Author Archives: paul1838
Both privacy and ethics are important considerations for anyone using technology as a communication tool. Indeed, these concepts apply to the general public, as well as to specific groups such as technical communicators. Perhaps the demographic of people who are especially impacted by privacy and ethics are those who are relatively new to technology. That is, people who are new to the internet (i.e., an inmate realesed after 20 years) may not always realize how much information they are giving out when using the internet, and how easily that information may be used negatively against them. For example, while all the credit card companies, banks etc., claim their online security is fail safe, hackers consistently prove otherwise. Those same individuals who are not aware of online risks involving identity theft and other scams may also not realize that the record of their email messages exist in cyberspace forever. Thus, they may not realize that what they write needs to be ethical—especially when the email generates from a workplace account.
Chapter 9 in Digital Ligeracy For Technical Communicators by Steven Katz and Vicki Rhodes and the article, Privacy, Trust, and Disclosure Online by Paine and Joinson shed light on these topics. While Chapter 9 was fairly dense with academic, philosophical, and ethical jargon, the notion that technology creates new ethical considerations for communicators is an important concern that should be taught to new employees that are expected to participate in technological communication mediums. One of my first real-world experiences with ethics and technology took place a few years ago when I was involved with a professional class in an industrial setting.
This class was designed to teach employees about email etiquette and was the result of inappropriate email use on company time. Several employees were essentially carrying on personal conversations about weekend activities and so on that was inappropriate for this work setting. In addition, these employees did not understand the blind copy function of their email system, and were thus, at times, accidentally emailing information to clients that also were inappropriate.
This problem was two-fold: 1) the employees failed to consider their workplace ethics of being professional at all times, and 2) these employees did not understand the implications of email as a communication medium. Whereas these employees could have probably talked amongst themselves face-to-face about these topics during lunch or breaks, it was not appropriate to use the organization’s email for such conversation, which they did not understand. This problem may have been avoided, had this company made clear their expectations of workplace email use. Moreover, companies may benefit from addressing their ethical expectations—if these expectations are not promoted and taught to employees, than the ethics will be nothing but a basis for discipline after a rule is broken, rather than a means to prevent issues from arising in the first place.
In an era of increased written communication mediums, (i.e., email, text, instant message) oral communication seems to be dwindling. Indeed, this notion has been reinforced by both Erik Qualman in his book Socialnomics, and by Sherry Turkle, in her book Alone Together. Barry Thatcher, in his essay Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures in the book, Digital Literacy for Technical Communicaiton sheds light on the fact that this argument is less true in what he defines as collective cultures (i.e., Mexico) as opposed with individualistic cultures (i.e., USA). In essence, people of certain geographical locations may have different expectations regarding the need to develop personal relationships through face-to-face meetings and conversation prior to utilizing mediums such as email as a communication tool.
Thatcher notes, “Orality, though, seems to have a much weaker role in individualist cultures, perhaps relegated to expressing personal opinions and beliefs, but certainly not the backbone of society, as orality can be in many collective cultures” (180). By retaining the expectation of oral communication, collective cultures seem to have a more personal, and less objective tone compared with the very objective tone of individualist cultures. In many cases, I have never met the people I email in a face to face setting, nor do I know these people on a personal level. Thus, the communicaitons we share are, by default, solely professional in nature.
In every technical writing class or journalism class that I have ever taken, I have been taught separate out personal information and include only objective information crucial for the reader to understand the message. As a result, the communication pattern is typically serious and impersonal. This practice of objective writing is also true for the workplace writing tasks I am involved with. Other than indicating how I am involved with the project being discussed, I share no other information about myself, and I do not expect my readers to share any of their personal information.
Thatcher stated, “Instead of a dumbed-down readership level, collective communicators tend to complicate their interpersonal dependence as a way of stating the purpose of the communication and their involvement; this creates writer – friendly document design patterns” (176).
An additional difference between the individual and collecitve cultures is that the colelctive culture has an expectation of stating authoritative relationships as part of the personal style whereas the inndividual culture does not. Thatcher notes, “As exemplified in the two EPA emails, the U.S. email demonstrates strong individualism focusing on one reader and that person’s reading needs and processes, while the Mexican email is much more collective, focusing on interpersonal relationships, and especially on authority” (176). As a technical writing student, I make efforts to consider my audience. However, it seems that despite the best use of audience analysis techniques, there will always be cultural differences that cannot be accounted for. And, in certain cases, technical writers, perhaps even in the future, may need to participate in real-time conversations to maintain cross cultural client relationships and successfully transfer information.
Chapter 4 of Digital Literacy For Technical Communication presented insight on technical communicator’s ability to bridge generational differences. Salvo and Rosinski stated, “Second, technical communicators are well positioned to bridge past and future work involving information design” (105). In essence, because of the rate at which technology and communication mediums are advancing, different generations of information users are accustomed to different communication mediums and designs. Thus, technical communicators must find ways to communicate effectively with all generations—young and old, who make up the demographic of their clientele.
This concept is reinforced by the example of early web page design. Salvo and Rosinski noted, “Many new web designers, as their attention moved from communicating on the page to communicating through the screen, ignored traditional principles of page design in their eagerness to invent new design styles and practices” (106). This comment reminded me of a newspaper design class I took a few years ago. During the first portion of the class, we learned about content layout for traditional print style newspapers. The class then moved to designing layout for online newspapers. Beyond having to learn how to use Dreamweaver, we also had to design content pages for mock newspapers based on actual papers. Our professor was adamant about the need to retain some of the traditional print aspects of the layout such as headline and column font. In addition, the web version was to look fairly similar to the print version so users could recognize key aspects. Essentially, we were designing an electronic version of the print newspaper that traditional readers could, in theory, use and read.
However, within the electronic version of the newspapers, we added links to additional stories, images, and videos that readers could not access from the print version. That is, we retained certain aspects, but added features that allowed access to information only available via the internet. This concept parallels Salvo and Rosinskis’ notion that, “Since then [early web pages] many have rediscovered the value of font design and use of white space, and perhaps more importantly, the benefits of collaborating with users. . .toward the creation of readable and usable documentation,” (106). Indeed, while information design is certainly changing, communicators need to consider all possible users of information, and utilize the best methods to reach these users effectively. In terms of newspaper design, fundamental design principles are generally retained for identification purposes, (the newspaper looks the same in print as it does online) and so readers can quickly locate areas of interest.
As virtual space becomes more and more the standard for communication, technical communicators will need to retain certain aspects of tradition document design to reach all user groups. However, technical communicators will also need to develop new design layouts (such as incorporating links etc as in the case of online newspapers) to fully take advantage of the capabilities of virtual spaces. As I consider how the technology of my generation enables new spaces and practices for communication, I can’t help but wonder how things will change as future generations continue to advance information technology. At what point will my generation be the generation of old technology?