Author Archives: voigtb
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.