Author Archives: voigtb

Does it take today a whole web 2.0 to raise a child?

As of now I have to admit I never thought really about the ethical dimensions and effects of digital technologies. Of course, throughout our studies we learned about ethics in technical communication. But that is about it. Therefore the article Beyond Ethical Frames by Katz and Rhodes was actually interesting – even though it was in parts hard to understand.

Then doing some further research, I found Howard Gardner’s view on ethics with emphasis on education, but still relevant to our topic.

In this interview he states

“The former lag between behaving morally toward people you know and behaving ethically towards people in the community whom you don’t know that’s been lost. People once they go into digital media will be part of much larger communities. The only question then is do they behave as good citizens or not.”

That to me made the perfect connection to Schofield’s and Joinson’s article Privacy, Trust, and Disclosure Online.

There is the saying it takes a whole village to raise a child. In today’s world will that extend to an even larger digital community? How do children learn about how to act ethically on the Web 2.0. For us it seems already so much more blurry. One example I mentioned in a previous post is the privacy issues with photos. The difference between actual and perceived privacy has to be taken serious. How do parents and teachers keep up with these developments? How do we teach our children the right values, when it seems we ourselves are sometimes lost?

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Cross-cultural communication: Let’s start at the beginning

Obviously, any topic concerning cross-cultural aspects hits home for me. It is always interesting to learn new dimensions – especially when it is related to our professional field. That being said, Spilka’s chapter “Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures” was a great read. Then I tried to find information how German technical communicators would see this development. Unfortunately, the only article really relevant came from a UK author – and from 4 years ago. At least it is published in the tc-world, which is an online magazine published by the tekom (the German equivalent to the STC).

Choosing media strategically for cross-border team communications

To bring another aspect into this discussion, I have to disagree with many authors who categorize Western cultures on one site of the cross-border work and cultures from Asian, African or South American countries on the other side. Even within the entire Western cultures (U.S. and many West-European countries) the cultural differences are larger than first thought of. Look at you and me: we experience differences in our cultural upbringings.

  • Small ones – like different expressions for the same feeling. For example, Americans sit on cloud 9, when they are happy. Germans sit two-doors down on cloud 7. Thank God for Cloud computing.
  • Bigger ones – like the use of social network sites. Concerning the relations of communication media and communicative situations, to many Americans being on Facebook is a daily or even hourly way of connecting with others. Germans just started out using it. The majority of my friends in Germany are not Facebookers.

The three values, Barry Thatcher describes are a great way of analyzing the differences between two cultures. The question is how often do we actually take that extra step and do this kind of research about other cultures. I believe the biggest obstacle we (all earthlings) have to overcome is our mindset. The old question and attitude about being superior to others has to be eliminated out of our way of thinking. Being proud of your country is one thing, feeling superior to other countries is a different story. If both parties can settle for tolerance, we will conquer any upcoming challenges. I guess what I want to say is that even though this topic concerning digital literacy is very interesting to know and to explore, I believe that is one of the last steps we have to undertake. First steps first. Pankaj Ghemawat states in his TED talk: “Actually the world isn’t flat”.

So, we might have to rethink our approach when it comes to cross-cultural communication, no matter if the means are digital or not. Let’s start at the beginning.

What does globalization do for us technical communicators?

Longo’s definition of “community” was actually an eye-opener. Nowadays, in the age of globalization many people talk about how the world gets smaller, how we become closer to others from around the world, how communities are not just physical distinguished from each other by location, but how we can form so called global communities, and how we might aim for a world English. Actually, I believe Longo’s explanation makes more sense, a universal community is a not logical. This term contradicts itself.

She quotes Lyotard:

“The only way to construct a universal community is to deny local histories and culture”.

To then come to the conclusion:

“Instead of finding ways to empower people through their localized expertise and worldview, a universal community promotes the idea that knowledge is common across localized groups”

We all have this arrogance in us (at least to a certain extent) that we believe the culture and community we are raised in or choose to live in is superior in many aspects than the next one. I don’t consider this necessarily a bad behavior. It is part of our patriotism, our feeling being included in some sort of community. The urge of belonging to any group is what drives us to meet our socializing needs. I actually believe that we (on average) do way better in this context than our ancestors from 250 years ago. Colonialism just left such a bad aftertaste. In today’s world we have to and we do communicate before we judge. We listen before we speak. To my understanding human + machine is actually a great initiator for this movement. We have the technologies today. So we might as well use them to connect with each other and more important to learn about each other. We still own the (sometimes very strong) feeling of belonging to one specific community. But I believe society changes in being more tolerant and respectful to other communities out there. However, technology cannot overpower cultural differences. It rather should help us to negotiate and to tolerate cultural differences.

Ian Goldin gave in his TED talk Navigating our global future an overview where we (all earthlings) are heading.

Coming back to my previous posts about the role of technical communicators, I am still trying to fit more puzzle pieces in that picture of where our profession is heading. After listening to Ian Goldin’s TED talk, and then going back to Longo’s article I believe she is right when she states

“Technical communicators are on the front lines of these decisions about inclusion and exclusion, especially in human + machine virtual worlds.”

Combining both thought processes I believe, we technical communicators have the ability using our background knowledge in communication to be an important part in the development of society in whatever industry we choose to focus on working in. We can help facilitating this process.

Changing role of technical communicators

To me Salvo’s and Rosinski’s article Information Design made the perfect connection to Clark’s article in our journey to explore Emerging Media and the roles that technical communicators will more than likely take on in the near future. The authors state

“Digital literacy cannot be just the ability to use certain technologies. Rather, the term must apply to the thoughtful deployment of technologies that make intervention meaningful and informed by analysis, reflection and historical representations of the field” (Spilka, p. 123-4).

This is just possible if we take Clark’s advice to heart and think and assess critically, keeping in mind the rhetoric of technology.

Content management is in this context one of many examples of work areas technical communicators can evolve their skills and qualities. Hart-Davidson defines professionals in our field as “editors, information architects, usability analysts, interaction designers, project managers, client liaisons, and more” (Spilka p. 134-5). This definition stood out to me because I just started experiencing these different roles in real life work situations. I used to be just a technical writer with some responsibilities concerning managing small projects within our department. Now, I am required to slip into all those above-mentioned roles.

After reading the article Content Management a question that startled me from the beginning of this course finally got answered. Didn’t it seem to you like I asked endless times about the role of marketing in technical communication? I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. In this chapter, the authors mention when talking about the threats technical communicators face lately the “rise of user-generated content, and the broader phenomenon of Web 2.0, something that is perhaps best understood as a significant shift in user behavior from passive consumer to active contributor of content” (Spilka). That’s when it made click in my mind. Now it seems to all come together. The magical term was Web 2.0. I know we read and talked about interaction on social media with our clients all the way along, I just didn’t understand our role in it as professionals.

As of now I would consider us technical communicators as service providers for both parties (e.g. producer/consumer) in assisting them in their communication with each other – back and forth. We don’t just assist the companies anymore in providing materials that deliver information about their products. We now assist both sides in providing information, feedback and assurances or solutions. Not just the companies create content, but also the consumers. The authors summarize this in a better way:

“We must devise ways to listen carefully and move quickly to support the emerging needs of users by documenting new uses, supporting them with new features or services, and scaling-up capacity” (Spilka, p. 141).

Another step stone in my understanding was definitely the article Systems of Engagement. The table Evolution of Content was a great summary on how much has changed in the communication models throughout the last decades. I had to check out the AIIM website and found out that they offer a free webinar about ECM (Enterprise Content Management) on 10/31/2012. Might be interesting to attend.

All these bits and pieces seem to come together to redefine our current and future role as technical communicators. Emerging media changed how society communicates. These changes do already and will continue to influence our profession.

What does it mean for a technical communicator to be a literate user of social media?

The questions Dave Clark asked in the beginning of his article just came from my heart: “What does it mean for a technical communicator … to be a ‘literate’ user of Twitter?” (Clark, p. 86)

Does it mean just to be proficient with the tool or also to have a deep understanding for its roots and learning how the tool shapes linguistic activities?

He answers it with: Yes, all of the above. These questions couldn’t show my inner struggle any better. Privately, I am not much into any social media. Professionally, I am always intrigued in new programs and tools, as I am in social networking. However, I have to find out the practical side of them. I have to be able to use them for my work. Otherwise, I consider them to be ballast, overload. If my work requires me using new gadgets, new platforms, I am all for it to get my work done. But if it just blows up my work, if I am not efficient in reaching professional goals, then I got to stop it.

Hughes “emphasizes not the tools themselves, but their creative design, implementation, and use” (Clark, p. 89). I think that is the key feature why people adapt to new tools. Using them they magically can fulfill a desire they might have had just subconsciously. The desire to connect with others is old as humans are. We are social animals. Most of us like to socialize. Social media seemed to fulfill a desire to do so even when we seem to have no time to do so in real time. However, like with many other trends, humans seem just go for it with the wide-open throttle. It takes a wise man to keep it in a moderate volume. Situations like the breakfast table with parents on their Smart phones and children complain about not connecting with their parents should be an alert to think. In this sense, I mean literally stepping back, shutting off everything and thinking about what is important in life. We went through these phases with other new technologies and got them mostly under control after a few years of hype. So there is hope, we will do the same with social media. It should be a supplement to, not a replacement of real life. It should support not undermine our real life.

However, I know to become literate in something New you have to spend some time with the New. That is part of the process. Also, it is important to keep updated, especially when being a freelancer to know about new developments, to being able to accommodate your customers. That’s why I am so thankful for this course. However, it is not just about learning the technical parts of it, e.g. like to use it. The emphasis for professionals in our field should lie on the critical approach and the assessment of the “broader implications” (Clark, p. 87). Clark defines the term ‘rhetoric of technology’ as “the coherent category of literature that addresses specific concerns of technical communicators” (Clark, p. 87). In the following he introduces different approaches in this relative new research area. To me it would be worthy to dig deeper in this topic – just to make sure to explore the academic point of view on digital literacy from different angles.

Qualman to me delivers a very practical approach. I caught myself thinking pretty often what does all this have to do with technical communication. I get it that the boundaries are getting more blurry. However, me coming from the pretty traditional background of writing manuals, I never considered myself to be in that (marketing) branch of technical communication. I am not saying at all that reading Qualman wasn’t relevant. It is very interesting to learn about all the new ways of advertising and how companies can use social media to boost their products. It just seemed to me that both chapters were targeting the advertising industry more than our professional field. Somehow Clark’s introduction of what social media means for technical communication seemed to be more appropriate.

Please proof me wrong. 

Obama – just one example out of many

Qualman’s chapter 2 and all the previous readings seem to come together. Great insights. To me this is pretty much all new. My question from before about if the position of a sales person and a technical communicator will eventually merge, found somewhat an answer in this week’s reading. Qualman says, “advertisers need to become providers of content” (p. 65). How do you market yourself, how do you create your own brand, it all have changed with social media. Actually, I was wondering if Obama would combine private with business life on Facebook or if it is all about his brand. So I checked his FB page and found mostly political posts on it. Just his and Michelles 20th wedding anniversary I found – at first. Scrolling down more, there you go there is a picture of him and his two daughters with a comment about what they did last night.

However, the wording of the comment brings it all back into perspective. You think at first there is a private moment, but no, it is about the convention speech Michelle gave. Ok, so we are back into marketing. I guess where I am heading to with this is I still wonder how do combine all these different personalities we all have on social media. Do you do it at all? Do we need to see Obama and his private life? If not, how is he sharing with his family and friends his important moments? Does he not use social media at all for that or does he use a pseudonym?

Another aspect out of these readings is: Even though I heard about it, I never looked in detail in how Obama benefited from using social network. However, one thing that stood out to me was that you could actually track down what was searched for the most at Yahoo or Google. I don’t quite understand how do you actually access the search results? How do you find out if people google for soda or pop? Literally, how do you do that?

“Friss oder Stirb” aka “Adapt or Die”

I found Myers “Adapt or Die” pretty intriguing from the get go. Instantaneously, I thought, “Friss oder Stirb”. Just for the heck of it I punched it into my (online) translator and got back the phrase “It’s sink or swim”. Oookay, let’s go for a swim or let’s say a stroll down memory lane. According to the articles by Spilka and Carliner, I would like to show you how digital technology influenced my work as a technical communicator.

I think I saw Phase Two, the desktop revolution. I remember when I first started in the Technical Writing department, my coworkers had sets of manuals for each machine type, which they then photocopied and filled out (by hand) with the technical specification of the particular machine this manual was for. But one of them had already a computer and digitalized those forms, etc. But I think I remember that it was kind of complicated to create a table because the software didn’t offer these features – yet. The graphics – like e.g. for the spare parts lists – were done by a sub-contractor who did so-called explosion drawings. These graphics really showed well how each part fit in with the other ones to form for example a gear. When the company acquired computer-aided design tools, those drawings were replaced by two-dimensional drawings that didn’t fulfill the purpose as well. The engineering department created all those graphics since none of us technical writers knew how to work with CAD programs.

Of the GUI revolution, or Phase Three, I didn’t feel the impact that considerably. For the same reasons Carliner states, we used PC’s. Microsoft Word was the program of choice to do the operating instructions, to integrate sub-suppliers documentation and so forth. We never gave our manuals out to print. They were all customized and delivered in such low numbers. From the copy machine to the laser printer was just a small step for our department.

Since our department created just manuals, not websites, the impact of Phase Four, the Web1.0, was also pretty low on us technical writers. I remember, we had some requests for online documentation. So we converted our word files into PDF’s and were proud that we could connect the table of contents to the appropriate chapters. The last change I remember before I left was that we gave clients a login possibility to our website where they then had the chance to download the PDF file to their specific machine. We were pretty proud of that service. No wait, yes, we just started to integrate our documents in a small content management system, but it was very difficult to navigate and work with. So we ended up using it just for one machine type – an insignificant one. The documentation procedures for all other machine types remained the same.

Of Phase Five (Web 2.0) I just learn here in this program. It is interesting to use some of the newest technology in a safe classroom setting before purchasing it on company’s expenses and then finding out that it doesn’t quite fit the requirements. Many programs are great to use in some part of our professional lives. Others are just not practical for some work situations.

However, when reading Spilka’s and Carliner’s works, I just realized how much I already adapted throughout my working years – without ever paying attention to it. It almost happened unconsciously. I guess what I would like to say is that if we are truly interested in this profession we will find a way to adapt to new technologies, as we will find our own place, our own niche to succeed as technical communicators. Do we have to adapt to each new technology that is out there? I don’t think so. We just have to pay attention and keep ourselves updated and then pick and choose for our specific situations. Sometimes there is a different way than “Friss oder Stirb” or “Adapt or Die”. Sometimes we don’t have to adapt to each new trend out there. Sometimes we won’t die right away.

Grab the reins…

This week’s readings were pretty interesting, since I don’t consider myself as being very familiar with social networking. So the article by Boyd and Ellison out of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication was a good start to learn more about the history and some of the few researches that have been done here in the U.S. According to the authors “social network sites are structured as personal (or ‘egocentric’) networks, with the individual at the center of their own community” – or like Baron states they are for relationships that are not “physically proximate” [p. 71]. One thing seems for sure, social network sites will reshape offline social geography (Lee Humphrey in Boyd/Ellison). How so? Well the just the simple fact “that ‘friends’ on social network sites are not the same as ‘friends’ in the everyday sense” (Boyd/Ellison) will have a great impact on our social skills overall. Often we use these sites by staying connected with people we don’t really want to go through the effort and really connect with them by spending time with them and by sharing our lives. As email seems to be outdated in the younger generation already and the new way to communicate is via text, IM or social network sites like Facebook, as there will be a different form of social interactions created. I guess the process started already.

However, to me more interesting is the professional aspect of social network sites. Qualman offered in both chapters great examples on how customer service can be redefined using these tools. I never heard about vanity search or Miles. I found the example about the how to connect with your customers as really eye-opening. For a short while I worked for a real estate broker. I held a few open houses and my main goal was to get people’s email addresses. It didn’t matter if they weren’t really interested in that particular house. It mattered to connect with them, to reach them, to get their email so that we then later could send them newsletters etc. about other listings. According to Qualman, it is nowadays not anymore about getting that person into my database, but it is about starting a real – well online – relationship with the customer via social networks. “Your customer wants to have a relationship with you and even help out where they can. All it takes is honesty, transparency, listening, and reacting” [56]. To boil it all down: Let the consumer brag about your products – not you. After reading those chapters, Molisani’s article in the Intercom was tailored even more to our profession. He states: “Our job is not to write user manuals and sales brochures. Our job is to get user-optimized content to people when they need it and where they want it. In other words, follow your audience” [4].

Even though, I try not to share my private life that much on social network sites, I believe Molisani is right that we as Technical Communicators have to leave a digital (positive) footprint of our works. We have to know these tools and platforms to be able to advise our customers and employers how to best connect with their audience – and we have to brag about it … online. To speak with his words: Let’s start “grabbing the reins of” our “career and steering it where” we “want it to go”.

Blogging : Scary, Intriguing, Unknown, …

Dear E745er of Fall 2012,

Yes, to me blogging feels like writing a letter/email to someone – at this point. As you can tell now, I don’t have any experience whatsoever with blogging, neither reading nor writing. However, I am familiar with the technical side of writing a post, creating a page, etc. (on wordpress at least) since I have an online portfolio there. But I don’t consider that to be a blog. So, let’s say, I am an absolute BB (Blogging Beginner).

However, after reading the works concerning blog literacy, it was just outpouring out of me, means, I wrote like 1000 words within a heartbeat, which I don’t even remember when that happened to me the last time. Normally, I really have to work for each 100 words I have to write. Anyways, in the following you just find my most important thoughts. But apparently something hit home.

To get started and acquainted to blogging, I would begin with reading others’ blogs. Alex Reid’s article provided a list of the top 25 blogs as of 2010. In the next week I will check some of those out and actually see for myself why they are considered to be so successful. Actually, I am wondering, how many of those would be still on that list today in our fast-paced time.

Blogging also is not like something been written in stone or even printed. I guess what I try to say is that a blog doesn’t necessary have the life span of a book or even a magazine, but it can. There are no parameters anymore about how long would a blog last.

Also, Alex Reid lets us remember in his definition of a blog that all the content published on the web, (even emails and chat) is stored on some servers somewhere in this world and can be reactivated in decades and centuries to come. Even though you might have wrote a blog for a specific audience, you can never be sure who your audience will be in the future, when they will read it and how they might interpret it. How can you be sure that your message will be understood the way you wanted it to be. But then again, Shakespeare comes to mind. Do you think he envisioned that centuries later his works are still being read?

Here’s another aspect of blogging: Since we don’t have to go through the hubs of finding a publisher and getting our works being edited, it seems everybody can write and publish – no education, no costs necessary. What I would like to ask the community of this blog (mmh, I guess I am adapting already to the ‘new’ medium), how do we find out about the credibility of the author? To answer this question myself: It is up to us. As always in life, we have to decide what to believe and whom to trust. My dad used to say, “Just because it is printed, doesn’t mean it is true”. That still applies. Just rephrase it a little. As professionals, as students in this program I consider us being lucky, since we have the education to distinguish between the different sources.

Does this sound all pretty negative, at least standoffish? Ok, let’s see, what are the good points? Because of the publishing format, a blog can be read, reviewed and commented on almost instantly. A real interaction with your audience is possible which is unique in my eyes. During my work, I always enjoyed working directly with customers, to see how they use the manuals produced for their specific needs. So this is definitely a plus. Also, I can reach people not only in my immediate physical setting, but also around the world. What is scary on one hand (not knowing who actually reads your blog) can be a real opportunity. You might reach people you thought you would have never access to. I guess, like always in life, it is all about the perspective on things. You can focus on the negatives or on the positives. Here is my promise: I will give my best to leave my fears behind, to actually overcome them and move forward into embracing the many facets of the digital age. But I know I will have to push myself.