sell products to the general population.  If I hear about a product I’m interested in, I go to the company’s website to learn about it and then ask my Facebook friends if they’ve used the product in order to get reviews, much like practices that are discussed in Qualman’s chapters.  It is in those companies’ best interest to have lots of information available for the consumer.

Blogging inexperience and relating to Heidi Glick’s article.

The only blogging I have done is for Dr. Pignetti’s Rhetorical Theory course this past Spring.  I didn’t do very well because I was overscheduled and didn’t put as much time into it as I would have liked.  My classmates produced some very professional-looking, well-rounded posts, and mine were just blah.  I’m going to use the first part of my post to make sure I can figure out how to post photos and videos.

Gratuitous photo of my son, Tucker, and dog, Trooper.

Ok, so I kind of figured out how to add a photo.  That’s my son, Tucker and our dog, Trooper. Pretty dadburn cute, eh?

And now to try a video…

This is taking longer.  My video is on Facebook and it won’t let me download it from there… Calling for backup (husband)… Backup is not helping.  Too bad, because it was going to be a cutesy video of Tucker at the pigeon park in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

I’ll go to my tried-and-true, although not very nice, video:

It’s only funny because the guy wasn’t permanently injured.  And because anyone who watches gymnastics is secretly hoping something like this happens.

And I just realized the caption in my above photo has left the building.  *sigh*  Pick your battles, girl.  Pick your battles.

In regard to our readings, I can relate to Heidi Glick’s article, Four Generations of Editors.  I am 33 years old.  My boss/stepdad/educational benefactor/person who generally runs my life is 71 years old.  He moved my family from Stevens Point eight years ago so I could work for him and put me through college.  Some days I have no idea why he did this, when it seems I can’t do anything right in his eyes.  He drives me absolutely nucking futs with what he thinks is important, and I’m sure he’s wondering what he has to do to get me to do things correctly.  It’s not just our age and the “times” in which we’ve grown up, which is the article’s main focus.  We butt heads most strongly when it comes to correspondence between our company and our customers.  Government contracting is not about “customer service” in the traditional sense.  It’s about delivering exactly what the contract calls for – no more, no less.  I completely understand this, in that we are not dealing with the general public and our pricing is carefully determined so that we are competitive yet still turn a profit.  However, he insists on writing letters that come across as very “snippy,” with overwrought legalese that I can’t imagine any recipient taking the time to figure out the actual message, and a demeaning tone.  He considers this the best way to get the recipient to respond in our favor, he has been doing it this way for 40 years, and he’s not going to change.  I prefer a more friendly, “we’re all on the same team, so let’s work together to get this done” approach to customer correspondence, which he sees as weak and ineffective.  I suppose we are editors, two generations apart.  In the end, he is the owner of the company, and my job is to do things the way he wants them.  Deep down I know he doesn’t completely disagree with everything I do, or he wouldn’t let me get anywhere near our company’s correspondence.

Also, it’s funny that the article specifically mentions double-spacing between sentences as antiquated.  As you can probably tell, I still use two spaces between sentences, and I’m not going to change it.  I think I sound like someone familiar…