Author Archives: lisamrohloff
Hello Classmates and Communicators,
For my final paper, I decided to research and learn more about the newest generation entering the workforce – Gen Z. Here is my abstract:
Generation Z is just entering the workforce and they comprise about 5% of it. But they are already 25% of the population, and they will soon flood the workforce. At the same time, Baby Boomers are poised to retire in large numbers. A huge shift is about to happen. One of the changes that Generation Z will bring into the workforce is how they communicate, and how people communicate is influenced by their life experiences. Generation Z is the first generation to grow up in an information technology world. Social media is a primary way they use to communicate and foster relationships with others. For them, life is instant and super connected. But many of them have difficulty with face-to-face and written communication, skills that are necessary to be successful. This paper will explore the life experiences that have shaped Generation Z, and how their use of digital technologies and social media will influence communication in the Workforce. Finally, it will provide some suggestions for how organizations can adapt to help make the youngest generation’s entrance into the workforce a success for everyone
Before doing this research, it wasn’t clear to me what the differences are between Millennials and Gen Z. But, I’ve found that although there are some similarities, there are also some significant differences. One in particular is the times Gen Z and the Millennials grew up in. Where Millennials grew up in times of peace and prosperity, Gen Zers grew up in a time of war and economic uncertainty. They grew up during the recession, and many saw their families struggle financially. These significant differences have shaped Gen Z and the Millennials in unique ways. Millennials tend to be very optomistic and comfortable about the future and Gen Zers are more cautious and unsure of their future, and they believe it is important to save money. This is just one of the many interesting things I have learned.
This is my last class towards my MSTPC, and I’ll now begin work on my thesis. I have thoroughly enjoyed every class, including this one. I’ve learned so much that I can apply directly to my work. But, what I value most is how I have learned from fellow students. We truly help to sharpen one another. I wish all of you the best as you pursue your dreams and goals. Please feel free to contact me.
I am also on LinkedIn and Facebook.
Getting an audience is hard. Sustaining an audience is hard. It demands a consistency of thought, of purpose, and of action over a long period of time.
– Bruce Springsteen
The Ultimate Goal of the Communicator
For communicators, reaching the audience is the ultimate goal, and doing so means gaining their attention and connecting with them so that communicators can teach, help, motivate, inspire or inform them. Getting to this ultimate goal can be a challenge. It’s not enough to understand a process and be able to document it. It’s not enough to have a tremendous vocabulary and the ability to wield a grammatical sword. The first step towards achieving this goal is for a communicator to know who the audience is. Then when connection has been made, we must keep the doorway open. This is what it means to reach an audience, and it might be the single most important skill for any communicator.
All too often communicators make the mistake of generalizing an audience. The nature of the digital age makes generalizing easy. The machines we use to make and send messages are often what we see – not the people we’re sending the messages to. Bernadette Longo tackles this issue in her chapter of Digital Literacy for technical communicators titled, “Human + Machine Culture”. She writes the following:
When I work at my computer, I may feel that my primary relationship is between myself and my machine (Longo, 2010, p. 147).
Her chapter focuses on culture and community within digital communication, and how it directly relates to technical communicators. Within this context, she defines culture as follows:
In this understanding of the term, “culture” refers to the way in which people relate to each other within a particular social context – how their values, beliefs, assumptions, worldview and so on are manifested through everyday actions and decisions (Longo, 2010, p. 149).
Differences Between a Community and a Social Network
A community can exist without it being a social network. Howard Reingold, in his book Net Smart, describes this difference. Online communities are networks where people can go to communicate, but a social network is where people establish and cultivate relationships. Reingold 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 relationship between members. This comes down to whether participants care about each other and are willing to act on their feelings (Reingold, 2012, p. 163).
So, with social networks, it’s easier to get feedback and get to know an audience. But, with communities, this can be a challenge. To illustrate, we’ll take a look at a specific type of community – company intranet sites. These are the hubs where information is posted for internal customers, or employees of an organization. Companies often have many sub-groups within their organization, each of which has its own culture. Communication is going in one direction – out to the audience. This can make it very difficult to determine what and how to post on the company intranet site. In this type of network environment, it’s easy to generalize the audience. Having a deep understanding of an audience is crucial for making connections and reaching them. Blakeslee writes,
Abstractions and generalizations simply are not sufficient for addressing our audiences effectively in digital environments. What writers need, instead, is a full, accurate – and contextualized – understanding of their audiences. One way to acquire this, which was addressed by all writers from my cases, is to interact directly with members of our audiences (Blakeslee, 2010, p. 220).
4 Common Heuristics to Identify an Audience
The first step in reaching the audience is using some tried and true ways to learn more about them. There are 4 common heuristics used by communicators in identifying an audience. They are as follows:
- targeting specific audiences
- creating personas
- interacting directly with the audience
- gathering feedback from the audience, and applying it
Let’s take a brief look at how these four methods can help to identify an audience.
Creating personas helps to understand general groups within an audience, such as specific generations. The following is a persona I developed for a presentation I did on the communication styles of the different generations in the current workforce.
One of the best ways to understand a specific audience is to conduct focus groups. This is a great idea for large organizations that have many sub-groups. Meeting in person with individuals in a focus group can be of tremendous help for communicators and their audiences. It is a way to break down barriers, identify roadblocks, and make a truly personal connection with an audience. Valuable feedback can be obtained from focus groups. Using surveys is another good way to get feedback. Personas, interacting directly and gathering feedback are all ways that can help drive towards targeting specific audiences, and coming up with communication strategies that work. Blakeslee writes,
From all this research, we can move beyond speculation and guesswork and develop a more coherent, substantial, and comprehensive approach to thinking about and addressing digital audiences (Blakeslee, 2010, p. 223).
Reaching an audience is more than just knowing how to write or create pretty visuals. It’s more than being a subject matter expert or knowing how to document a process. It starts with knowing your audience and making a connection with them. To do this, there are several methods that work such as, creating personas, interacting with people, obtaining feedback, and targeting specific audiences with specific messages. Once the audience is clearly identified, communicators can move on to the next step – creating messages that will reach their audience.
It’s 8:10 am on a Monday morning at XCorp. Knowledge workers are making their way up the stairs to their respective cubicles – backpacks strapped on and coffee in hand. Stacey, a Data Analyst, revs up her computer, logs on and checks her calendar for the day. She has a 9:00 am meeting with an IT manager in which she needs to present some data analytics on an IT project that is being implemented this week. So she gets right to work gathering the data she had collected the previous week. She spends the next 40 minutes gathering her files, finding documents on the project site, and asking her co-worker, Jon, for the excel book he has been working on. As she enters the conference room at precisely 8:58 am, Stacey realizes she’s missing an important document. Apologizing for the delay, she opens her laptop, searches for and finds the document. The meeting starts at 9:10 am after an hour of information gathering.
This story is an example of something that happens all too often. An article in LinkedIn shows that knowledge workers are spending up to 8 hours of a 40 hour work week searching for information. A survey of over 300 knowledge workers in the US and UK, revealed that it is taking workers a significant amount of their time to find information. In his description of the survey results, Bernstein writes,
“It takes workers up to eight searches to find the right document and information, according to 80% of respondents” (Bernstein, 2013).
Why We Need Good Content Management in Organizations
Knowledge workers have become masters at creating all sorts of content; they create presentations, single point lessons, graphs and diagrams, spreadsheets, newsletters, memos, and much more on a daily basis. Often a great deal of effort is spent on the creation of these materials while very little is given to how they will be managed.
Enter content management. Having a good content management system in place can be one of an organizations best attributes. In the book Digital Literacy, William Hart-Davidson provides a definition of content management when he writes,
“The term “content management” generally refers to a set of practices for handling information, including how it is created, stored, retrieved, formatted, and styled for delivery” (Hart-Davidson, 2010).
How Technical Communicators Can Enhance Content Managment
In our quest to understand the role of a technical communicator, we can think about content management. Technical communicators have a unique set of skills that makes them perfect for CM. So what are some of the specific skills technical communicators have that make them perfect for a role as content manager? Hart-Davidson describes these when he writes,
“The following are three perspectives, or categories for creating and managing content.
- Making texts – here texts are understood as more or less coherent wholes sometimes called “information products” or “information types;” these are the genres that a particular organization makes for its clients, users, and customers, and its own members or workforce.
- Creating and managing information assets, defining relationships among these, and specifying display conditions for specific views of these – an object-oriented world view prevails in this perspective, ideally balancing the interests of users/readers with those of content producers; unlike the text-making perspective, the focus here is on ensuring that all the elements are in place to make text-making possible, scalable, and effective for all those involved.
- Designing and managing workflows and production models – the third perspective focuses on the roles and responsibilities of those involved in content creation and management, including users in some production models; within organizations, this third way of seeing offers a managerial perspective; across organizations it incorporates the interests of partners and clients (think, here, of a supply chain)” (Hart-Davidson, 2010).
These are all skills in which technical communicators are masters. Many organizations have CM issues, and many organizations have technical communicators who are not being leveraged to help with the organization’s CM. If they have the skills to successfully manage content, and they know how to use the CM tools that are available, why aren’t more organizations seeing technical communicators for the value they can provide them in regards to CM? Perhaps technical communicators are the hidden gem we’ve been looking for.
The Ever Changing Role of Technical Communicator
Since the 1970s, the role of the technical communicator has changed drastically. This change has been caused by the increasing role of computers, and by the shift from publishing in print to publishing online. Technical communicators have had to ride out the new waves of increased automated production, evolution to desktop publishing, the new Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs), Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. These changes happened rapidly and technical communicators have had to learn to use new tools, adjust to a different mindset in their business, and determine what their value is in this new digital age.
Because their role has changed so much in such a short time, they’ve experienced something of an identity crisis, and so have their coworkers and organizations. In chapter 2 of Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, R. Stanley Dicks writes,
In many organizations the main culture and mission are dominated by those other groups of professionals, who often do not understand exactly what communicators do, or how they do it, or how they add value to the bottom line. (2010, Spilka)
My Personal Experience as Technical Communicator
A few years ago, I experienced this technical communicator role confusion first hand. After applying for a job as an Administrative Assistant, I was offered a position as a Business Analyst. At first I was confused by this. Then I was told that, based on my writing experience and my desire to do some technical writing, I’d be a perfect fit as a Business Analyst in an IT Project Management Office. I was then told that 50% of my work would consist of technical writing. Translation: the company needed an IT technical writer and I had just enough writing experience to qualify for the job.
I really had no idea what being a technical writer entailed, but I was about to learn. I began working with a Cyber Security expert who had several technical degrees, and with other IT Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). My job was to write user instructions for the new anti-virus software that the organization would be using. I was honest and told them I had no IT experience. They were okay with that because they wanted me to learn from the SMEs and then write the instructions in a way that the average non-IT person could understand them. It was a great experience, but some of the SMEs told me I was not really a technical writer in the true sense of the title. So, I thought to myself, “Who am I?” When people would ask me what I did for a living, I’d say something like, “My title is Business Analyst, but I’m not really a Business Analyst – I’m more of a Technical Writer.” Looking back, I can see that nobody I worked with or for really knew if I was truly a technical writer either. They had a need and I filled it. Then they called me a Technical Writer.
History of a Technical Communicator
Since that time, I have perked up whenever the topic of Technical Writer comes up, particularly in the Master of Science in Technical and Professional Communication program I’m in. The book Digital Literacy for Technical Communication provides the best explanation of this role that I have ever found. But, more than that, it goes on to help readers understand why there’s been some confusion around this role. I’ve learned that the following changes throughout the last few decades have contributed to the fluctuations in this role:
1970s Technical Writer
- write instructions, draw illustrations, edit product specifications and create reference materials and user manuals using typewriters, pens and paper
1980s Technical Writer
- Mini and personal computers are beginning to be used
- Customers receive technical support through service contracts
- more 3rd part software is being used by companies
- Word processing and desktop publishing are available
1990s Technical Writer/Communicator
- Role splits into two:
- Software Engineer – design and create interactions, and
- Technical Writer – documents and provides instructions
- Personal Computers are the norm
- Internet is used and many documents are published online as opposed to on paper
2000s Technical Communicator
- Web 1.0
- Web 2.0 technologies have given us the tools to do much of the work ourselves
“When billions of people came into the possession of digital computers and Internet connections, however, a new mode of production began to emerge…the means of both production and distribution were no longer limited to capitalists when the workers themselves could own these same means” (2012, Reingold).
- Increase in content published online
- interactive capabilities of computers
- Content management systems
- Social networking
- Learning Management Systems (LMS)
- working as part of a cross-functional project team that collaborates with digital media
- Flexible work schedules and working remotely
Technology has evolved quickly, and we’ve had to evolve with it. Sherry Turkle described this rapid evolution well.
“This networked culture is very young. Attendants at its birth, we threw ourselves into its adventure. This is human” (2011, Turkle).
With all these changes, it’s no wonder there has been some confusion as to what a technical communicator is. However, the role is still hard to define because the job description for this role can vary by organization and needs, and because the atmosphere is still changing.
“Technical communicators are now in a similarly disruptive, revolutionary era when several aspects of their work are changing at the same time… The methods we use for managing projects are changing, in some cases quite radically. the tools and methods for developing, storing, and retrieving information are also evolving rapidly. While the period ahead may be at times unsettling for practitioners and educators alike in the technical communication discipline, it also promises to provide the kinds of challenges and rewards that such periods always yield” (2010, Dicks).
As long as we continue to evolve along our technological journey, we can expect roles such as technical communicator to continue to change.
Defining Web 2.0
The term Web 2.0 was coined in 2004 by Tim O’Reilly. In 2005 he defined the term as follows:
“…the network as platform, spanning all connected devices; Web 2.0 applications are those that make the most of the intrinsic advantages of that platform: delivering software as a continually updated service that gets better the more people use it, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, while providing their own data and services in a form that allows remixing by others, creating network effects through an ‘architecture of participation’ and going beyond the page metaphor of Web1.0 to deliver rich user experiences.”
O’Reilly provided us with a positive and exciting definition. We were at a stage in our information journey that most of us couldn’t have predicted. Later, in 2009, O’Reilly added the following to his definition of Web 2.0:
“the Web as platform, the harnessing of collective intelligence and taking advantage of the wisdom of the crowd, the importance of data (calling in the next ‘intel inside’), and the end of the software release cycle, among others.”
Pitfalls and Dangers of Web 2.0
But, as time went on and more and more people became active on these platforms, we learned about the pitfalls and dangers that were lurking.
In June of 2016, Nicholas Proferas wrote a paper that brings to light some of the pitfalls and dangers for users of WEb 2.0 technologies entitled, “Web 2.0 User knowledge and the limits of individual and collective power.” In it he provides his overall assessment of how knowledge power is largely in the hands of the Web 2.0 purveyors and that is isn’t always accurate. He brings up some great points, such as the fact that Wikipedia has difficulty getting enough contributors and the ones they do get are 90% male. So there is a gender gap in the Wikipedia contributor population. Many people don’t trust Wikipedia as a source because anyone can add and edit the information. Porferas goes on to discuss how platforms are constantly changing and users aren’t always aware of the changes or know what they can do to keep up with them. Many users don’t understand the technology they use, and it can be difficult to figure out how to keep information safe while using it. In addition, users have little control over the information they produce and publish, and although privacy policies are made available, they are often vague. Proferas writes that the purveyors of these platforms have the ultimate information control.
While Nicholas Proferas overall assessment of Web 2.0 is mostly negative, and he highlighted how it inherently creates a situation where knowledge power is in the hands of those who administrate the platforms, Howard Reingold, in his book, “Net Smart How to Thrive Online,” takes a different approach. He shows how our information society has transformed into a network society, largely because of Web 2.0 technologies. Reingold takes us on a journey that began with cave men drawing on a rock wall, and it continues through the present. He makes a key stop at the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press five hundred years ago. Prior to that time, 30,000 books existed in Europe. Within 50 years of this amazing invention, ten million books existed! This single machine made knowledge sharing easier, and people’s knowledge grew exponentially as a result. This was the beginning of humankind recognizing and labeling ourselves as an information society.
Our Continued Digital Evolution
With our evolution into a Web 2.0 world, we’ve evolved again. According to Reingold, we’ve gone from being an information society to a network society. A network society allows for more than just information sharing; it allows us to connect as human beings at a whole new level. Reingold writes, “Online networks that support social networks share properties of more general network structure as well as the specific properties of human networks.”
Although Reingold does address the pitfalls and problems that exist within this Web 2.0 world (such as identity theft, and the unwanted use and mixing of our creations), he provides a healthy, more balanced approach that also shows the amazing new benefits. He gives the example of a man whose son had cancer. The man networked online with a whole group of people – doctors, nurses, friends, family, other parents who had a child with cancer, and more. As a result, he gained a valuable support system that provided him with knowledge, friendship, emotional support and even money that the group had raised.
So, although this new network society we have available to us through the Web 2.0 world holds some possible dangers, there are many benefits as well. It isn’t going away, and those who learn to use it responsibly can enjoy the benefits relatively safely.
“It’s a dangerous business, going out of your door.
You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet,
there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”
The modern digital world can be both wonderful and frightening. We have this wide world of digital opportunities in which we can participate, but there are dangers on the road. For our journey to be successful and safe, we must be aware of the pitfalls – be mindful – keep our feet.
How to Keep Your Feet
We’re all at different stages of our digital journey. Some are just starting out, hearing about new opportunities and either reluctantly or curiously stepping out onto this road. These travelers might be familiar with some digital mediums such as email and smart phones. Then there are those who are at the front of the pack. The have every new device possible and regularly engage those devices to participate in social media, access information, and order products. All of us are at some point along this road. But, wherever each person is at, there is one thing we all need to do – we need to keep our feet.
In chapter 3 of his book Net Smart How to thrive online, Howard Reingold writes,
“In the world of digitally networked publics, online participation – if you know how to do it – can translate into real power” (p. 114). He goes on to write, “Done mindfully, digital participation helps build a more democratic, more diverse culture – a participatory one” (p. 75). B
eing a participant in this world can provide faster ways to communicate with those far from us, inform us of happenings across the globe, provide us with a library full of information and much, much more. But this real-time access to people, products and information brings with it some possible bumps in the road.
As with any new path in life, there are many amazing and wonderful gems, and there are also dangers. Two of the pitfalls of this digital world are 1) being “always on” and, 2) accessing incorrect or propagandized information. First, let’s examine being on all the time. It has become an issue in classrooms, business meetings and even the dinner table. People are absorbed in their devices instead of focusing on the people and activities they are involved with. Reingold studied this aspect of digital life and wrote,
“The attention shift that has been taking place among students for some time now is propagating far beyond the campuses: all people and media are available all the time, and in all places, but relatively few people appear to use ubiquitous informational access and social connectivity politely and productively” (p. 36).
So, as people are connected to social media on their devices, they are disconnected to what is going on around them. This leads to another problem – multitasking. Many studies have been done on multitasking, and the majority of psychologists agree that it doesn’t really work. Our brains can only truly focus on one thing at a time. So, if a student in a classroom is bouncing back and forth from Facebook to email to what’s going on in the classroom, they are most likely not fully engaged in any one of those things. There are even studies that suggest this is unhealthy for our brains and well-being. Reingold writes,
“Continuous partial attention can hamper opportunities for reflection and authentic social connection as well as threaten personal health and well-being” (p. 58).
Another pitfall to consider is the fact that we can’t trust everything we read on the internet. Because there is such a plethora of information out there and anyone can add to it regardless of their credentials, some of it is inaccurate, misleading or comes from sources we don’t realize.
The good news is that there are some ways in which we can keep our feet as we walk on this road. First, we can practice mindfulness. We can choose to be aware of our own tendencies to multitask. We can choose to not text and drive, choose to turn devices off at the dinner table or at meetings, and choose to fully engage with the people around us. There are also some simple ways to make sure the information we’re accessing is true and from credible sources. Here are some of those ways:
- think skeptically
- look for an author and check their claims to authority on the subject
- check the author’s sources
- see what others are saying about the author
- Review sites and see if anything doesn’t seem authentic about them
- Remember that some of the information on the internet is crowdsourced. It doesn’t come from one source that is easy to find. So be sure to investigate all sources. In her book Superconnected, Mary Chayko wrote,
“This sharing economy has complicated copyright matters. Lots of information on the internet and digital media is prosumed, crowdsourced, and remixed – created collaboratively by producers and consumers alike, sometimes in large batches” (p. 78).
This digital road we are traveling together is wonderful. It offers us amazing opportunities to connect, learn and grow. But, there are also stumbling stones, so we must take care to keep our feet.
Reingold, H. (2014). Net Smart: How to thrive online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Chayko, M. (2018). Superconnected: The internet, digital media and technosocial life. SAGE: Los Angeles.
The Haves and the Have Nots
As I study emerging media and how it has changed the communication landscape, a question emerges: Does emerging media help humanity to be more connected or does its existence create a greater divide? In her article published in Technical Communicators Quarterly entitled, Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making: Technical Communication Between the Global North and South, Bernadette Longo writes,
“Even when we do include input from users in our design decisions and revisions, we should keep in mind that the majority of people in the world still do not have access to devices that would allow them to participate in this design community equitably. Yet, our actions still affect the lives of people without access, for example, the miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo who dig with their hands to give us rare minerals for making smart phones and other mobile devices.”
So, with all the wonderful new ways to communicate, feel connected, do research, and increase our awareness of what’s happening in the world, it is important to be cognizant of the fact that most of the people in our world do not have the ability to access publicly available online services (PAOSs).
In contrast to those miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo, knowledge workers across the globe are using PAOSs for many tasks, both personally and professionally. These tasks include developing associations with others, researching, and sharing personal information. They regularly access Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, Skype, Google Maps, etc., to learn and communicate on a global level. In their article, Technical Communication Unbound: Knowledge Work, Social Media, and Emergent Communicative Practices, Tony Ferro and Mark Zachry report on the results of a survey of professional technical communicators and their use of emerging media. They wrote,
“On average, participants reported using PAOSs for work between 20% and 27% of their workweek.”
While, in some societies, emerging media is a significant part of work and personal life, in others, it is virtually non-existent. Does the fact that less than half the population of the world doesn’t have access to PAOSs cause a divide between them and those who do have access? How does this affect our world, how people vote, what they know about the world, how they communicate and how they feel? More study needs to be done on this. As the various webs of social media grow and become more complex, those who have access continue to grow, learn and communicate while the majority of people cannot. They can’t Skype with a relative who lives far away, have instant access to global headline news or do research online. They are living in a world that is decades behind those who have this wonderful access.
Although a divide exists, there are some promising trends happening globally. Statista.com is just one resource for information that can shed light on how many people across the globe are active with emerging media. One study shows that in 2010, about .97 billion people had a social media profile. But, by the year 2019, it is estimated that this number will grow to about 2.77 billion.
Number of social media users in billions
When we consider the fact that more than 7.4 billion people live on the Earth, it’s enlightening that less than half the population is active on social media. While activity on social media is just one indicator of a person’s overall use of PAOSs, this still help to put our connectedness (or disconnectedness) into perspective.
My father, who I admire, lives by a piece of advice his grandfather gave him – everything in moderation. I’ve grown to understand and apply that way of thinking to my own life because I realize the wisdom in those three words. It’s okay to have a piece of pie for dessert, but if I have a large piece of pie with three scoops of ice cream every single night after dinner, eventually I am going to suffer some negative effects in my health. Even things that are good for us can turn harmful if we overindulge in them. Exercise is an example. It’s very beneficial for our bodies in many ways, but if we overdo it, we can injure ourselves or even reverse the benefits. So, with my great grandfather’s motto in mind – everything in moderation – it is possible for us to be too connected from a technological standpoint.
As technology has grown and advanced, we have become more and more connected. This connectedness provides us with a plethora of wonderful benefits. I love it that my children are all just a phone call or text away. It gives me a sense of comfort in knowing that they can call 911 if they are in an emergency situation. I can purchase items online and have them shipped to me by the next day. When my father traveled to Ireland , I could stay in contact with him and know he was well and enjoying himself. I live in the north, and we get some terrible snow storms. Since I have a company issued laptop, I can work from home when it isn’t safe to be on the roads. There are so many advantages to living in a super-connected world.
Along with our ability to stay so interconnected comes some problems that are very real and very dangerous. Our personal and financial information is at risk. Our personal preferences can be known even without us realizing it. We can be targets of those wanting to steal our identities, our financial wealth and our consumer preferences. Mary Chayko, in her book Superconnected, writes, “The rise and proliferation of the internet, digital media, and ICTs represent the potential for individuals to live richer lives but also lives that are more closely scrutinized and surveiled. The harnessing of collective knowledge and superconnectedness yields infinite possibilities, but the outcomes are unclear, uncertain” (p. 215). In his book NET SMART: How to Thrive Online, Howard Rheinhold writes, “Privacy-related issues such as identity theft, state-sponsored surveillance, and behavioral data mining that surmises more about your preferences than you’d prefer anyone to know are the subjects of daily headlines, and touch every aspect of our lives” (2012, p. 239).
Technology is being used to influence how people think and how they act. Jonathan Zitrain, professor of Law at Harvard Law School, in his talk Alure of the Algorithm and Why We Should Be Aware, described how the Facebook algorithm can be used to predict relationships between people even before they connect on Facebook. This is just one of the many examples of how being so connected has the potential to cross over into intrusiveness.
Can we be too connected? Is it possible that our abilities to find out information about one another has become so advanced that we just don’t have the ability to stay as secure and private as we want and need to be? There are ways to enhance our security, but it requires us to stay vigilant. How do I, personally, apply my great grandfather’s motto of “everything in moderation” to this situation? I do believe we are on a fast course to being so interconnected that we have created a world that has some new security issues for us. I suggest we do everything we can to educate ourselves and others about the possible pitfalls of this interconnectedness that is our reality. Then let’s take what we know and teach others about how they can keep their information safe.
Communication is a desire of all humans. Over the centuries, humans have found better, faster and easier ways to communicate. We’ve even found ways to communicate with people who are thousands of miles away or in space. As we’ve advanced, we’ve benefited – at least most of us. One specific area that has benefited is workplace communication. Modern technological advances have allowed organizations to have intranet sites that inform employees about company sponsored events, stock value, employee resource groups and training opportunities. Employees visiting their intranet sites can learn more about the company and what leadership’s goals and vision are. They can view organizational charts, access forms and policy documents and even read company newsletters. Those who have company issued devices such as laptops and smartphones have the means to send and receive messages via company email, use an electronic time keeping system and access various applications. Because companies have kept up the pace with modern technology, communication within them has been enhanced. It has opened wonderful doors of opportunity for many employees. However, there is one segment of the workforce that lags far behind the others in terms of having good access to modern communication methods and modes – production workers.
Employee engagement is lowest among production workers. This lower employee engagement can be linked to less efficient communication to and from production workers. So, while the majority of our workforce has been able to take advantage of and reap the benefits of what Mary Chayko, in her book Superconnected, calls a participatory culture, production workers do not have these same opportunities. While internal workplace communication is growing and changing with the times among all other segments of the workforce, production workers are being left behind. It’s no wonder they are less engaged.
While solutions to this problem are difficult to find, the reasons are fairly simple. If, for example, you are a welder working the third shift at a large company, you most likely don’t have a company issued laptop or smart phone, you don’t have the ability to leave your work on the line to attend a town hall meeting and you probably don’t even have a company email address. So, much of the company information about upcoming events, changes, training opportunities, policies, etc., is cascaded down to you through word of mount or perhaps a poster on the break room bulletin board. You are not a part of the participatory culture that everyone else enjoys. This creates a serious communication gap between production workers and the rest of the organization.
How can we bridge this digital divide between production workers and the rest of the workforce? How can we give them better opportunities to participate and engage with the business they are such a valuable part of? Is it financially feasible and beneficial for organizations to invest in ways to create avenues with which communication can flow to and from production workers? An article by Jeffry Bartash in MarketWatch emphasizes how low unemployment rates (among other factors) have left many businesses facing a labor shortage. Companies are paying for workers to take courses and get certifications as a way to obtain more skilled laborers. They’re also offering better pay and benefits to attract workers. What if some companies offered production workers time to attend town hall meetings and other company-wide events, or leverage mobile application technology? Bulent Osman writes in Forbes magazine about how important it is to reach these employees, and that leveraging mobile technology is a feasible way. Companies absorb the costs of providing workers with the tools to communicate better because they know how it benefits the business and increases employee engagement. I issue a challenge that we begin to find ways to close the digital divide between production workers and the rest of the workforce, and that we provide them with better communication tools.
Blogs are a unique and wonderful medium for writers. We can post just about anything, anytime, our audience can respond with their candid thoughts, and we can grow and develop as a writer through this process. Here, I will describe some of the limited experience I’ve had with blogging, what I feel I gained from it, and where I’d like to go with blogging in the future.
My first experience with blogging was in 2011. I was taking a class towards my bachelor’s degree in Communication, and I was required to create and maintain a blog. It was fun! I enjoyed creating something of my own that was both visual and textual. I filled it with different essays, poems, and assignments I had written. But, after the class ended, I did not keep the blog updated. Since beginning my master’s degree program at UW Stout, I’ve also had one class where we entered blog posts. We were only required to do a couple posts, but I enjoyed that as well. From there, I started a blog of my own, but since I didn’t keep it updated, I cancelled my post. I’d love to have a blog and keep it updated regularly, but with working full time, taking classes towards my Master of Science in Technical and Professional Communication (MSTPC) and my family, I honestly don’t have time right now. However, I am excited that this class gives me an opportunity to develop my blogging skills, so that when I am ready to start my own blog, I’ll be that much better!
Blogging is a terrific way for writers to satisfy that deep desire to write while honing their writing skills. It is also a great way to gain honest, real-world feedback. Bonnie A Nardi, Diane J Schiano, Michelle Gumbrecht and Luke Schwartz wrote, “In our sample, we discovered five major motivations for blogging: documenting one’s life; providing commentary and opinions; expressing deeply felt emotions; articulating ideas through writing; and forming and maintaining community forums” (2004, p. 43). The blogging I have done fits best into the categories of articulating ideas through writing and forming and maintaining community forums. But, what I’d really like to do in the future, is to express deeply felt emotions. I picture myself reclining on a comfortable deck chair, listening to the birds sing their songs to one another, and allowing the wind to calm me as it moves through the leaves. I long to smell the pine fresh air and then use my pen to help my audience smell it too. I know I’ll eventually have my own blog – probably soon after I graduate from the MSTPC program. Until then I’ll keep learning about how to do it well.
Nardi, B. A., Schiano, D. J., Gumbrecht, M. & Schwartz, L. (December, 2004). Why we blog. Communications of the ACM, 47(12).