Author Archives: Nathan Baughman
That’s one more semester under my belt, and one more to go! It feels surreal, but I’m really excited (and maybe a little nervous!) to get started on my final project.
For this research assignment, I decided to tie this in with current position and past work experiences, examining how “leadership” integrates with communication strategies for digital technology especially for virtual leaders. After examining my sources, I came up with five major characteristics which included digital literacy, emerging media adaptation, personalization, self-management, and clear communication. Here’s a passage from my introduction about my main research question:
“With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and stay at home mandates across the United states, working from home quickly became a normality for many businesses, whether they could facilitate or not. This led to both instances of success and failures, depending on a business’s resources and knowledge to both implement virtual working and lead virtual employees. Leadership is now more than ever important for people to navigate their work life with some uncertainty. This research paper examines the literature that explains the successful integration of virtual leadership to expand the knowledge of transitioning a leadership framework into a virtual medium. “
Looking back, I really had a great experience this semester. While I wasn’t experienced with blog writing at the beginning of the semester, I ended up enjoying it a great deal and felt I was more inclined to write a little more freely about things compared to traditional discussion based forums on Canvas.
Hope everyone has a great holiday break and an excellent start to the new year 🙂
In the earlier years of social media, it seemed that most organizations brushed it off as a more leisure/personal activity and kept it separate from professional work. Now, almost 20 years after its mainstream existence, social media and business activity have naturally come to a convergence, whether professionals wanted it to happen or not. One way where businesses utilize social media is through communication and networking. Stacey Pigg in her article explains, “Social media offer a means through which individuals can aggregate people and knowledge” (p. 70). Every business or organization has groups of workers and types of services associated with their company, which can all be represented on social media. Another way social media benefits companies can be through branding. Social media can help a company establish their brand and spread awareness of a company to a large audience.
Knowing that social media can benefit a company, professionals more often now accept that using social media can be considered a “productive” work related activity. In Ferro and Zachary’s article, the authors examined what types of specific activities employees do when using social media at work. Among the activities, the top two were developing associations and learning about a topic (p. 18). For me, I would recognize this as true for some of my work tasks. I have to spend some time networking with other local organizations, researching about the organization, or finding out about certain events. Sometimes, some businesses don’t have a substantial website if they have one at all, and their social media page might be the best place to get a foot into the door (virtually) with the organization. While this applies to me and my work, this of course all depends on the role of the workers and the type of organization itself. For an employee who works exclusively on internal projects, there may actually be no use for social media at all.
Regardless, the merging of social media and professional businesses has created a great deal of new job descriptions. Roles such as social media specialist, marketing director, or other similar ones are quite common. These versions of the “knowledge workers,” mentioned by Ferro and Zach, who, “possess the ability to continuously build on his or her previous state of expertise” (p.8). These workers might spend more time studying new products, technologies, or services, and develop ways to communicate information about these to other people, sometimes hoping to “sell” the product. Similar to how companies take social media more seriously these days, education now places value in teaching social media / digital communication competencies to prepare students for potential work they might do that involves social media. Ferro and Zach explain that many youths today have actually developed their basic reading and writing skills through online media which poses the question, “how can we as technical communication instructors make these services which are familiar to our students strange?” (p. 19). This is certainly an interesting question and perhaps warrants some additional research. Personally, I think the most novel or “strange” experiences I have had were ones that involved cross-collaborations with other academic departments or community/outside members especially. For example, I took one grant writing class during my undergrad that had us work with people from non-profit organizations in the area and help develop a grant for their organization. Traditional writing was of course something that I had been doing all my life (not so much grant writing specifically), but having to work with an outside source made the experience feel much more novel, and the stakes seemed higher. This could probably be applied to social media communications. While different institutions obviously have different resources and opportunities, I think this would be one suggestion to the authors’ question, which probably has many other possible answers.
Ferro, T., & Zachry, M. (2013). Technical Communication Unbound: Knowledge Work, Social Media, and Emergent Communicative Practices. Technical Communication Quarterly, 23(1), 6-21.
Pigg, S. (2014). Coordinating Constant Invention: Social Media’s Role in Distributed Work. Technical Communication Quarterly, 23(2), 69-87.
The readings this week had me really contemplating how much many people’s lives, both professional and personal, are tied to technology, namely computers and the internet. In Longo’s chapter, she goes into great detail how this has influenced culture, and writes, “I am arguing for a new understanding of our culture when we become profoundly coupled to machines that facilitate our communication and networking with other people” (p. 148). So much of culture is defined by how individuals communicate and interact with one another, thus we can’t ignore the presence and influence of technology when analyzing modern culture.
Her word choice of “coupled” reminded me of an incident that occurred at my workplace some time ago. One day, I walked into work on a Monday morning and started up my email to go through my usual Monday ritual of checking emails, only to find that the entire network of the building down, including the phone line. Furthermore, our IT expert was out of the office for the day. Since there was nothing I could really do for the day that didn’t involve using the internet (or even the local network), my supervisor basically gave me permission to leave and work from home for the day (which he was mostly against at that time). It was really a huge reminder that my work presently was very much “coupled to machines,” even though the core of that organization was human services. Now, with people working from home more often, there is an even greater dependency. People speculate at what life and society would be like without the presence of modern technology. It’s no surprise that the popularity of dystopian science fiction gained somewhat of a resurgence over the past few decades, right along the growth of the internet and with other topics like climate change.
Fiction aside, Longo comments on how in theory, human and machine communities (the internet, I presume), could be a tool to unify people, but in reality plays out almost oppositely in that , “Human + machine communities tend to be fragmented and localized” (p. 150). This can seen everywhere on the internet. Enter any social media site, and you can see arguments/disagreements everywhere on multiple topics. The biggest topic right now is of course the recent presidential election. It’s happened too often lately where I have groups of friends in one circle, but not everyone is on the same political platform. One person will make a remark or post that is rather antagonistic, and this results in a spiral of arguments, and seldom ends in an amicable resolution. This is not the most constructive way to communicate to people and to form communities. It only continues to “fragment” communities. Perhaps as technical communicators, our goals might be to find solutions to create better systems for people to communicate in. It is not an easy task, and I think requires a considerable group effort, but I believe it can be done.
While technical communication and technical writing has been an existing profession for several decades, it seems like it is still a career choice that many people do not know about or are even aware of. I often find myself answering questions to family and friends about what a technical writer does or explaining what the technical and professional communication program at Stout teaches. My parent’s track record for even remembering what the program is called isn’t the greatest (though it is of the longer of titles), but if they can at least remember one or two of the words I give them credit.
In some respect, I think of a technical communicator as a jack of all trades in their respective industry. Much of the first two chapters of Spilka’s book Digital Literacy for Technical Communication echoes this definition. In the introduction, she writes, “we are identifying ourselves not as members of any one field, such as technical communication, but rather, as cross- or multi- disciplinary” (p.5, 2010). These disciplines could include, but are not limited to, English, communications, physical sciences, social sciences, engineering, visual design, and so on. Really, it’s a little bit of everything.
My background as an undergrad is in physics; specifically, my degree was a Bachelor of Science in applied physics, with a minor in English. My work history during and after college, I feel, has been far from conventional (which I’m pretty okay with). Some of my jobs that leaned closer to physics were as a research assistant at UW Eau Claire for the physics department, and as an engineering technician for a manufacturing company. Now, I’m doing more of the “communications” side of technical communications while working in the non-profit sector of Eau Claire as a coordinator. I honestly was never sure what exactly I wanted to do as a career, but I knew I liked working with people through speaking or writing and was capable of understanding science and working with numbers. This is why I think I was drawn to tech comm with having a such a mish mash of skills, interests, and experience.
At the core of technical communication is of course technology; and technology is always evolving. As its evolved, technology has fortunately facilitated tech commers to become skilled at many things, either through traditional schooling or DIY-type instruction, so that tech commers may, “become their own designers, illustrators, and production assistants” (Spilka p.45, 2010). There is somewhat of a symbiotic relationship between technology and technical communicators. While technology grows, the skills of technical communicators also grow, and they can thus communicate/advocate the wonders of technology.
It’s still a little tricky to give one clear definition for technical communication (which is probably why some technical communication course’s first assignments are to write up a definition). One thing I think it certain, though, is that technical communicators are versatile in their skills. While technology grows, I think the importance of our role also continues to grow.
While reading this week’s chapters in Supperconnected I had a bit of a surreal moment. I had just spent some time browsing through movies available on HBO Max, which my dad just subscribed to and shared with me, to decide on a movie to watch tonight, when I quickly remembered I was in the middle of reading our text. I switched tabs and resumed the chapter which continued to explain the concept of multitasking, and how, “It is not really possible to do several complex cognitive tasks simultaneously. More often, people move back and forth from task to task, switching as rapidly as they can or need to do” (Chayko p. 190). I thought that this was right on point, perhaps too on point, and that I was demonstrating this at that moment.
My propensity to multi-task on the internet is something that I am definitely aware of but try to minimize and work on. It seems that many devices that access the internet, like phones, computers, tablets, and even gaming consoles, are built in such away that allow accessible multitasking. Phones keep most applications running and allow to switch back and forth between them, and internet browsers let you keep as many tabs running as your computer’s RAM allows (I’m actually not sure if there is a limit). I usually try to keep the amount of tabs I have open to a minimum, although I have a habit of cycling through the ones I have open to remember what I was doing on that tab, and assessing if it’s necessary for me to keep it open. Eventually, I’ll hone in on one project that I’m working on, but it does take time for my attention to come to a singular focus.
With having a partially virtual job that is mostly self-scheduled and having the independence of online school, the potential for my attention to go rampant is very high. What I try to do throughout the week is “chunk” my time. That is, delegating one hour-ish hour blocks on a specific task; whether that be completing an assignment, meeting with a client, our taking some time to relax. I do this with moderate success, though often times I will go off the path for whatever reason, for instance if I have an idea for paper that comes to me during relax time.
Related to multi-tasking outside of the digital realm, in my job where I train clients with cognitive disabilities and help them develop their jobs, multi-tasking is a “skill” that occasionally gets attention. Most of the time, this is for being able to talk/socialize with their coworkers while performing their job task. In my experience, for someone who can already perform a specific task at an adept level, they either can or cannot talk while they do the job. It is very difficult to teach a person how to split their attention. Instead, if they do struggle doing this, I encourage them to stay focused on their task and perhaps take breaks to socialize with people between tasks, or at an obvious break point. This is sort of like my idea of “chunking,” but on a more micro-level.
In general, the effects of continuous partial attention, which Chayko explains a little further in the chapter, is something I am aware of and try to improve on for myself. For designers, it might be something to keep in mind to help people in honing their attention for future devices or applications. I think it would be a really interesting challenge to try for a certain amount of time only use the internet while having one tab open at a time. It’s certainly possible, but I wonder how difficult it would actually be, and how potent my impulse to open up another tab would feel.
I often wonder what the long-term effects of social media and technology engagement might be for people who have had access to them at early ages. Chayko terms children who have grown up with technology as “digital natives,” whom, “have come of age in environments in which the internet and digital media are an ordinary part of people’s lives” (p. 126). For myself, at the age of 25, I am probably on the border of this definition, as I can remember growing up without knowing what the internet was. My family did not acquire high-speed internet until I was roughly in middle school. My first exposures to it were probably at school during information/technology classes, though I also remember going over to my neighbor’s home and using their computer to watch music videos on Yahoo! music. I can remember what life was like before internet, but I was also introduced to it at a young age.
I am no psychologist, but I know there must be tremendous effects, both positive and negative, to identity, social, and emotional development on children who are digital natives. In the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, an interview with social psychologist Johnathan Haidt explains that there are higher rates of depression and anxiety in teenagers beginning from 2011 to 2013. He suggests that these teenagers spend more time on their devices and less time engaging with their peers in physical environments, thus are less comfortable with taking risks and pursuing things such as driver’s licenses or romantic interactions. His evaluation might be that these youth’s identities are more dependent on social media.
Chayko, on the other hand, offers that there are some positive aspects of having access to the internet during childhood development. Much of this comes from being able to practice self-expression through blog posting, photo sharing, editing social media profiles and avatars, video making, and many other things. On the internet, there is a significant amount of freedom allowed for a person to express themselves. Chayko explains, “many individuals can feel more playful and free when they are online, which can translate to a sense of freedom when expressing the self” (p. 120). There is a lot more room and less consequences to experiment and take “social” risks in expressing. This reminds me of the movie The Eight Grade which released in 2018. The movie’s central character, an eighth-grade girl named Kayla, is very shy and introverted during most of her in-person social interactions, but is rather outspoken and articulate in her YouTube vlogs where she advocates topics in mental wellness and personal motivation. Although she is quiet, at times she acts out the behaviors she advocates for in her videos in moments of personal growth.
While the movie is fictional, I think its themes shed light on how using the internet as an outlet for self-expression can help young individuals discover truths about their identity. Chayko elaborates on this, and explains, “[Children] can try out and test who they are and who they want to be,” receiving both positive and negative feedback during their growth. The Social Dilemma focuses more on the feed/advertisement algorithms of web 2.0 sites, which could potentially reinforce a dependency. The speakers in the video argue that a major restricting of these algorithms is in order, which I agree with. What I also think is important in general, among other things, is to monitor children’s use of the internet, observing its effects, and allowing them to express themselves, but also encouraging them to do both online and offline.
Chayko, M. (2018). Superconnected: The Internet, digital media, and techno-social life. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Rhodes L. (Producer), & Orlowski J. (Director). (2020). The Social Dilemma. Retrieved from https://www.netflix.com
As many of us discussed during our blog post a few weeks ago, the long tail of the internet described by Chris Anderson includes a seemingly endless sea of digital media, from music, games, TV shows, books and more. A great deal of what makes up this content is free, to a certain extent, and with different levels of legality. A creator can purposely share their content online for free as shareware. A creator can also release their content on a subscription based platform, such as Spotify for music or Apple Arcade for games, where consumers pay far less for their media and creators get at least a small amount of revenue. On the other hand, other consumers can share pirated versions of content through different distribution website, which breaches legal grounds if the creator does not give consent for their product to be shared. In Superconnected, the authors bring up Napster as an example of an early website that allowed file sharing. Napster was eventually shut down because it allowed user to break copyright and music ownership laws, oddly enough as a result of a lawsuit filed on the website by the band Metallica who at the time was already at the peak of their fame.
While Metallica was probably correct to infer that the practices on Napster were illegal, and may have thought they were doing a service to smaller bands who perhaps didn’t have quite the financial support to go up against the popular website, there was arguably a ‘good’ side to Napster (or at least the theory of online file sharing) that was a benefit to artists, which Metallica didn’t quite see. The band The Arctic Monkeys, for example, grew in their fame because they gave away their music at shows and encouraged fans to file-share their music online. Now, the band is internationally successful. A lot of other successful bands following have similar stories, especially during the early 2000s era of music and the internet.
This is also very similar to how the video game Doom partially gained its popularity and success when it was released in 1993, even before prevalence of broadband internet. The company id software, a small self-publishing development studio at the time, decided they were going to release their video game in three parts. The first part was actually free to download on the University of Wisconsin Madison’s FTP network on the internet. Their idea was to allow people to try the game out and perhaps gain an interest, and then purchase the rest of the game which would be mailed to them on floppy disks. The night of the games release, an unexpected 10,000 users attempted to download the game, which crashed the networks servers twice in a row. After the second crash, people who were able download the game ended up sharing it on other networks so other could receive it. Though not entirely free, as people still needed to purchase the other two chapters, this demonstrates how file sharing can be a great benefit for creators. (The documentary series High Score on Netflix gives a very interesting telling of this story along with other part of video game history).
For Napster, Chayko describes, “it introduced a culture of music dissemination via the internet and digital media that iTunes, Youtube, and streaming services like Netflix and Hulu exploited with great success” (p. 37). This way of distribution is now standard and can allow many creators and artists to grow in their success. However, it’s also important to keep in mind that artists do deserve to receive proper compensation for allowing their work to be distributed online. While it’s trickier these days, and streaming sites don’t always provide enough, having a fan support site like Patreon or Fiver can be an adequate method, among several others.
The DIY YouTube video culture is something that has really grown in the last decade with tutorial videos on an abundance of projects uploaded every day, ranging from home improvement to computer software topics, and even cooking. As someone with an interest in music and gaming, I find myself invested in many of these videos quite often. In reality, almost every area of interest has its own community of DIY video makers and personalities. When I visit my parents, my dad is almost always watching some video on how to perform a certain car repair on one of the family vehicles (an area I am much less adept in than he is). There’s a few specific YouTube channels that my dad usually turns to, probably due to a combination their creators clarity in explanation, use of video and clearly showing where a specific part is, and the type of vehicles that they focus on.
When reading Christine Wolf’s article, DIY Videos on Youtube: Identity and possiblity in the age of algorithms, the author brought up an aspect of these videos that I thought was very fascinating. She explains, “Many participants described a ‘you can just tell’ heuristic when evaluating the credibility of videos” (2016). When she mentioned this, I totally understood what she meant, but had never really thought to explain as a type of heuristic before. I think it does make sense though to describe this as a heuristic. In my experience, you sometimes (but not always) really can “just tell” when a video has quality content, just by watching the first several seconds of the video.
There is not exactly one thing that can define this heuristic: rather, it is more of a sum of several things. Some of these are a bit more obvious than others. For example, if you open a video and you see that the dislike to like ratio is about 9 to 1, you could guess that the video has some problems. Similarly, if a short software installation tutorial opens with a pulsing EDM intro that lasts more than 10 seconds, and the song continues while the rest of the video is in subtitles, this leaves a poor first impression. On the other hand, videos that are made in high video quality with clear audio, are paced well, and have a decent number of views are generally good signs. If there appears to be some kind of following, I feel like that usually shows that the creator knows what they are doing and is good and what they do.
However, these are just things that I am more or less speculating, and do not necessarily define a ‘good’ video. You can sometimes encounter a video that is well produced, but just doesn’t explain exactly what you’re looking for or does so poorly. Wolf quotes one of her participants when she says, “Sometimes you don’t find helpful things on [YouTube] … Maybe situations where you’re searching for the terms and things come up with and they ended up blowing up the water heater or something. That’s more of a funny thing.”
(That quote made me think of this YouTube channel)
I think it would be really interesting to research more into this heuristic and give it a more cogent definition. My suggestions of like to dislike ratio, video/audio quality, and following are just from my experience. There are probably many other factors. Wolf’s article also mentions how videos where the creator is actually doing the task demonstrates a sense of credibility, because it shows that the person might know what they are doing. Going back to my dad, my guess is that many of the videos he likes are because of this aspect, and because its much easier to find the location of the oil filter on a 2012 Hyundai Accent when it’s just shown to you, rather than explained.
Wolf, C. T. (2016). DIY videos on YouTube: Identity and possibility in the age of algorithms. First Monday.
The online market for the entertainment and media industries over the past decade or so really has experienced a shift in comparison to traditional physical media distribution. The long tail, as described by Chris Anderson in his titular article, is a great metaphor to describe how the market exists today. In short, it is a seemingly endless ‘tail’ with an everlasting catalog of products, whether that be music, games, books, or television. Every product is technically accessible to every person, but usually ones that have more of a “buzz” become more popular and consumed, and many other products are essentially lost in the sea.
What I think of in visualizing this shift in the industry is the difference in Nintendo’s online store for video games on their current console (the Switch) versus their previous two (Wii and Wii U). The change can sort of be characterized by Anderson when he says, “In a Long Tail economy, it’s more expensive to evaluate than to release” (p. 15) In previous years, Nintendo’s online store (the Nintendo eShop) was very tight in what was released. Nintendo mostly released their own developed and/or published titles, with very few and select third party of independently developed games released. Games that were “green lit,” or approved for release on the eShop, were few and far between for the latter. The eShop for the Switch is quite different, as nearly dozens of games become available each week. There are plenty of articles/videos that point some of the silliness in the lack of quality in many of these games, which I think indicates Nintendo’s approach to ‘release more’ and ‘evaluate less.’ In terms of quantity, the Switch’s eShop currently holds 2973 games, compared to the Wii U that had 265 titles which is also telling. This is approach is much closer to the PC gaming world where distribution services/applications like Steam have had the ‘release more evaluate less’ mentality for years. This means that is more up to the consumer to evaluate a product when making a purchase decision and having clearer intention with what they choose to put their money towards.
How can changes in the entertainment and media industries predict digital adaptations in education?
I think it is certainly possible to use the trends of digital media to predict possible changes in education. While the two industries, so to speak, are not the same, there are similarities. A person can pursue an online degree or certification irrespective of their proximity to a particular school, just as how any person can stream a movie on Netflix without needing to go to a movie theatre. However, just as how there is a long tail of media products online, there is probably a long tail of different types of online certifications/programs that a person must select from. I think what is important is for people to make their selections with intention and to envision what they want to get from their online education.
This applies to an overarching goal, to small everyday goals. Just like how sometimes it’s possible to take in large amounts of digital media at once, and sometimes go into ‘autopilot’ mode when scrolling through social media occasionally, it might be easy to loose focus during daily assignments/activities that are related to online school when a person is not in an ‘active’ physical environment. Rheingold explains that to gain control of attention, one needs to set goals with an intention (p. 42). I this is one important thing to keep in mind as we come to learn more about the changes in education.
(Apologies to my blog cohorts for the lateness, just trying to balance out work/school and figure out my routine for the semester!)
Anderson, C. (2004). The long tail. Change This.
Rheingold, H. (2014). Net smart: How to thrive online. Inglaterra: The Mit Press.
Technical communication is an incredibly diverse field, but can broadly be defined as the presentation of information through written, visual, or auditory forms. Social media is an accessible outlet for such deliverables. In person’s feed on sites like Facebook or Twitter, there is constant flow of informational videos, infographics, graphs, and statements of fact or statistics on a plethora of subjects. What a person sees is partly dependent on a site’s algorithm based on searched words and website history, and what is relevant to rest of the world. Now, it there is plenty of information being shared about the current pandemic, the 2020 presidential election, and racial issues. I think one of the biggest challenges we face now is evaluating the efficacy in the forms of “technical communication” that we see on social media. One post might come from a factual and accredited source, while another might simply be a conjecture from a single person. People now more than ever need to really scrutinize the type of information that they see on the internet, namely social media, and synthesize what they read.
Information that is posted and written is quite different than it may have been several years ago with how common social media has become. Anyone can share their opinions, observations, and reasonings to the public at any time. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but does shift the way people write. In The Rhetoric of Reach, the authors quote a student from a survey about social media who explains, “Social media has definitely altered the way writers write. They used to write to be read. Now, they write to be browsed” (Hurley and Hea, p. 60). People take in information differently in this context. While it is easy to become familiar with virtually any topic, there is a great deal more of ‘information overload,’ and there are probably differences in the way people retain the information they read from a social media post than they might from another source.
Similarly, one aspect of the relationship between social media and technical communication brought up in The Rhetoric of Reach, relates to job readiness. This topic is not one that I first thought of when thinking about technical communication, but it certainly applies. As a person who works in vocational services and in job readiness programs, these are things that I consider quite often. It is debated how much a job-seeker should concern themselves with the professionalism of their own social media profiles, if at all, and only factor in professional networking sites such as LinkedIn or Monster. Regardless, the authors do promote that, “technical communication instructors are also well-suited to teach social media in our classrooms because we can demystify the current rhetorics of fear and illegitimacy about social media” (Hurley and Hea, p. 56).
Overall, I agree with Hurley and Hea’s point about the importance of social media being taught by technical educators from both a student and instructor’s standpoint. People who should choose to share information on social media should do so mindfully and having some education in that area certainly helps. Tech Comm experts have the greatest insights into things like research, technical writing, audience analysis, etc., which are all relevant to social media. I’m hopeful that over time and with good education, we will be able improve the way in which we share information across the internet.
Sources: Hurley, E. V., & Hea, A. C. (2013). The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media. Technical Communication Quarterly, 23(1), 55-68.