Author Archives: scottc0957

Vacations from Technology

For workers, the Internet and its supporting technologies have changed the way businesses are run. With all the benefits, there are also drawbacks. The work/family borders can easily blur, as employees can be accessible throughout the entire waking hours, both during work and family times. This paper aims to analyze the expectations of digital technology, and specifically, how we define a successful work/family dynamic, best communication methods, and examples of planning for a vacation from technology. It also attempts to examine the broader implications of always being tethered to the workplace.

How do we manage contextual mobility in the workplace?

Ishii’s article is somewhat dated, as the statistics for mobile telephone conversations have probably increased sine 2006 when the article “Implications of Mobility” was published. However, Ishii’s implications have merit eight years after publication. I was particularly struck with the three types of mobility (spatial, temporal, and contextual) outlined (p. 347).

newgirllandline2

A recent New Girl episode deals with the spacial mobility of a landline phone. Source: http://emertainmentmonthly.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/newgirllandline2.jpeg

 

Contextual mobility, while potentially liberating for users–as they can turn off their phone if they wanted–is a double edged sword. In the workplace, with mobile phones, the expectation is for all employees to be “on” at all times, no matter the hour. I have gotten emails from work at 9:30 at night. This mobility and the implications of so much mobility and accessibility is something that we must be aware of, and intentional about creating boundaries.

I’m not sure if I’m the only one, but after reading Turkle’s Alone Together, I’ve been reading all our assignments through the lens of whether or not we’re allowing the technology to dictate our attention spans and stress levels. Perhaps I should get a landline and an answering machine to cut down on my accessibility. But then again, how could I read that 9:30 pm email from my coworker right when she sent it if I didn’t have my cell phone near me (and synced with my email account)?

Branding and online communication by people, not machines

I had a thought about something B. Longo said in her article, “Using social media for collective knowledge-making: Technical communication between the global north and south,” when she said that technical communicators first began writing content for the web with an authoritative voice, and then changed it to a more approachable, interactive platform (p. 4). My question that I pose to you, my smart-as-a-whip classmates is this: How does a company remain authentic, keep up its brand, and stay somewhat colloquial when writing for the web?

Can we as technical communicators help our company maintain its brand when we create the approachable content–that must come from us and our experiences at some point? (Or do all employees contribute a certain bit to the brand of a company?) Just a thought I wanted to throw out to you guys.

Task-based communication: Should we change the online infrastructure?

Where do we come off knowing how a user will access the web? With Google, I can find something that’s deep within a site, and avoid all the crumbs to get to the page I wanted. In Spilka’s book, Ann Blakeslee makes the good point that technical communicators need to shift from “developing documentation based on what writers think their readers need,” to how they “will actually use the information to complete a task” (p. 216). Luckily, we expect repetition in both communication and online. So we can have the same information on more than one page on a website to make sure someone sees it, even if they skipped the two pages leading up to the page they sought.

That is the science. The art is how much to say and what to omit so as to keep the added value of visiting the site (so it’s not just ten pages of the same information over and over again). But, I think that’s a secondary concern. The first concern is to have a task-based infrastructure so that the audience can find what they’re looking for, and not have to sift through paragraphs of information. About the ‘how much to add where’ question, I think it’s a constant challenge to keep tweaking. From my personal experience, I’d rather have a straightforward answer to my query, and then I can dive into the hyperlink tunnel to find more answers if I so wish. That way I do get to know what the website has to offer, just not in a linear manner.

So should we change to a task-based communication? Yes. If you think not, I’d love to hear why; I am open to changing my mind on this if I hear a compelling reason.

I’ve read the book; now what?

What a roller coaster Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart book has been: he tugged me down into startling awareness how addicted I am to digital communication and observation and connection, threw open the curtains to my vulnerability to surveillance (targeted ads, cookies, etc.), highlighted ways people are misinformed with all the crap online, and generally forced me to look at technology for once. As a non-essential part to life. Once I was fully frazzled, I read chapter 6.

What is the purpose of the book, just to help me realize I shouldn’t put my phone in a zipped plastic bag and bring it in the shower with me just in case someone texts me? No. As Rheingold says, “There is no influence without knowledge and effort” (p. 253). We as a class have read about his five (timely) essential literacies and the strengths and weaknesses of social media and networks and doing good and doing bad. That’s the knowledge part. So, if we want to influence, to be a catalyst for change, what effort are we willing to make?

Hi my name is Carolyn, and I’m a technoholic.

(Alternate title: Even luddites can be addicted to technology)

I always thought that I wasn’t part of the tech movement; as a luddite, I thought I had a balanced perspective on technology and its benefits and drawbacks. Similar to the comic, I do bank in person, buy stamps at a post office, and pay bills at the county building.

Luddites can be technoholics too.  Source: http://ryandow.com/ic//comics/2010-12-01-849fd45.gif

Luddites can be technoholics too.
Source: http://ryandow.com/ic//comics/2010-12-01-849fd45.gif

And then I read Turkle’s (2011) Alone Together and Howard Rheingold’s (2012) Net Smart. I too am addicted to technology! I am tethered to my smart phone, and when I forget it somewhere, I get withdrawals. Frankly, for the past four or five days, I’ve looked at my smart phone with longing and fear; I love its convenience and am terrified I allowed my intelligence to depend on the cloud (Googling stats, depending on stored phone numbers instead of memorizing them, etc.). Rheingold refers to Baron, who wants us to be critical about any communication that “can be turned on and off at will” (p. 55). While it may not be as convenient or efficient to speak to someone in real time and face-to-face (how to say bye and cleanly break from the other’s company), it’s still something we should do. And the more we practice, the easier it will become, to talk to someone without shielding ourselves with technology.

Technology Addiction

Symptoms

  • Lost “capacity for sustained, focused attention” (Rheingold, p. 52)
  • Anxiety (to stay current with everything online) (Turkle, Alone Together, p. 241+)
  • Disillusion that multitasking is productive, so less productivity (Rheingold, p. 37)
  • Constant or near-constant distractions from every part of life (Rheingold, p. 44)
    • Note: See also p. 44 for a effects of distractions

Treatments
One must first be aware of the addiction. And want to change.

  • Identify areas of life to declare as technology-free times
  • “Intention is the fuel for attention” (Stone, qtd. by Rheingold, p. 58)
  • Increase social times with physical interactions (not always virtual)

We’re the assembly line

William Hart-Davidson’s article on content management was the most readable of our texts this week. Honestly, I didn’t really understand the first two, or when I thought I did, then I read more and completely lost what I had grasped. But Hart-Davidson’s piece was surprisingly a piece that followed technical communication practices and actually made sense (sidebar: anyone else disillusioned by how we’re reading articles by renowned experts about technical communication, the art of talking to users in the layman’s terms, only it’s all garbled academia? And yes, I know the audience is also academics; I just see the irony).

But good on Hart-Davidson when he said that “companies live and die based on how well they communicate” (p.135). And how he says communication is “why they [companies] operate” (p. 135). Yes, please! The challenges he outlines when it comes to a successful content management system are ones that I encounter daily at work.

While we have a network (two, actually) and shared folders, we do not have a company-wide protocol set in place to find the information needed. My day has at least one request for me to email a document to someone that is already on the shared drive. There is no documentation in place to determine where different content pieces have been placed (online, different ad pieces, etc.), and after reading the article, my takeaway is to organize our assembly line, to make it more efficient so that we can be a better end product for consumers.

We add value! Don’t outsource technical communication!

I was struck by R. Stanley Dicks’ article (chapter 2 in Spilka’s book), particularly how technical communicators must always be defending their role in the company. I can see how sometimes management can wonder what “technical communication” really is, especially when it touches so many other aspects of a company–why can’t technical communication fold into the other departments and eliminate the formal technical communication job title?

This has happened, with technical communication splitting into two general tracks, “design and programming of information databases and the other focused on providing content for these databases” (Carliner, ch 1 in Spilkea’s book, p 29). User Experience experts, information design, documentation divas, information technology, all have cuttings from technical communication. So why not eliminate the formal technical communication discipline when it’s grafted into all aspects of a company already?

In my opinion, no. we need technical communicators–we need us! While there are aspects of technical communication in other disciplines, technical communicators have the vision and distance from one particular area to consider the implications of audience.  We are the users’ advocate first and foremost, and our whole goal is to see how we can get and retain users. While IT and other areas greatly contribute to this end goal, it’s in the company’s interest to keep technical communicators around, and in house to successfully reach as many audiences as possible.  Back in Dicks’ article, he writes that the workers with the most value are those that “analyze, synthesize, combine, rearrange, develop, design, and deliver information to specific audiences for specific purposes” (p. 54). That’s how technical communicators add value.

“Feathers Together” in Social Media

Boyd and Ellison’s “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship” article articulated that social network sites are created for subgroups or niche communities. When boyd and Ellison wrote that social network sites are designed around people, not topics (p. 219), I experienced an aha moment. For what is a community without similar beliefs, and where best to find gaggles of other geese that share the same interests than online?

So really, social network sites are a way for people to gather and share experiences that others can relate to. For example, if, say, I were interested in crocheting monstrosities of detailed afghans and no one in my immediate physical community shared that passion, I could find support and inspiration for projects online and belong to a crocheting community without having to physically move to the crocheting capital (wherever that may be).

This ties into what Jack Molisani wrote about in his article, “Is Social Media For You?” when he emphasized the need to network and get your brand online. To follow the crocheting example further, if I wanted to be an active part of that community, I would need to brand myself as a crocheting guru or creator or something, and one way to do that would be to microblog, or Tweet and build my reliability and expertise online.

Social media can indeed coexist with successful communication

Elise Hurley and Amy Kimme Hea were spot on when they said that their students were reticent to use social media for work or business because “assumptions about professionalism and credibility seem too high a price to pay for use,” referring to the permanency of posts. I appreciated how in the article, Hurley and Hea outlined how they walked through steps to help their students understand how technical communication and social media can and should coexist.

While Chris Pirillo (# 10 tip) said to be true to an individual blogger’s voice, the advice applies to technical communicators for a company as well. Companies will have a strong online presence partially by maintaining consistency in both their design as well as their tone and way of blogging or conveying information. Weaving all information through links on different social media platforms helps the company’s reach grow as well.

On a personal note, I avoid social media platforms. While I do have a Facebook account, I do not have the app on my phone, so I find that I look at it fewer and fewer times a week. In this way I do not fit the standard Millennial profile. Perhaps I am like Hurley and Hea’s students, and still need to be convinced that intentional social media messages can be beneficial for my brand, and not be a liability down the road.

Blogging. It’s grown on me.

I think at first, blogging had a negative connotation due to many people using it as an online, public diary. Now, there’s still that genre, as well as any other type of information mecca one might seek. I’ve thought about blogging. And haven’t because the dedication to come up with something readable every week or day or month is daunting. And I would have to inevitably choose between quality or quantity.

For work, I publish mini blogs about our product portfolio and keep the tone professional and in line with our company’s branding. I am an avid fan of one blogger who posts great recipes on her My New Roots page. They’re delicious.

I found the “Why We Blog” PDF useful in that it organized thoughts I’ve had about blogging into readable points. For example, why bloggers are motivated–why someone would invest a huge amount of time to create a blog.