Author Archives: paul1838

Ethics and Privacy

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.

happygolegal.com

 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.

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Cultural expectations

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.

Disconnect?

About one year ago I discontinued my monthly cell phone contract with AT&T. I now have a Tracfone that costs  $30 per month in prepaid minutes (significantly less than my former contract). I can access the internet from my prepaid phone, but I don’t, because it is a small flip phone and the screen is too small to be useful for browsing the web. Everyone I know owns a smart phone with a touch screen, cool apps, and a large enough display to make internet use worth while. This obvious trend is verified by chapter 8 in Erik Qualman’s book, Socialnomics. Within this chapter is a brief section titled: Mobile Me that indicates that people are becoming more and more dependent on their mobile devices at an alarmingly fast rate.

Having used my basic and inexpensive flip phone for the past year, I have found that neither my social life nor my professional life changed much. My friends sometimes give me a hard time because of my “old” technology, but ultimately I am not less happy as a result of having a basic phone. However, I am saving a lot of money every month. One aspect of new mobile devices that I am not comfortable with is the GPS tracking Qualman describes: “This works on the GPS in the phone to locate your friends and tell you exactly where they are,” (216). I have absolutely no desire for anyone to be able to track me. If I want someone to know where I am, I will tell that person where I am going, and I expect that person to trust me. I can see how this type of technology may be helpful in certain emergency situations; however, I would rather retain my privacy.

Sometimes I feel that I may be too anti-technology (despite the fact that I use what technology is necessary for my academic and career success). At the same time, I feel that we, as a society, need to be cautious of a citizenry that is completely dependent on technology. For instance, Qualman mentions that fewer real-time interviews are being conducted by journalists because of technology (215-216). The result of this trend may lead to lost opportunities to truly get at the heart of an important news story. Part of the art of journalism is being able to ask on the spot questions based on interviewee responses and body language—to find out the whole story. Imagine how happy politicians would be if they never had to answer a real-time face to face question.

Maybe Henry David Thoreau had it right in his expirement and book Walden. Such an expirement would be  more drastic, and perhaps more meaningful given today’s real vs. virtual worlds.

Old and New

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?

Individual Decisons?

Social media impacts how people make decisions. The ability to reach a decision withouth first reading comments seems to be something of the past. To some extent, I agree with Qualman’s notion that social media allows individuals to make more informed purchasing decisions because of user reviews and conversations regarding products. Indeed, I have read user reviews before making purchases, specifically online or expensive purchases. For instance, before I purchased a motorcycle helmet online, I read the reviews of the product. Most were good, so I felt more comfortable spending the money on the product. However, I also based my decision on the fact that the helmet was DOT and Snell certified.

While the reviews provided by one’s social network may be helpful, doing research beyond user reviews may be beneficial. Qualman’s example of “Suzy” and her purchase of a vacation package based on her social media network provides a good example of how additional research may be helpful. Qualman states, “Suzy sees two of her friends both took a trip to Chile through GoAhead Tours and rated it highly. It’s within her budget, and the same package is available. She quickly snatches it up. . .”( p. 95). Indeed, perhaps this process saved Suzy some time, but the process assumes that everyone enjoys the same things. That is, Suzy made her decision based on what her contacts enjoyed, not necessarily on what she would enjoy, or what her husband may enjoy. Of course it is normal to ask friends and family for advice, but other factors should also be considered in the decision making process.

Qualman notes that without social media, “She [Suzy] probably would’ve narrowed down her choices after hours of research,” (p. 95). The idea is that hours of research is too much time these days. However, in so doing, she would have been responsible for her own decision—or is it just easier to allow others to make decisions for us? By doing the research, Suzy and her husband may have found that Brazil really made more sense than Chile based on both of their travel desires.  For expensive and important decisions, such as a once in a life-time vacation, a few hours of research may be worthwhile. Just because my neighbor enjoyed Antarctica doesn’t mean I will like Antarctica!

Qualman notes, “What this truly means is that in the future we will no longer seek products and services, rather they will find us,” (p. 89). To some extent, advertising has always worked in this capacity. Every time we view a billboard or a commercial, products “find us” However, social media allows our “friends” to become the promoters of products. Essentially, user reviews of products can be very helpful in the decision making process. At the same time, we should also base our decisions on our own personal feelings and attitudes towards products and trips. We are individuals, and as such we are capable of making individual decisions.

 

 

 

Social Media as Community Conversation

While reading Chapter 4 of Qulaman’s book Socialnomics, I found myself both agreeing and disagreeing with his arguments. On page 61, Qualman states, “It is essential that traditional broadcasters [news] embrace socialnomics, otherwise, they will be overrun into oblivion.” This statement is most likely accurate. It is probably safe to assume that every major news organization, print and broadcast alike, have embraced some sort of social media, or combination thereof to reach their audiences. The use of online newspapers and you tube broadcasts is necessary to reach younger generations who spend a lot of time on computers. Indeed, print journalists are now more and more expected to both write hardcopy and for the web. 

However, I think that the print version and the traditional TV broadcasts will continue to exist for years to come. A large portion of population in the U.S. is 50 and older are perhaps more accustomed or prefer to read traditional papers and enjoy watching the 6 or 10 o’clock news. Qualman quotes Andrew Hayward, ‘We should be careful of these zero-sum games where the new media drives out the old.’ That is, a balance is necessary between traditional coverage and coverage presented through social media. Qualman goes on to argue that social media greatly helped our current president win the election in 2008—so did the traditional media and all of the traditional campaigning and speeches. Yes social media spread the message to millions of people, but the speeches were given to live audiences. Thus, to some degree, one could argue that social media is no different than any other medium; it just restates what has already taken place. What makes social media different then, is the fact that once a speech is posted, it exists forever, and people can view content over and over and post messages about it. It goes “viral.” As such, a single speech, a moment in history, may be preserved and disseminated for criticism or praise. Individuals may base their decisions regarding the speech not only on what was said by the speaker, but also by what all the other social media users have said about it. A conversation is formed.

Social media, I believe, may offer a useful forum for facilitating on-line communities and communication. However, one concern may be that people viewing these conversations may make decisions based on the content—which may be purely opinion—or even false. This possibility has always existed, but it seems that social media and the huge volume of “views” and people who follow a topic create a large space and audience for the dissemination of misinformation.

To change topics slightly, I also found Qualman’s section entitled: Is the Flu a Virus or Just Simply Viral? I just heard on the news (traditional TV broadcast) that the campaigns use data from web searches to determine which topics to cover in their advertisements. That is, they analyze search engine word trends—if the work Medicare is a very popular search, the politicians address Medicare. Until I saw this on the news, I did not realize to what extent this data was used. Everything that is typed into a search engine is tracked and analyzed. Further, this data can be sorted by location, so campaigns can determine what a specific region is most interested in—it is their form of audience analysis I suppose. Similar to social media, I have mixed feelings on this topic. Rather than a candidate discussing what is truly important to them, or, for that matter being honest, candidates can now simply go to a state and talk about what she/he already knows is the concern. Is this good for democracy overall?

Qualman goes on to state, “Whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, Independent, or a member of the Bull Moose Party, you can’t deny the power of real-world community relations combined with the reach and engagement of online social communities and networks to change politics as usual.” Qualman is right—one can not deny the power of social media and online communities. On the other hand, the past few years politically have been as gridlocked and partisan as ever before. Is social media a contributing factor to the political situation we are in, or is it a means to facilitate be-partisan compromises? Or, is social media neither, but rather only a virtual place for people to talk about what is really ocurring?

Roles change for technical communicators

For this post I decided to write about Rachel Spilka’s book, Digital Literacy For Technical Communication. I learned a lot from the first chapter regarding the evolution of technology and thus the evolution of the role of the technical writer.

Chapter one, in Digital Literacy For Technical Communication by Rachel Spilka provides a straightforward description of how technical communication as a field has evolved with technology. In this chapter, Saul Carliner analyzes one company—the largest employer of technical communicators—to represent the field at large. The result, in my opinion, is a robust essay that suggests technology has indeed altered the roles of technical writers. Carliner’s analysis begins in the 1970’s, “In a few instances, people were hired with formal training in technical writing, but during the 1970s, this employer typically emphasized technical knowledge over writing skill” (23). The primary reason for this was that they were writing for individuals who already had an in-depth knowledge of computers, who didn’t need a step by step guide or manual (22-23).

However, as technology progressed into more and more people’s homes, the audience of the technical writers began to change. That is, Carliner states, “Both the change in markets for computers and the rise of word processing and desktop publishing led to profound changes in the work of technical communicators in this organization” (26). As a result, the emphasis of the technical communicator shifted to include writing technique, audience analysis, and the ability to prepare user friendly guides. To show when each significant advancement in technology occurred and how each advance in technology affected technical communicators, Carliner breaks a 40 year period, 1970-2010 (roughly) down into five phases.

The fourth and fifth phases, the rising popularity of the internet as a communication tool are perhaps the most relevant to me, since this is what I have grown up with. It seems clear that the internet has had a large impact on virtually all aspects of daily life. For technical communicators, the internet created not only new topics to write manuals for, but also provided a new method to transfer the information from those documents. Carliner states, “Electronic file transfer had many effects on technical communication (38). Indeed, the internet made possible email and on-line meetings/discussions. Thus, Carliner notes, “Electronic file transfers also facilitated remote work, as workers in one location could now easily collaborate on or manage projects across multiple locations” (38).

In essence, technical communicators transformed from being product specialists to product designers/explainers. Their primary roles changed from writing for a few individuals with an advanced knowledge of a product, to writing for potentially millions of users with limited or no knowledge of a product. The primary result of the advent and popularity of the internet on technical communicators then is that, technical communicators of today need to have specialized writing skills. They need to be able to write across cultural borders, across many levels of user experience, and in such a way that all audience members find the technical documents useful. This is a large task and why we are all learning how to do this in the MSTPC program!

RE: Social Media Taking Over

Chapter two in Qualman’s book: Socialnomics was interesting to read because I related to much of the content being covered. Qualman suggests, “ Cameras document everything, and technologies like Facebook’s Mobile Upload and ‘tagging’ can disseminate a naked keg stand to your network faster than you can count to five.” I recently attended a birthday party for a relative, and my niece recorded the whole thing via her smart phone. I don’t think she ever actually watched the party through her own eyes—rather through her display screen. After the recording was finished, she was so excited to upload it to Facebook. I didn’t understand this—I asked myself: why can’t we just enjoy the moment anymore? I asked her why she recorded the party to put on Facebook, she didn’t have much of an answer.

This need to record and post everything is also true in other situations. Anytime I go out with my friends, someone is taking pictures and uploading them to Facebook, no longer does privacy exist. I am not sure if this is bad necessarily, but it is different. The notion of connecting with one’s children via social media rather than through oral conversation is also different. Qualman notes, “In many instances, social media can help bring families a little closer by enabling parents to unobtrusively follow their kids’ lives.’” Perhaps in some cases, but I can certainly see how this may backfire. More to the point however, if parents begin to rely solely on social media to communicate with their children—to find out about their day—what is lost as a result? To argue that passive communication is better than active is also interesting to consider.

One topic that I have not considered, addressed in chapter 3 is the notion that email may go extinct. I send many emails everyday, so the idea that in the not so distant future email will be obsolete is hard to fathom. However, I don’t doubt it. The rate at which technology now evolves is staggering. For instance, as Qulaman notes, even the way we date has changed due to technology. Qualman states:

First, people used to give out their home phone number. Then people began to give out their email address instead. At first it seemed odd to ask someone for a date over email, but then it became quite natural. Then we progressed to mobile phone numbers because some people didn’t have land lines anymore. Besides it was easier to message one another—it was less intrusive and awkward: ‘What are you doing tonight?’

To some extent I think it is appropriate to ask the tough questions in person, or over the phone, rather that take the passive approach—perhaps I am just a traditionalist. While text messaging and social media offer a means to gain knowledge about another person—it is only portrayed information. That is, what you see on Facebook may not be what you get in real-life. As such, in-person conversations may still be the most fruitful. Overall, chapter 2 and 3 in this book forced me to question my own decision regarding my use (or lack their of) of social media. Further, it provided a lot of good insight regarding why social media is so popular which is beneficial to someone like me who does not have a very good understanding of it due to never participating in it.

Zero experience with blogging

This is the first blog post I have ever written. I have heard of blogs, but have never had any reasong to particiapte in the act of blogging. At this point, writing on a blog site seems very similar to writing in the discussion board area of D2L. The primary difference (I think) is that when one posts to public blog on the internet, a broader audience may possibly read it. I am looking forward to learning more about how written communicaiton processses are changing as a result of these interactive writing portals where people can post thoughts and others may respond.