Category Archives: Creative

Social Norms in the Digital Wonderland

We have so many discussions surrounding how our communication and empathy have been altered by digital culture and community.  We’re still trying to define it and understand our own behaviors in this rapidly evolving hot digital world.  But it isn’t tangible and there aren’t unspoken, yet understood social norms to guide us through it.  So, maybe it is a digital wonderland where everything we once knew is now quite possibly, the opposite.  Do social norms exist once we are interacting in a digital community?  How could we possibly uphold them, if they were even defined, when there is no physical context in which to shame someone for not conforming?

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Mad Hatter Tea Party from Alice in Wonderland 

Photo source: Getty Images

Barry Thatcher, in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication (2010, p. 175), discusses three human threshold values that identify what humans usually negotiate within cultures.  Although there are more, these three tend to cause the most dilemmas in cross-cultural contexts and are the most connected to different uses of digital media.  The author asserts that cultures vary in the way that they handle these dilemmas, there usually is a yin/yang balance but also tension in which side is predominate… And that is what defines each cultures’ unique cultural integrity.

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Photo source: Getty Images

The first is shared across all cultures.  It is the dilemma of the “I” relating to others or to a group.  We are familiar with the American preference for individualism.  However, on the other side of that is collectivism.  This is when individuals see themselves as highly dependent within a social construct or community.  This is a cultural view holding social or family groups at higher importance than the individual, the “I”.  Collective communication patterns emphasize interpersonal relationships, social hierarchy, social leveraging, group identities, close personal space, and writer-friendly writing patterns. (Spilka, Ed., 2010, p. 176)  Can’t we see our digital interactions as both “I” and “We” driven?  Of course, but does it have the same construct as our traditional physical interaction?  It doesn’t seem so.  The rules seem to flip-flop a bit.

 

The second commonality is that all cultures make and enforce rules, but the reason they are created and the flexibility of their enforcement varies.  The universalist cultural approach is to establish the rules defining what is right to all individuals, regardless of social standing.  The communication patterns associated with universalist protocols include strategies of fairness, justice and equality.  However, the other approach is the particularist culture.  This approach is such that the rules and decisions are applied depending upon relations and context.  Thus there are specific sets of rules for each social relationship.  While both cultural types exist within physical construct such as the universalist culture being more applicable to countries such as the U.S., Western European countries, and Canada and the particularist culture more applicable to Latin America or Asian countries, how do these cultural communication types change when we interact online?  (Spilka, 2010, p. 177) Are Americans so universally standard in their digital world interactions or do they become more particularist, becoming more involved with individuals because of the anonymity our digital world offers us?  Could this be why people develop such strong digital relationships with people whom they’ve never met face-to-face?

 

Lastly, all cultures negotiate public/private sense of space.  This is the idea that human interaction is a degree of involvement across different spheres of life, and this usually involves some sort of divide and trust factor. (Spilka, 2010, p. 177). There are two different approaches to this, according to researchers.  Those are: diffuse or specific cultures.  A diffuse culture is usually collective; involving friends, coworkers, and other social acquaintances.  These are relationships that tend to involve aspects of your personal life, at times overlapping sections.  On the other hand, diffuse cultures can be those of high conflict, mistrust, and competition.  Quite the opposite, specific cultures are those of high public trust and ease that allow for relationships to exist within their own spheres with little crossover with others.  It favors more collaboration because the competitive piece is not relevant.  At what points do we interact collaboratively within our digital world and, then when do we behave more as in a diffuse culture.  I see the social media aspect of our digital world to be much more diffuse.  In one respect we are interacting as friends, but then also competing at who has the best life (from a digital perspective, at least).

 

All the aspects of communication and culture that are difficult enough to navigate in the traditional sense, seem to be at times upside down in the digital wonderland.

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Photo source: Getty Images

What’s in a Blog?

Have you ever noticed what makes you continue to read a blog or bounce after the first few moments?  Is it the blogger’s words?  Too many, too little, too boring, too complicated, or completely irrelevant to your search?  Or could it be the layout?  Overly cluttered or not broken up with images?  The appeal of a blog is unique to each individual.  So, how can a blogger create a product appealing enough to gain traction?

Paper on vintage typewriter with words blog typed on paper

Photo source: Getty Images

Throughout the Communication Strategies for Emerging Media course, we learn how to create relevant and appealing blogs that embody the ideal structure and flow for effectiveness. Blogging, like all forms of technical communication, has its own style and character.  What’s done on Twitter or Instagram, doesn’t have the same appeal or value in a professional blog. I’ve learned through this course and then analyzing my own interaction with blogs, that the simpler is better.  I’m much more likely to read something all the way through if it is concise and not overly wordy.

 

Digital Literacy for Technical Communication (Spilka, Ed., 2010) offers good technical writing practices that apply well to blogging platforms.  Granularity is a term used in technical writing that explains effective digital spaces should have a balance of text-based information chunks and multimedia applications.  However, depending upon the audience, the way that is done is not always the same.  We must understand our audience and the message we are trying to deliver. Granularity furthermore, has three levels of magnification to consider: microscopic (close perspective), mesoscopic (middle perspective), and macroscopic (far perspective). The microscopic perspective involves aspects such as text size, font, paragraph placement and length, and white space.  While mesoscopic and macroscopic perspectives consider broader matters such as, multiple document delivery over various lengths of time. (p. 111)

 

Mapping or blog arrangement are also very important to audience appeal.  An overly cluttered blog without a clear content menu leads to audience uncertainty or distrust.  Organization is a strategy that can build blog appeal and reputation.  The content itself should be clean and well arranged.  However, a blogger should also consider ads or the minimization of, also in the mapping schema.  No one likes to try to read a blog with ads blinking all around the content.

Simple web flowchart or sitemap with space for your content or copy.

Photo Source: Getty Images

Ambience is a critical factor in all works of art and design, including digital communication.  Ambient design allows the audience to to understand the purpose and content of a blog.  The design should be created in a way that this perspective can be gained by only a quick glance.  This allows ease of use and guides the audience through the blog interaction. (p. 120-121)  Furthermore, this overall design strategy establishes trust and audience comfort, which are crucial in a popular blog.  Images are important in creating the intended ambience.  To choose the correct supporting images, it is important to have a well defined blog purpose and to understand your desired audience well. Aesthetics are also very important to creating an appealing blog site.

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This is a photograph of mine, with some filter experimentation.  It creates a unique feel that could be appealing in certain blogs involving photography, art, or even cats.

 

Folksonomy is also known as social tagging, social indexing, tagging, etc.  It is a method by which content can be created and managed, via tags, to categorize the content.  (p. 118) This method of tagging and categorizing content is done all over social media, the Web, and in blogging.  As we write our blogs, we choose the categories/tags we want connected to our content so that it appears in relevant user searches.  Aside from administrative blog tools, we can also accomplish this via hashtags which are trackable throughout social media (if our blogs are shared to those platforms) and the Web.

 

As technical and digital communication advances, we also make changes to improve the functionality and appeal of our blogs.  While blogs are still very relevant, vlogs are quickly gaining attention.  With that in mind, it will be interesting to see  how the technical communicator roles develop should consumption of media become more video based.  The technical writing practices could shift into video production.  One could argue that they already have…

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Photo Source: Getty Images

Make Video an Essential Part of Design and Information Architecture

Presentation of a video channel of laptop. Light blue background with tall buildings of the city. Modern technologies for business. Flat design. Vector illustration

Presentation of a video channel on a laptop. Source: Getty Images

As video usage and video views continue to grow, so does the importance of making video a key part of digital design. A Forbes headline from June reads “Video Marketing in 2018 Continues to Explode.” Consider this statistic from the article: more than 500 million hours of videos are watched daily on YouTube. In a 2018 survey that Hubspot conducted, 81% of businesses reported using video as a marketing tool, which is up 18% from last year’s survey.

Video Placement Guidelines

Despite the increased profile of videos, many people still place them at the bottom of emails, hide them in links, or forget about them altogether. A 2015 article by Stjepan Alaupovic for OnlineVideo.net has some practical guidelines for the placement of video on websites:

  1. Use a simple video player that viewers are used to seeing such as YouTube or Vimeo with a video play button to provide a visual cue to users.
  2. Place videos above the fold (in the top part of the screen) and in a prominent spot so that viewers see them easily.
  3. Enhance search engine optimization (SEO) with good metadata including a description that includes the word video and a verbatim transcription.

Recently, my own firm was redesigning our website. When the plan for the site was presented at a meeting, video was not part of it. Not only is video a product of most agencies today, it is essential for capturing an audience’s attention and presenting information in today’s digital environment.

Video Gallery or Library

In Chapter 4 of Digital Literacy for Technical Communication on information designMichael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski discuss the need for technical communicators to consider “findability” of documents and information. Today, users want to be able to find information in many formats including video. Websites should have a video gallery or library that is linked in a tab, card, or area of the homepage that is easy to see. Videos should be organized by category and playlists. Descriptive thumbnail images are useful, too.

Many organizations spend time, effort, and money producing videos, but they fail to consider where the video will be placed online, how it will be seen, and why users will view it. I recommend starting any video project by completing a video creative brief that lists a series of questions that should be considered. One of the most important questions to answer is “where will this video live online?” Below, you’ll find an example of a video creative brief.

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Video Creative Brief by Angie Myers

 

 

Web 1.0 to Web 2.0: A Brief Evolution of Technical Writing

We are currently in the Web 2.0 World Wide Web era.  It is a concept that was developed by Darcy DiNucci in 1999 and then popularized by Tim O’Reilly.  It is the idea that the internet we engage with now is participatory of social in nature. The date of full Web 2.0 is not exactly determined.  However, we do know that this change occurred in the mid 2000s.  Prior to participatory web (Web 2.0), Web 1.0 is considered a one-way exchange of our information.  While users could search and engage somewhat over the World Wide Web, the information was pushed or projected to the user.  Even most question and answer or company managed chat forums were moderated by the company or organization source.  There were limits to the amount in which users could actually interact with each other or companies.  Web 2.0 introduced World Wide Web users to social media platforms, blogs, and other interactive technologies.  Wikipedia Web 2.0

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Photo source Wikipedia

The change in internet user engagement also effected technical writing professionals.  The traditional static content of books and Web 1.0 content, now needed to be an interactive, living document.  Digital advancements in technical writing during the Web 1.0 era included creating microgenres of content such as Frequently Asked Questions or online forums and also the PDF that allowed content to maintain its intended form for printing.  Fast forward to Web 2.0, and technical writers are finding themselves becoming technological experts.  Some of the ways technical writers have had to evolve their knowledge and specialties are: learning the digital publishing software tools to create user friendly and accessible content, understand web content and be able to use those platforms to create user-engaging content such as embedded maps, videos, calendars, etc., and to also be able to create engaging micro-content for webpages as opposed to writing long documents or novels.

In additional to content creation and management for general World Wide Web users, e-learning has also opened up many opportunities in technical writing.  In Rachel Spilka’s book, Digital Literacy for Technical Communication (2010), she references that in 2008, the Society for Technical Communication (STC)’s Instructional Design and Learning Special Interest Group has grown significantly and 20% of all STC members belonged to it.  Some technological knowledge required by technical writers in this field include: authoring tools used to create e-learning content such as Dreamweaver, Flash, Captivate, and Illustrator, learning content management systems (LCMS), and learning management systems.

Many other specialty avenues exist for technical writers thanks to the development of Web 2.0.  Although the transitions over the most recent decades have been an uphill battle at times, technical writers have also gained the ability to diversity their career and have more interaction with content consumers.  Web 3.0 is beginning to be rumored about.  This will mean much more Artificial Intelligence involvement into our World Wide Web.  It will be very interesting to see how the technical writing career field evolves involving Artificial Intelligence.  Could it mean more new opportunities or could Artificial Intelligence take over some technical writing roles and responsibilities?  I sure it won’t be long before we begin to transition to Web 3.0 given the rapid advancement of internet technologies.

The Power of Online Activism

I began an internship/volunteer role with a county-level political party this week.  My role is to build reach and produce content for their social media platforms.  I expect to experience the extremes of all online activism in the next few weeks.  My interest in online activism began a few years ago when I realized impact of quick spreading information.  As much negativity that comes with it, it is also does help to educate and rally people together.  I am now calling it digital canvassing.  I thought I was clever creating the term, but it actually does exist and has become widely used, especially leading up to the 2016 election.  The power of social media tools for facilitating political participation and protest also open the door to use social media as surveillance, repression, censorship, and trolling. Since the introduction to Web 2.0 into our political climate, we’ve seen a rise in issues related to cyberbullying and trolling. (Preface: A decade of Web 2.0 – Reflections, critical perspectives, and beyond). The more volatile our political climate becomes, the more we see how the internet, especially social media, enables individuals to show the cruelest versions of themselves.  However, we also get to see the best by stories and communications of support, cooperation, and collaboration.

 Embed from Getty Images

Howard Rheingold, in Net Smart, discusses convergence culture depends upon what Pierre Lévy calls “collective intelligence”, in reference to Wikipedia.  This idea “refers to a situation where nobody knows everything, everyone knows something, and what any given member knows is accessible to any other member upon request on an ad hoc base.” (Rheingold, 2014, p. 159) This type of collaboration goes well beyond Wikipedia and has been studied in many different social situations.  In an interview with Lévy, Rheingold asked about “the skills needed to participate in and instigate collective intelligence activity.”  The answer exhibits the way we interact on social media platforms or through blogging. It is a creating a “synergy between personal knowledge and collective knowledge management.” (Rheingold, 2014, p. 160). Our collective intelligence is used in online activism.  It may be part of its foundation.  The positive desired outcome is the sharing information to create a likeminded group and to gain members.  However, we’ve also witnessed the ability to troll each other in these interactions which then becomes divisive.

Many users see social media as an especially negative venue for political discussions, but others see it as simply “more of the same”

Merriam-Webster defines power as (entry one of three), “1a(1): ability to act of produce an effect, 1a(2): ability to get extra-base hits, or 1a(3): capacity for being acted upon or undergoing an effect.” (Power)  Understanding that by definition, power is capacity to elicit effect, conveys that power should not necessarily be considered a positive thing.  The power of online activism is its capacity for producing effect, positive and negative.  Since our immersion into Web 2.0, online activism, especially political, has become a daily, sometimes hourly bombardment.  Before the Web, especially, Web 2.0, we were able to limit our political driven activism exposure to television commercials (usually only aired near elections), some print materials, or door-to-door canvassers. Now, we can’t run away from it. Now, is the power of the online activism encouraging our political engagement and encouraging us to vote, or is it deteriorating our moral so severely that we chose to not engage at all?

 37% of social media users are worn out by political content

Is freedom of speech, in coordination with online activism, creating a healthy functioning collective intelligence?  While this could be argued to great lengths and we still wouldn’t all agree, is that the point? The opening line in an article in Forbes discussing the internet and activism states, “How we choose to act in extreme circumstances helps to define our character.”  The article goes on to easily explain how quickly we can find our own collective in the digital world.  From joining Green Peace to save the world or to join a terrorist organization, it is easy to find your own collective. (The internet and the next generation of activism) We’ve had conversations resulting from blogs this semester surrounding the idea, ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say it at all.” At what point are our words creating divisive online activism and actually causing great harm?  I anticipate this question only becoming more difficult to simply answer as our interaction with online activism grows. I think it is better to kind and if you can’t be kind, be silent.

 

Web 2.0 and Online Identity Formation

Our readings this week got me thinking about identity-formation, of all things. In “DIY videos on YouTube: Identity and possibility in the age of algorithms” Wolf describes how watching DIY videos can play a role in identity-formation – they can help us asses if we are capable or confident enough to do a task on our own. However, DIY videos aren’t the only activity that can influence our identity; there are many online activities like video games and social media that can also influence our identity.

“You Play World of Warcraft? You’re Hired!”

World of Warcraft – A raid group taking down Vaelastrasz the Corrupt in Blackwing Lair Source: MMO Examiner

In chapter four, Rheingold discusses how World of Warcraft (WoW) can influence our identity and can be seen as a good job training simulator. He says this because players must complete tasks collaboratively with other players if they truly want to engage with the game’s content. I’ve had similar thoughts about WoW because I played this game a lot growing up.

When I played the game, I use to raid hardcore (as they would say). My alliance guild (25+ people) would raid four nights a week and complete high-level dungeons to obtain the best gear and loot. In some cases, we were the first on our server to kill a new raid boss, which comes with its own bragging rights and rewards. These accomplishments don’t carry much merit in the real-world, but completing these collaborative tasks gave me a lot of skills that can be carried over to a work environment.

If I’ve ever felt like I couldn’t do something, I’ve caught myself thinking – “If I’m capable of organizing a raid to kill Yogg-Saron on heroic mode with no guardians, then why can’t I do this job interview or [fill-in-the-name] task?” This might sound silly, but playing World of Warcraft has given me confidence that I can accomplish great tasks and goals in my own life.

I’ve seen how WoW has affected my friends’ lives too. For instance – my guildmate created a bot in the game that would collect valuable materials for him (without him having to be at his computer). Creating this bot required that he learned coding, programming, and many other skills because it required modifying the game. He was eventually banned because creating bots is cheating, but the video game allowed him to refine his engineering skills. He is now a software engineer at a software company in Silicon Valley, which is a very fitting role for him.

I’ve also seen how WoW can destroy lives. There is a stigma that playing online video games means you have no life and are worthless. I’ve seen many of my guildmates get caught up in this lie and often view themselves as worthless and feel they can’t accomplish anything in the real world. To me, it’s incredibly interesting how one game can influence our identity and personality so much.

Lurkers are destroying online collaboration participation. Really?

The value of lurkers, commenters, and creators Source: Lurkers Anonymous

Rheingold discusses how the web has been primarily formed through collaborative efforts of many users. Kusher repeats this sentiment in “Read only: The persistence of lurking in Web 2.0,” where he explores how lurkers pose a threat to this collaboration and participation. At the end of the article, he states: “[lurkers] are the remainder of human activity that fails to conform – deliberately or otherwise – to the capitalist logics that drive Web 2.0.”

I agree and understand his argument, but I don’t agree with the tone that pervades the article and seems to negatively blame lurkers for destroying online participation. I rarely participate in social media activities and discussions, but I would not call my lack of participation as deliberate; I often just don’t feel any desire to comment or be part of the discussion.

However, I feel there are often good reasons to not participate online. I feel companies and social media platforms have ruined participation because they use information you provide (through a simple like or watching a video) as a means to target and influence your behavior through ads. Any information you put online also stays online, permanently – why would I want anyone to be able to pull my information up so easily?

At the same time, I often worry this passive majority isn’t participating where it truly counts. They may not share articles that expose corruption in the real world. They are not vocal when they need to be (like during elections and other highly political times). And social media platforms are doing a good job of making false participation – such as liking a video –  seem more significant than it actually is. We cannot confuse easy participation as real participation.

Where we have been, and where we are going with Web 2.0

Our senators seem to be the only users who don’t understand how Web 2.0 works.

I feel the majority of these articles summarize the main benefits and problems of Web 2.0 accurately. The main difference between when Web 2.0 was coined, and now, is a majority of users know what Web 2.0 is (except our senators, apparently). Your average user understands the danger of the web – we don’t click on random ads, we understand that there are bots trying to talk to us, and we know how our behavior on the Internet is used by others. However – as Reingold points out in chapter 6 – your average user does not know how to use the web mindfully (such as knowing how to use privacy settings and more). Going forward, privacy is going to be more of an issue than before.

I feel web regulation will also be a huge factor going forward. We can see this happening currently, with big tech companies having to testify in front of congress and more. Just the other day, I saw an article explaining that there will be a new California law that states chatbots must disclose that they are bots before continuing a conversation. I feel this is important because even though we are aware that there are bots on the Internet. It is becoming increasingly difficult to know when a bot is speaking to us, especially when it comes to sharing news articles.

I personally don’t know how far these regulations will go. I believe some regulation is necessary, but I also worry about those who will take advantage of the current fear in the political climate and make unnecessary regulations to control the Internet for certain parties.

The shape of networks

“Networks have structures, and structures influence the way individuals and networks behave.” – Rheingold, NetSmart pg192

Rheingold in NetSmart Chapter 5, Social Has a Shape, discusses what social networks look like. He says, “Imagine a circle with seven billion dots on it. Now draw just a few random connections between dots and other dots in other parts of the network, crossing to other parts of the circle instead of restricting the connections to immediate neighbors.” (p. 193). This idea of connections and what a social network looks like got me thinking about the six degrees of separation.

six degrees

Photo from Medium: https://medium.com/@hackerearth/the-theory-of-six-degrees-of-separation-8a92bc5e3221

View at Medium.com

beyonce

The six degrees of separation idea is essential that everyone in the world is only 6 degrees or steps away from knowing someone else. You can find a “friend of a friend” six times over and be connected to anyone else in the world, any one of the 7 billion people on our world today.  (Yes, that means I am only six “friends of a friend” away from knowing Beyonce). 

The connectedness is shrinking the world. No longer are the only people that we know physically located as our neighbors. We can stay in touch with people who move across the country, those people can introduce us to other people, and the world continues to shrink.

So what?

What does this connectedness mean for us? Think about it in terms of looking for a job. There are many people who get hired in their positions because of their specific skill set, but there are also many people who believe that it’s “who you know.” As these networks are growing, and the world is shrinking, and you’re only 6 degrees of separation away from any other person, it becomes very likely that you can leverage your connections to get a job interview.

Wisconsin

When I was applying for jobs a few years ago I was applying to different positions around the UW-Madison campus. I had worked at UW for 2 years and was ready for a new challenge so started looking specifically only on campus. I was in my coworkers office one day, and he received a text saying “Do you know Brittney,” he replied with a photo of me sitting in his office. Turns out, the person who was hiring my position had worked with him at a previous job. My coworker had positive things to say about me, and had enough social capital with this other person he used to work with to get me an interview. Would I have gotten the interview without his recommendation? I don’t know. But it definitely didn’t hurt to have him connected to a network I was about to join.

When you get down to it, it seems overwhelming to try to visualize what a social network looks like. We all have a lot of Facebook friends and Instagram followers so identifying where all of those connections are can be difficult. But in this chapter, Rheingold does a great job of explaining the nuances of this shrinking world.  

 

Ambient Awareness: A Replacement for Social Connectedness?

Ambient Awareness is a social science term Clive Thompson used in his article, Brave New World of Digital Intimacy, to explain the new constant online environment we communicate and interact in.  This enables us to maintain weaker social connections in an incessantly overwhelming digital environment.  Facebook was the frontrunner in this form of digital interaction but it has developed to now include microblogging, Twitter, Instagram, etc.  Ambient awareness also considers the narcissistic.  tendencies for people to think that every single little thought or occurrence in every moment of their life necessitates a social media post of microblog. This awareness and behavior weakens social ties and further creates an ego-centric mainframe where the social media user is not so concerned with what is going on in other’s lives but rather the importance of their personal posts.  Are loose connections or acquaintances preferred over the deeper connection of the past?

Embed from Getty Images

Wikipedia further defines ambient awareness as an awareness propagated from relatively constant contact with one’s friends and colleagues via social media platforms. Wikipedia Ambient Awareness 

It would seem that the constant connection created a deeper disconnect or even devalued the meaning in social interaction.  It’s as if we don’t even
“see” each other as human beings but rather view these interactions as transactional.

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar believes that evolutionary structure of social networks limits us to 150 meaningful relationships at a time, despite the rise in social media.  In the following TED Talk, “Why the Internet Won’t Get You Anymore Friends”, Robin Dunbar argues why social media doesn’t give us the expanded social connectedness that it promises.  He makes you question the quality of communication done on social media platforms.  Loose connections are the substance in social media communication.

 

 

So, how ambient awareness and the brain’s inability to have larger numbers of truly meaningful relationships effecting our workplace collaboration?  Clive Thompson goes on to further discuss in his New York Times article that ambient awareness allows us to maintain weaker social connections that actually create more common ground in workplace collaboration because the ongoing updates build the social context for collaboration.  B.J. McNely, in the October 2001 publication, Informational communication, sustainability, and the public writing work or organizations from Proceedings of the IEEE International Professional Communication Conference (1-7), further explains that social media practices such as micro-blogging, as discussed in this post, are not seen as formal work, but rather the informal communication that happens alongside the work.  In this context, ambient awareness seems complimentary to the workplace by creating an informal way to collaborate that still builds trust and understanding.

 

While loose connections are viewed to be harmful to our social interaction, they do in fact have value in certain situations.

 

 

 

Technical Communication is Multifaceted

Ever since I joined the MSTPC program, I have noticed a repeated theme throughout technical and professional communication literature. Technical communication often doesn’t seem to know what it is, what it does, or why it matters. I have read many research papers that seem insecure about the profession and try to pinpoint what technical communication is and who it is for. Notable technical writers like Tom Johnson have even tackled this issue in posts like “Why is there a divide between academics and practitioners and tech comm?”. In my Theory and Research class, I wrote my final essay about why researchers seem to explore the identity of the technical writer more so than other professions. I understand all professions do research about about their own field, but technical communication is one of the first fields I’ve run into that seems unsure of itself. 

I saw some of these themes of identity in Blythe, Lauer, and Curran’s article “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World.” However, these authors seemed more sure about what technical communicators do and seem to be okay with the fact that technical writers are a diverse bunch with a wide skill set. They focus less on “What is a technical writer?” and instead, “What does a technical communicator do?” I particularly enjoyed and agreed with this quote from the piece, “In other words it is not enough in a Web 2.0 world to ONLY write effectively, you must branch out and be a master of many skills and tools.” Blythe, Lauer, and Curran explore these many skillsets and tools throughout the paper and it inspired me to create my own list of common writing tasks and tools I use in my day-to-day job as a technical content writer: 

Most often used types of writing Most often Used Tools
1. White Papers 1. Google Drive (Doc, Excel, Slides)
2. Case Studies 2. Sketch
3. Blog / Syndicated Content 3. Slack / Email
4. Website / Landing Pages 4. UX Research tools like Ethnio
5. Blog / Syndicated Content 5. HubSpot
6. Press Releases 6. Asana
7. Advertising 7. WordPress
8. Strategy / Planning / Internal Sales documents 8. Survey Tools


Most Often Used Types of Writing

I decided to create two different list of my writing tasks / tools to show the multifacetedness of technical writing. For instance, many of my “most often used types of writing” involves doing more than just writing (especially the higher ranked types). To create a strong white paper or webpage requires knowing design skills, information management, and UX expertise. Sometimes, I spend more time designing white papers and case studies with design tools than I do actually writing. This often makes me feel more like a visual designer than a technical writer, but I would argue that you would need to know skills from both trades to make a compelling document that is exciting to read. 

A case study I created for work

Case Study Design

I created this document above to explain how Jacuzzi is using my company’s platform to create a connected hot tub. One of the biggest challenges with case studies is they offer a lot of information and most clients don’t have time to read them. As such, I believe it is important to create a document that would excite clients and can be read quickly. For this case study, I create a document that is easily scannable with data visualization and short paragraphs, while adding visual interests with color contrasts and visuals. I had to use design tools like Sketch to make visuals that draw the reader’s attention and use information management skills to organize the information in a way that is compelling. 

The Importance of Tools

In “Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making,” Longo discusses how technical communicators must become masters of ICT technologies. I would add to that and say that technical communicators must master more than ICT tools nowadays, but also must become a master of design, information management, task management tools, and more. The number of tools required to be a become a proficient technical communicator is only increasing too. However, while mastering all of these tools is helpful and certainly increase career opportunities, I wouldn’t say a technical communicator must be an expert at all of them.

The Bottom Line

As a marketing technical writer, it makes sense why I see visuals and design tools as such an important element of being a technical communicator. However, a technical communicator who focuses on creating internal documentation may not need to know the same number of design tools as I do. They may prioritize other skillsets and tools that I may not even know about. And that’s the benefit of being a technical writer – there is so many different routes and paths to specialize in. These wide range of skillsets and purposes make it hard to define what a technical communicator is, but it is certainly not a weakness. It’s something we should celebrate more. 

Superconnected: The ownership of ideas and information security

While Dr. Chayko discusses information and communication technology in a number of ways, I was particularly intrigued with her discussions about idea ownership and information security. In this post, I’ll outline these ideas and contribute my own thoughts about idea ownership and the security of information within digital systems.  

Ownership of ideas

Dr. Chayko questions the ownership of ideas in chapter four. She ponders if we own our ideas and how we can attribute ownership to something that’s not yet tangible. I ponder this questions often in my professional and academic work. Of course, I cannot claim someone else’s ideas as my own, but at what point can we truly trace the origin of an idea? My freshman composition professor also used to tell my class that no idea is truly original because we always got it from somewhere else (he would always make this argument so we would source our information in essays). This is something that has always intrigued me.

Our ideas evolve from interconnected and disconnected empirical experiences. Sometimes, it can be difficult to know the origin of an idea or if it is truly my own. This begs the question of what is more important: the idea itself or the execution of the idea? Chayko notes that, while “specific intellectual contributions are legally protected”, general thoughts are not.  

As such, differentiating between general ideas and intellectual contribution is something that I personally struggle with as a writer. When I’m writing an article about a new IoT (Internet of Things) initiative, I am often inspired by things I see and hear around me.  In order to codify this ideas, I try to apply my own interpretation in the form of execution — going beyond the ‘what’ and venturing into the ‘how’, ‘why’, and ‘what’s next’.

That said, the current speed at which information propagates makes it exceedingly difficult to trace the origin of an idea or that idea’s originating execution. We seem to be in an era where the only way to truly keep our ideas private is to keep them to ourselves or to try to pursue legal ways to copyright and trademark ideas. Dr. Chayko is also not the only one who is pondering this question. There are many articles, like this article from the Guardian, that explore the idea ownership and plagiarism in the digital age. In this article, the author seems to conclude that the application of the idea is more important than the original idea.

I personally believe that we can be inspired by what others have written and be allowed to write about similar topics. With the speed of which information propagates, I don’t see how this can’t be a reality. However, I do believe original ownership of ideas should always be sourced from those who originally inspired us. We cannot copy the structure of their idea, (i.e. we should add to the conversation, not copy what they said.) To do otherwise would just be dishonest. In that regard, II believe the original idea and the execution of the idea are both important. 

Secure communication and information

Chayko made me ponder secure communication and information accessibility. She states, “It is important to consider exactly how accessible and open computer systems should be – how various kinds of information should be accessed and who should do the accessing.”

If only information security was as simple as stock photos make it out to be. Source: CG Business Consulting

My company deals with this type of question almost everyday with the line of work we do. We help customers connect physical objects or systems to the Internet – these objects or systems can be anything, but most businesses use us to connect valuable infrastructure or assets that they would like to keep an eye on from a remote location. However, when you connect an object or system to the Internet, it is now sending and transferring tons of data and information into internal systems and other places. My company helps make this process secure and safe so none of this data can be hacked or used for nefarious means.

But this is the problem with connected systems. While every IoT company will promise that they will safeguard against these things, there is no way you can ever stop someone from hacking into something if they truly have the means. Nothing can ever be completely secure, which opens up the question, “What should and should not be connected to the Internet?” While we are connecting physical objects to solve real-world problems in the world, should we?

Personally, I believe there are certain things that should be connected and there are some things that just shouldn’t be connected (for instance we don’t need connected basketballs and connected hairbrushes — yes, these are real things). The only objects that should be connected are the ones that offer continuous, recurring value for the business and for the customer. I believe businesses are responsible for making sure the products they are connecting add value not just to their business, but their customers’ lives. Only then can they justify connecting their systems and gathering information from objects and systems. 

Social Media’s Digital Labor

Social Media gives us the connection we long for as human beings.  We feel part of something so much bigger than ourselves and are able to connect with past and current friends on a daily basis, if we so choose.  However, is social media connecting us the way we believe it to be or are we all incorporated into a false consciousness where what seems to be super connected is actually complete alienation?  One could argue that it is a matter of perspective, possibly determined by our internal definition of “connected” or that we are potentially being brainwashed on a massive scale.  According to Mary Chayco’s book SuperConnected: The Internet, Digital Media, & Techno-Social Life page 71, the idea of false consciousness is that individuals may not realize that giving away their free time by making and reproducing creative digital communications, they are actually benefiting the more powerful in society rather than themselves.  In other words, social media users and producers are focused upon the view that they are being creative or accomplishing a goal but actually those free efforts are benefiting companies.  Of course there are paid promotional considerations, influencer marketing, and other ways to monetize a blog or other social media platform efforts…  However, who is benefiting the most from this digital labor?

digital labor.jpg (960×851)

The weight of our social media engagements.

Image Source: https://goo.gl/images/sZPpck

 

Digital Labor is the act of individuals producing content for public consumption on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and others that benefits organizations and corporations (Chayco, 2018, p. 71). It’s an organization of human experience that drives marketing, mostly unbeknownst to the producer and the consumer.  In one respect, by the vast amount of digital media consumers are exposed to, they learn about products and services that may not have crossed their path or are able to be involved in crowdsourcing or crowdfunding.   However, one could argue that by websites and companies having this inexpensive or even free digital labor, that consumers are exploited.

We rush to social media as a way to express ourselves creatively and to be included in the digital society.  Engagement on social media has become to norm in our highly digital society so much that the act of not being engaged in social media is seen as antisocial.  We’ve come to a collective consciousness in regard to digital media behavior and we didn’t even realize it.  We didn’t question it.  In addition to digital labor, companies also gain information about online behavior by the use of “cookies” (Chayko, 2018, p. 84-85).  This online behavior monitoring and data mining, along with our digital labor, reveals so much personal information about an individual that I’m certain they wouldn’t just tell a complete stranger.  However, that is exactly what is happening with our digital media interactions.  The video below shows how labor has evolved and what it looks like as a “social media workforce”.  It speaks to the idea that we do not feel we are being exploited or alienated as a result of coercion and then our consent.  It’s a bold statement and hard to accept because we like that rush of human interaction.  Again, there is much value in digital communications but we have a responsibility to understand exactly what it is we’re engaging in and agreeing to.

 

Digital labor can be beneficial to consumers on social media platforms but as producers and consumers, we need to reclaim our worth.  Social media users are valuable to corporations by their ability to reach others.  So, how do we make certain we are not free or cheap digital labor?  It starts with awareness.

 

 

Blogging and Digital Marketing Strategy

Blogs have become my main use for Facebook.  While I first used it as a social outreach tool, I now appreciate it as the one place I can see all the blogs that interest me in one feed.  I also technically follow many bloggers on Pinterest. Pinterest is my go-to place for recipes, craft ideas, or sewing projects.  When I click on those Pins, I’m directed to the site. I find that I am more likely to engage with these bloggers if I can use certain social media platforms as a central feed or board. Otherwise, as my email inbox fills up, I’m more likely to delete communications without reading them.

Digital Marketing Strategy is an excellent tool for gaining blog followers.

From the article, 16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners, by Belle Beth Cooper, she states she’s heard blogging referred to as a “mixture between an art and a science”.  What a precise statement!  The balance between the writer’s artistic, personal expression and attracting an active readership is an analytical challenge.

I’d like to touch on a few of the 16 tips provided in Belle Beth Cooper’s article that tie in Digital Marketing Strategy and blogging.

#4 – Build an email list.

Creating a call-to-action encouraging readers to sign up for an email list does make sense because your intent is having that open channel to reach their inbox.   However, consumers are bombarded with emails on a daily, if not hourly basis, and realistically because of the demands on people’s time, your email is more likely to end up in the trash.  Although the intent of building an email list is to circumvent competitive factors such as Facebook News Feed ranking (EdgeRank isn’t used anymore by name but Facebook still ranks based upon 1000’s of factors using algorithms) and Search Engine rankings, there are simple ways Bloggers can stay visible on social media platforms.

I encourage you watch this brief video by Facebook, “How Does Facebook News Feed Ranking Work?”.

A few recommendations I offer to create different call-to-actions encouraging readership are:

  1. Encourage readers to not only “like” your page but to also “follow” it.
  2. Encourage comments to your blog posts on social media.
  3. Consider “sponsored” posts. “Sponsored” posts are available on most social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. “Sponsored” posts allow the blogger to target consumers who’ve already indicated behaviors that tie into their target audience.  Blogger’s can determine their own spend and the analytics immediately show if it paid off.

#6 – Focus on building an amazing call-to-action.

A central component of any Digital Marketing Strategy is the call-to-action.  What do you want the visitor to your blog site or webpage to do? As much as a blogger should stay true to their artist output, how are you going to encourage people to read it?

Nate Kontny, founder of Draft, a blog for writers, noted that when he created a strong, relevant call-to-action, it “immediately increased my Twitter followers by 335% in the first 7 days!”

The proof is in the analytics!

#7 – Give stuff away.

This sounds ridiculous at first because aside from wanting to share your writing as a blogger, there’s also the intent for it to be an income source.  However, the main idea behind “giving stuff away” is showing good faith to your readership.  Share those writing tips, offer a new seasonal recipe, or give away a PDF sewing pattern.   The best way to win followers is to offer them something they didn’t have prior to coming to your blog site or webpage.  This encourages readers to follow your blog.

According to research by Incentivibe, “adding a giveaway contest pop-up to the bottom-right of their website led to 125% more email subscribers”.  Again, I believe that the main focus should not only be on email subscribers, but the same giveaway contest could be offered to gain social media followers.

Digital Marketing Strategy can be a very useful tool in operating a successful blog!

Content Management in Job Searches

It can be almost funny when you find connections between real life and content in your assigned coursework. After reading Chapters 3, 4 and 5 in Digital Literacy I found myself in an ironic situation. My husband and I had to work together to create content. On Friday my husband came home from work and I asked him how his day was. He said it was fine and then I heard the real story. Corporate human resource represenatives came into the plant in our small town and said that all 40 employees would be laid off sometime between January 1 and April 1 2018. The company has a much larger plant about an hour and a 1/2 away that employees around 200 people. The employees were told they would be making 1/3 of the positions available in the larger plant but it would be open recruitment.

My husband hasn’t updated his resume since the last time he was job hunting 5+ years ago. Knowing there is such a high demand for these positions I stressed how important it would be for us to have a professional looking design with quality error free content.

My search for a new resume template started with Google search for free creative resume templates. Some pages I was afraid to click on because I was worried about the sources. Other pages had nothing but ads or still required payment. I spent a number of hours using a variety of search terms to find this content. There was very little if not zero content available that was professional, modern and clean designs.

My next search was to try to find content that was very low cost. I remembered seeing digital content such as clip art on ETSY and thought it was worth a shot.  I was able to find just what I was looking for using Etsy.com search for instant download resume templates that cost between $1 and $2

Screenshot_003.png

To my surprise all it took was paying $1 instead of looking for the content for free. The template I picked had three templates with it. One for the resume, one for a cover letter and one for references. It included instructions and templates in a variety of formats. Both for the Apple software Pages and for Microsoft Word.

I think this taught me a lot about the availability and cost of content. No one wants to give up content for free. Even if it is just a dollar per download that adds a lot to the professionalism and quality of the product.

What is talent anyway?

In the Web 2.0 text debate between Andrew Keen (author of The Internet is NOT the Answer) and David Weinberger (author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web, Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder, and others), the authors discuss whether the Web is a Kafkaesque miasma of chaos and disorganization or a Cinderella story of a happy ending waiting to rise from an underrated medium (fortunately, they did specify Disney’s Cinderella — it would be a totally different debate if it was the Grimms’ version!). Keen was on Kafka’s side, while Weinberger was on Cinderella’s.

I willingly acknowledge my bias and optimism toward the Web and all it has to offer — ideas, communication, knowledge. With that said, Keen came off as a Luddite who is terrified of losing his precious status quo because of the newest technology on the scene. It seemed like every sentence of his gave me the desire to retort — yet Weinberger provided all the retort much more eloquently than I could have here. He his ultimate criticism of Keen’s views came early in the article, but sums up my thoughts perfectly: “Andrew, you join a long list of those who predict the decline of civilization and pin the blame on the latest popular medium, except this time it’s not comic books, TV, or shock jock radio. It’s the Web.”

Keen’s arguments shifted as Weinberger rebutted his arguments. Starting with the Web populated with nothing but monkeys (I assume drawn from the infinite monkeys theory) who just make and endless chaotic cacophony, to the threat to the livelihoods of those in traditional media (sad, but not like technology has never threatened whole industries before), to the fact that without traditional media, talented individuals will neither be discovered nor properly groomed. He even goes so far as saying that artists are useless without the industries that support them:

The issue of talent is the heart of the matter…. Web 2.0 misunderstands and romanticizes talent. It’s not about the individual — it’s about the media ecosystem. Writers are only as good as their agents and editors. Movie directors are only as good as their studios and producers.

These professional intermediaries are the arbiters of good taste and critical judgment. It we flatten media and allow it be determined exclusively by the market, then your friends Joe and Marie have even less chance of being rewarded for their talent. Not only will they be expected to produce high quality music, but — in the Web 2.0 long tail economy — they’ll be responsible for the distribution of their content…. Either they can produce music which has commercial value or they can’t. If they can’t, they should keep their day jobs.

While Weinberger addresses this handily:

It aims at moving units. It therefore does exactly what you complain the Web does: It panders to the market…. The question, therefore, is not whether the traditional media’s taste is better or worse than the Web’s. The Web doesn’t have taste, good or bad. The Web is not an institution, a business, or even a market, any more than the real world is. It’s us. We have lots of different tastes. On the Web we can better fulfill those tastes (because of the Long Tail you ridicule in your book), rather than simply relying on others to decide for us what is worth attending to.

However, I had more questions about Keen’s arguments about talent and commercial value. For instance, what is talent? Does talent equate to commercial value? Has the definition of talent changed with the advent of the Web and democratization of the arts?

From Keen’s remarks, is definition of talent would include being “discovered” by some media outlet (publisher for authors, recording label for musicians, agent for actors, etc.), groomed for success, and then made famous by that media outlet. As we have learned about the long tail, it is much more likely for somebody to make it big when their only competition is the limited to the amount of physical shelf space in a bookstore or music store. Thus talent does, indeed, equate to commercial value and marketability in his view.

But bookstores and music stores are dropping like flies (RIP Borders, Blockbuster, Sam Goody and countless others), and only those who adapt to the new media on the Web will succeed.

So the question still remains of what constitutes talent in a system where you might be successful if you are a skilled self-marketer… or you might not. Or when all it takes is one lucky viral video to make it big.

What even constitutes popularity and success? In traditional media, it was the number of books or CDs you sold. It was the number of awards your acting netted you. It was the ratings you got on your TV network during prime time. Yet some things inexplicably become extremely successful. Are the winners of reality TV shows successful or talented? By what measure? They gained popularity and wealth–they had tons of commercial value (so I guess they could quit their day jobs, according to Keen)–but is that truly success?

The Web is even more complicated. Are you judged by the number of Facebook friends your Famous Internet Cat has (Grumpy Cat has more than 8 million). The number of subscribers you have on YouTube, or the number of views your videos have. Pewdiepie has the most viewers and views, and few would call him an artist of any sort of merit — even a 17-year-old responded with disgust when I asked if Pewdiepie was relevant among teenagers: “Not to me anymore. I’m older than 12.”

Or maybe it’s your commercial value–both Grumpy Cat and Pewdiepie have made millions off of their respective branding. However, Grumpy Cat’s phenomenon was started by a viral photograph, while Pewdiepie’s fame was arguably due brilliant self-marketing. But much like the mega-stars of traditional media, Internet mega stars are uncommon. Yet, I would argue, not as uncommon as those in traditional media because there are no gatekeepers beyond luck and the fickleness of Internet democracy (and Facebook’s algorithms, but that’s another story).

It’s in the long tail where we see the main differentiators between the traditional and Web media. The long tail does not just fulfill our tastes, as Weinberger argues, but it also gives a chance of success to those who would otherwise not have it. In traditional media, you’re either a star or you’re not (for the most part). But on the Web, there is a wide spectrum of success. I follow a blog whose author makes $400,000 per year just on ad revenue. But I also have a friend who self-published a book and has sold fewer than 20 copies due to poor self-promotion. I have several artist friends somewhere between those two extremes–some survive exclusively on their art, while others struggle to break even. In a world of traditional media, it is unlikely that any of these people would be successful–there would be no spectrum.

I think the biggest talent when it comes to producing creative content for the Web (be it paintings, music, videos, video games–anything a person creates) is self-promotion. It is a vital literacy to “make it” on the Web. In fact, I’d say it is the content creator’s analogue to the content consumer’s “crap detection.”

Oh, and Grumpy Cat’s first book debuted on the New York Times bestseller list for nonfiction hardbacks. So, Keen, put that in your “I applaud the engineering of books about critically important subjects in politics, history and theology.” pipe and smoke it.

Social Media’s Use in Higher Education Recruiting

The End

This has been an interesting class about blogging. I came into it unimpressed with the tool itself, as I previously found most bogs to be rants. Through the class I saw that another type of blog exists – one with research supporting the ideas, and with thoughtful commentary. It has been especially insightful to read posts from my peers. So many of you are incredibly talented in this social media platform and it’s been a pleasure to see your take and creativity in discussing the readings.

Working in higher education in a college that doesn’t use social media in a calculated way to attract students, I wrote about using several social media platforms for recruitment purposes. In addition, I made recommendations based on what I researched at schools that were utilizing social media effectively.

Abstract

Social media usage has seen a significant shift in the last ten years, especially with colleges and universities that are trying to attract prospective students. Not long gone but certainly less influential are flashy paper brochures, college open houses, and static websites. Colleges and universities recognize they need to increase their social media presence to attract students. Done poorly a college may be “clicked” past, but done well, a college’s social media presence can increase student curiosity and drive students to the college website. Is it working? This paper explores the importance of social media as a recruiting tool, how universities are using it, and, probably most importantly, how prospective students are reacting to it. It explores best practices that universities can follow and offers recommendations for effective, efficient use in student recruitment.

Reflections on Paper

Combined with my case study on the social use at my school, the addition of information from my research on it’s use in recruiting helped me shape suggestions for our Marketing department which included: a faculty spotlight blog, an “Eyes on the ground” student post and Twitter tweets about interesting or important daily events t each of our campus. This would be particulary useful in creating a sense of community between our six campus sites throughout the county.

Goodbye

It’s time to say goodbye. A few of you have been my peers in other classes and its been great to see how we’ve all evolved in our thinking about technical communication and social media. I’ve especially enjoyed the humor and camaraderie. To those of you completing this degree, I congratulate you. To those of you new, I wish you the best on this UW journey.

Dana

So long, and thanks for all the fish

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

– Douglas Adams, the title of the fourth book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy

 

My thoughts before and after this course

Social media and how to use it for a business advantage always seemed so simple before starting this course. Now, after this course, I know how to use it more wisely and how to use it more for my advantage.

But the learning did not stop there. For the final paper, I decided upon a topic that the Professor had suggested after reading a blog posting that I passionate about – how companies were exploiting people online without them realizing it.

Abstract of my paper

This paper aims to explore the result of what most people do with technology nearly every day – working for free while thinking that it is play. This working for free while playing is what some people have started calling “playbour” or “immaterial labor.” To avoid confusion in this paper, I will use the word, “playbour” to reference both. Thus, the focus of this paper is the internet and how it blends work and play together and how people are benefiting and/or are being exploited by it. Additionally, because technical communicators are told to create a portfolio of projects that they have done voluntary, these concepts are especially important. Furthermore, this paper also attempts to examine copyright infringement issues regarding work done as playbour, and the advantages and disadvantages of creative commons.

Reflections on researching my paper

 As I have not written a paper in nearly ten years, I was nervous, especially when I tried googling the topic of “playbor,” and Playboy kept popping up instead. (Yes, try to explain this to a boss at work). After those failed attempts, I tried the Stout online library with some success. Luckily, one can ask a librarian anything and they never disappoint. They found several documents for me to begin the paper proposal. But the biggest help came from the Professor herself. Thus, the lesson here is, never be afraid to ask your superiors for help. 🙂

Final thoughts

The only thing that I did not like about this paper was all the research. Most documents were quite long, and two were books. Sadly, I do not have the time for that much reading. In fact, after this semester, I am giving up my college days. My life is too busy at this moment, but I may be back in ten years. =D

I wish everyone much success and happiness in whatever you do. I am sure that whatever it is, it is exciting and a wonderful achievement that will not be taken for granted.

 

 

A Career Primer

A few weeks back, I expressed my desire to work in freelance technical communication.  Stacey Pigg;s piece, Coordinating Constant Invention:  Social Media’s Role in Distributive Work, puts the mechanics of that desire together.

I have a blog.  I am not very good about keeping up with it.  I have a Twitter account.  I am not so good with following up with that either.  I have read a dozen books on how to harness social media to further my career.  Stacey Pigg’s piece did a nice job of simplifying that.

Pigg’s ideas were nothing new, but it was helpful to read those ideas in a scholarly text.  While I can set my blog off to the side for personal reasons, her article reminded of all the practical reasons I should keep writing.

Recently, I parred down my book collection.  I had an abundance of business and marketing books, most were about ten years old.  I tossed all the business and marketing books.  Those books appeared outdated but, in reality, business is business.  The PR and business strategies were different, yet they continuously tell you to find ways to stay in your audience’s view.  You have to stay fresh, current and visible.  Dave’s “daily grind” is all about staying relevant.  He is a living and breathing personal PR machine.  The blog isn’t just to write and it certainly isn’t to entertain.  While the “traditional” advice in those book was useless in light of social media, it still has many similarities.

Dave made his work visible.  In many ways, his blog simplifies how a business, or in this case an individual promotes himself.  His blog is a portfolio of his writing.  It also served the purpose that an ad would by reaching his consumer base.  Even better, he is cultivating his contact list without the expense or effort that a direct mail campaign would require 20 years ago.

 

As this semester winds to a close, I am excited to return to my blog, re-experience Twitter and develop my social media from the stand point of my career versus my “personal” life.  What I let slip away in my private life, is not what I would do for my future or career.

I shared the above article with a friend of mine.  We both identified with Dave’s frantic multi-tasking.  We had never discussed this stuff before but it turns out we both have a ritual every morning.  This occurs whether we are working on our blogs, working, writing school papers, etc.  We both log on and sign into our various email accounts.  We also check back throughout the day, even if we can’t do anything about them.  Dave did reinforce our idea that you have to multi-task and jump around to be successful and get followers.

I loved this article and thought the author put what we need for success in a nutshell.  I did find one thing humorous.  I didn’t tell my friend any of my impressions about this article.  I sent it to her with a simple question:  “What do you think?”  She replied, “In this day in age—even if you don’t have a blog—don’t we all toggle to our social media a hundred times a day?”  Social media and email is part of many of our lives, just like getting dressed for the day.  We are always “connected.”

Job secrets buried in texts

While I enjoy a more direct and simple approach in writing, it seems that most writing is about repetition and telling stories. Both can be good for teaching, but when you wanting to find the main point immediately, it is annoying. So for the three readings for this week, I will suggest the things that I found most helpful in creating a technical communication career.

Get your own advertisers

In “Coordinating Constant Invention: Social Media’s Role in Distributed Work” by Stacy Pigg, we are told that because of new technology and culture shifts, technical communicators will have a hard time finding jobs, unless they can create their own career themselves. The best way to do that is to find something that you love, find an angle that no one else is really doing, and then blog about it. (I know the article showed the writer getting “inspiration” from blogs that already had content similar to his, but in my opinion, why beat a dead horse?) While the writer whom Pigg described waited for advertisers to make offers to be on his blog, do not wait. Instead, join Amazon’s affiliate program and always include a product in your post. (If you do not like Amazon, there are many other affiliate programs to choose from).

Furthermore, if you are comfortable creating your own videos (your smart phone can handle it), upload them to YouTube and set up your account to monetize them. Next, blog about your video. If you market it right with a catchy title, good tags, and a good brief description, your video could go viral. Good luck!

Learn a culture for profit

 In Kenichi Ishii’s article, “Implications of Mobility: The Uses of Personal Communication Media in Everyday Life,” you get to learn how technology is received in Japanese culture. What interested me most was that the culture of the young was avoiding “direct communication” (p 349). As a technical communicator, in what ways, if any, can we use that to our advantage? While I can no longer find the link, there was a story a few years ago where a woman in Japan made a lot of money by selling videos of her staring into the video camera. I believe that she did it to help people overcome their shyness and other social anxiety issues. She probably created and published her own press releases and joined communities on social media to create a following for her work. I would suggest you doing the same (creating press releases, and joining and participating in communities). There are free press release websites available for use, and you can google how to write a press release, if you need experience with that type of writing.

It would be a good idea to learn about other cultures and try to figure out if there is a way to provide help. Your knowledge could help someone live a better life, or, at least, have a better day.

To learn more, just ask

In “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World,” by Stuart Blythe, he talked about creating surveys in order to gather information for his research. He provided some great tips that you can use when creating your own surveys:

  • let your users be anonymous – this way they can feel free to answer honesty
  • keep your surveys short – no more than 20 minutes. Make sure that your survey has a progress bar so people can see an ending
  • if you need a long survey, break it up in sections and send it out
  • use a web based survey – I suggest SurveyMonkey (it is free), to keep everything easy and in once place
  • post a link to your surveys on social media, email, and on your website, if applicable
  • provide plenty of choices – this way the user can click through instead of typing
  • give a deadline – make sure you give plenty of time to complete it though, such as 2-3 weeks. Follow up with a single reminder halfway through the deadline

Conclusion

While I provided just a few helpful pieces of information from the three texts to get you started in creating your own technical communication career, there are many more listed in the readings. If you have read these readings, which information did you find most helpful or intriguing?

Natasha’s Test Blog 2

As soon as I began reading “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media” by Hurley and Hea, I felt like I was being sold the “social media/blogging ruins professionalism” ordeal that’s been a major part of my young, professional life. I’m often advised to delete all of my social media accounts because simply having one looks bad to potential employers, and many of my friends have actually stopped using social media due to this fear. I feel like the majority of people have a negative connotation about social media because the media showcases the career ending follies of irresponsible, formerly successful professionals.

Examples of the ways social media can hurt you are rampant as ever, however the most brilliantly glorious professional social media successes are so seamless they go unnoticed. The article instantly made me think of 1 company that single handedly proves how essential social media is to technical communication. Apple uses their social media presences like no company I’ve ever seen.

Apple is THE master of social media advertisement and technical assistance. Around a month before the annual iPhone release (that’s completely shrouded in secrecy), new iPhone rumor sites begin popping up in Google searches, and on Facebook to strike up interest. Arguments and debates spring up alongside questionable “leaked images” to get the Apple junkies excited to see the new device. I’m not sure if Apple is actually responsible for this commotion, but it seems unlikely that they aren’t as it’s the perfect marketing strategy.

By the time the iPhone release video is available, the Apple fan base is so anxious to see if their speculations were realized that millions of users stream the live video feed and bombard Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with #iPhone trends. I’ve been around to watch cell phones rise to their current popularity, and I have yet to see an HTC, or Samsung Galaxy raise as much release day insanity as an iPhone.

By the time iPhone pre orders become available, customers can hardly pre-order because within the first 5 hours Apple has literally sold more iPhones than they have in existence at that point. Many pre orders aren’t filled for months, and people just keep on buying. The well produced videos and easily sharable links and videos saturate the internet, convincing America that they need the newest addition.

On the technical communication side, the Apple Support Communities are a series of community forums that are incredibly helpful for tech support. The beauty of this site is that it is the ultimate FAQ, some answers come from Apple Geniuses and others from other users. You simply type in a few key words about the issue you’re facing, and a list of responses appears in past threads. These forums are incredibly useful for customers without AppleCare insurance plans, and for those who don’t have time to wait on hold for 45 minutes.

In conclusion, social media and blogging can destroy a professional image, but they can also make it invincible. It is imperative that technical communications professionals learn how to use social media to strengthen their credibility and introduce clients/readers to their services.

iphone_addiction_798185

Natasha’s Test Blog 1

As the “Why We Blog” study by Nardi, Schiano, Gumbrecht, and Swartz highlighted, the most common motivations for creating/ participating in blogs are to document one’s life, blogging as commentary, blogging as catharsis, blogging as a muse, and blogging in a community forum. I typically stick to the community forum style blogging in both academic, and non-academic settings.

Prior to this class I’ve had very general experiences with personal blogging, nothing too involved. Earlier classes I’ve taken in the MSTPC program as well as courses in my undergraduate education included an online “blog as a community forum”. I would actively participate in message boards, and engage in discussions by responding to my classmate’s threads. These were very functional blogs, and I obviously only participated because I was required to.

As mentioned in this article, the motivations for blogging “are not mutually exclusive and might come into play simultaneously”; this is the case in my non-academic community forum blogging. I’m a very private person, and don’t trust the people around me to completely confide my personal problems. I am incredibly dependent on advice forums like enotalone.com where I can anonymously pour my heart out and receive multitudes of responses from complete strangers.

What I love most about enotalone.com is that people of all ages, from all over the world, with entirely different backgrounds can give me raw, unapologetic advice. It can’t offend me because they’re only a name with a smiley face avatar, and I realize they’re also more comfortable sharing things about their lives that may help me. In this situation, I’m getting the help I need, and they’re getting some sort of fulfillment by helping me. I don’t have to worry about gossip or people holding my mistakes against me because these people can hardly determine what country I live in.

A few years ago I created a blog on Tumblr, and used it to journal my personal life. Again, I’m very private so I did not invite my friends and relatives, but I accumulated a decent following of international strangers. This was a bit cathartic for me, as it was another outlet to ramble on about things that were bothering me. However, I eventually lost interest in my Tumblr page and haven’t posted in years. The most enjoyable part of having a Tumblr blog was designing it; I spent more time perfecting its appearance than substantial writing.

In conclusion, I’m not much of a blogger unless it’s required for academic purposes, or I’m going through personal challenges I’m uncomfortable bringing to my friends and family. I have enjoyed the bit of blogging I’ve done so far, but I can think of a million other things I’d rather do.

anonymous3

Willing But Wanting: Starting Blogs Is Easy, But…

Keeping up with blogging is difficult.

Oh I want to blog to be sure. Mostly for the reasons Justin Mann points out in Press ‘Publish’: Start an Academic Blog. It’s easy right? All you need to do is “press publish” and you can, according to Mann:

  • Spread the knowledge you’ve developed in your field
  • Build an audience
  • Connect with people with similar interests
  • Develop professionally and advance your career
  • Get some free stuff and cash

This is all good stuff and Mann is right. But, it’s not easy. I should know. I’ve started around five different blogs. None of which exist today and most of which never went beyond a handful of posts.

Why? As Alex Reid puts it in Why Blog? Searching for Writing on the Web, to get good at doing something you have to spend time doing it.

Okay, that’s one reason at least. After working a more than full-time job that includes frequent travel throughout North America, I find it difficult to lift my toothbrush most days let alone write a well-researched blog post.

Ah! And, you’ve discovered my other reason for not blogging (even though I really, really, really want to). I’m a persnickety writer. Nothing I have ever written is good enough. It’s an awful habit and an even worse state of existence. (Melodrama fully intended.)

If you liked this post, you won’t find me on Squarespace, TypePad, WordPress, LiveJournal, or Blogger.

Do you believe in magic?

Content managers face the twin pressures of simultaneously reducing the total investment a company must make to produce content and increasing the quality, quantity, and sustainable value of that content. – William Hart Davidson

There it is, black and white, plain as day; the centerpiece of the modern business structure.  We must create more with less while making our creations higher quality than those before them.  Logically, it makes no sense.  How can you create more things with less materials and resources?

Magic, of course.

Thankfully technical communicators are not only trained in various technical disciplines, but the Arcane Arts as well.  Some of their specialties include time travel (yes, travel, not management) and The Impossible.

From the beginning, Hart-Davidson’s article struck a chord within me.  Primarily, I liked that he got right down to the heart of the matter: the expectation to do more with less.

It boggles my mind that companies truly believe that this model works and that their employees are getting their degrees in magic on the side to keep up with the workflow.  Newsflash: Everyone does not get a letter to Hogwarts.  I would know since I’m still waiting.

I recently started a new job at a startup ecommerce web design company and I already feel the pressure of this expectation.  I’m supposed to split my mind in three different ways simultaneously and accomplish several tasks at once.  These tasks vary in nature and focus, but somehow I manage to get them all done.  I just internally worry about the quality of my work, but not for long, because the fast pace always forces me to keep moving forward and not dwelling on what has already passed.

I don’t foresee this issue getting any better with time, but worse.  I can understand the need to be competitive, but realistic expectations goals need to be set.  Like I said before, not everyone was lucky enough to get their Hogwarts letters to study magic.

Final paper and conclusion

I nearly forgot that I needed to write one final post, which is why I am writing it now. : (

I chose to write my final paper about the impact emerging media and digital technologies have on the field of technical communication. I had originally wanted to write my paper on perceived privacy in the digital work, which was partially sparked by personal interest and partially because of the blog post I directed you all to a few weeks back. Unfortunately, that topic did not fit well with out course objectives, so I needed to go back and reconsider my topic. Thankfully that realization happened before I started writing my proposal and annotated bibliography.

 

My daughter and I

My daughter and I

I learned several things while writing my final paper. First. I really need to procrastinate less. I really should’ve started working on this paper a month ago. With a wife also in grad school, having a 15 month old little girl, and working full time, I really cannot afford to not plan ahead.

Second, 15-20 pages doesn’t seem like a lot, but it is more difficult to write that much when my usual writing is providing direction. Most of my work involves rewriting instructions to be as clear as possible and in as few words as possible. Aside from that, I really do very little writing anymore. Writers block set in several times, and I needed to step away to try to refocus.

Third, I really do enjoy the work that I do, and I take pride in it. I’ve really enjoyed the courses I have taken so far, and each semester seems to build on foundation laid by the previous semester. Also, I usually find textbook reading tedious, but I enjoyed our textbook selection from this semester, even though I frequently disagreed with Qualman.

Finally, while I did not fully enjoy the process of writing this final paper (entirely my own fault), I did enjoy the research portion. I read several articles and websites that were interesting, but unfortunately did not contain information that I could use in my paper. I also developed a new perspective on Spilka’s book, which I found to be a very valuable resource for my paper. I also found myself do the same sort of things I was writing about, such as checking my phone frequently, or randomly surfing the web when I should’ve been working. I was hoping someone would call or text me, but that was unlikely since my wife was at home.

From this course, I learned that I am a late adopter of new technology and that is a decision I am happy with. I feel relieved that I am not like the people that Turkle described in Always On. I still have the ability to unplug each day, despite being a salary employee. I am not expected to be available and working all the time, and my emails are not important or numerous enough for me to spend my own time keeping up with them.

I really enjoyed getting to know all of you this semester, and hopefully I will have more courses with you in the future. Have a great winter break and happy holidays!

You don’t know what you don’t know . . .

web-design-service2How embarrassing.  I knew when I first started designing website that I really, no I mean really, did not know what I was doing but I thought my boss would teach me, which he did. Sort of. For the most part I taught myself. And then I am reading “Information Design From Authoring Text to Architecting Virtual Space” and realize just how much the two of us really had absolutely no clue how to do what we were doing, we just did it and customers seemed to be happy.  To be fair, my (old) boss started this business on his own five years before I came on with little to no training himself and was (and still is) doing quite well.  I think back on some of the sites I designed from scratch (none of which are still up and running due to businesses going out of business) and realize that there was always something missing.  I knew it back then but could not put my finger on it. I was not a graphic designer (nor would I ever be one) so I always blamed it on the images just not being quite right and therefore the effect of the site not being what I had hoped it would be.  I did at least always pride myself on my sites being easy to navigate with the appropriate information in the perfect locations. Now I realize that the reason the sites were not all they could be had so much more to do with the actual text and placement of information than I ever would have thought possible.

“Gurak and Warnick argue that to engage in digital literacy, one must have not only an ability to use new media technologies, but also a critical self-awareness that questions why and explores purposes digital communication technologies serve in culture.” (p. 103)

This quote would have never in a million years been something that I would have understood back then.  My job was more about getting our sites onto the first page of Google and manipulating text for that purpose based on the SEO standards of the time. We wanted the sites to be navigable and to have the information that was pertinent to the business (we would track page views through Google Analytics) but I am pretty sure we did not take into consideration the thought process of the users or how they were actually using the sites in the first place.  Again, kind of embarrassing to admit that those sites were public for a long time!  It does help to know that the early 2000’s were still a time of transitioning and exploring in the area of web design and its content.

The information in this chapter about “Technical Communicators’ Unique Contributions to Information Design in Industry”
(p. 106), is what can make the difference between a “professional” site and an amateurish one.  I think the fact that I was ignorant to design practices didn’t hurt me as much as it could have is because I have always been very visually aware of what looks right and what doesn’t.  We all have had plenty of experience browsing websites and you just know what looks right versus when something is just not settling about a site.  That being said, the fact that technical communicators are becoming more aware of the importance of the combination of visual design and content and the businesses they work for are taking it more seriously as well, is a great step forward in the field of web design: “Historicizing genre is significant, because it reminds writers that the ways in which emerging digital documents and virtual spaces are designed transmit values and reinforce or disrupt ways of working and communicating with one another.” (pg. 106-107).

This summer I worked on a small technical writing project for a company as part of ENGL-637. One of the first comments made by my connection at the company was how, at his previous place of employment, he was so tired of technical writers focusing more on design than content that he pretty much eliminated the department. I think this was very short-sighted of him but it also stresses the importance of technical communicators having balance between content and design and making it clear why the two are so heavily connected these days. “We are not merely writers any more. Now we are editors, information architects, usability analysts, interaction designers, project managers, client liaisons, and more.” (pg. 134)

I love that the world of technical communication is one of constant change – it is why I decided to take a second look at a career in this field (first look was

website_for_sale

2o+ years ago), and started in this degree.  Little did I know just how important of a role technical communicators can play, especially during my naive years as a web designer. I can’t help but wonder, if I had known how all encompassing web design really was, if I ever would have stepped foot into the arena in the first place?  I would like to think I would have.  If not, I would have missed out on a great opportunity, no matter how high the learning curve was!

The Art of Rhetoric

There has been many a conversation throughout my time so far in the MSPTC program about Rhetoric and its purpose in today’s world of Professional and Technical Communications.  Some of my former classmates would like to see the topic, or at least some of the textbooks, tossed off the nearest cliff.  I cannot deny that I have had those feelings once or twice myself. In fact, I had to laugh in agreement at this definition of rhetorical analysis: “This category is, by necessity, only a loose grouping of related types of work that share a common goal: complicating common-sense understandings of technologies by analyzing them from a variety of rhetorical perspectives that demonstrate their immersion in social and rhetorical processes” (Spilka, 2010, pg. 92, emphasis added) Finally, the combination of our readings this week along with some more modern day examples shows me how rhetorical theory can add value to companies, especially through the use of social media.

napter_main_logo.pngIn particular, the discussion of the music industry not understanding the value of social media and embracing it instead of fighting it, is really what made it all sink in: “Instead of actions that disenfranchised their customer base (some of the largest numbers of downloaders and sharers were made up of music fanatics), the music industry should have been rejoicing that their distribution, production, and packaging expenses became almost nonexistent!” (Qualman, 2011, pg. 153).  I remember vividly when this topic was a hot button (pre-iTunes).  I also remember being very willing to pay for songs but I was tired of buying whole albums when I only liked one or two songs, which was one of the major benefits I saw of downloading the songs (along with being able to add them to an MP3 player pre iPod).  Since iTunes has come along with the ability to pay per song, I will say my own personal music purchases have dramatically increased.  I continue to be so confused by some musicians still resisting this new modern format.  I am PAYING for songs and buying more than I ever had before.  If I am doing that, aren’t a lot of other people be doing the same thing? Aren’t musician’s songs only becoming more popular through this version of social media and therefore their revenues going up?  Seems logical to me but as Qualman points out “. . . the real reason they didn’t embrace the model is that they didn’t understand it” (pg. 153).

Hence the need for Rhetorical Analysis. If the rhetoric of technology were more prolific early on, and had been able to show through research and theory the value of this transformation in how we purchase music, the music industry may have started listening sooner.  Now, rhetorical theory for social media can be invaluable.  Timing and Twitter graphicFrom understanding the why, when and how of social media usage, companies can maximize the effect of how they use it in their business models.  Social media is such a study of psychology and technology combined, the opportunities for rhetorical study of this booming technology are booming, adding value not only to the companies utilizing the theories but also to the profession of rhetoric for technology, in particular for “Technical communicators, who are by their nature intrigued by new rhetorical possibilities . . .” (Spilka, 2010, pg. 85).

The “Art” of blogging?

http://talk-radio.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/blog1.jpgBlogging has always been intriguing to me but, at the same time, has never been something I really felt comfortable doing.  First and foremost, I never felt like I had anything interesting to write about. I have a very normal (sometimes very boring!) life with kids who rarely give us trouble and aren’t at that super cute stage where they are making major milestones on a regular basis.  Those milestones takes much longer to appear now and blogging once a year didn’t make much sense. After all, isn’t that what the obnoxious braggy holiday cards are for?  When I was working as a Realtor, I tried blogging as a “Subject Matter Expert”.  Well, I learned pretty quickly that even after 10 years in the business, you will never feel completely like an expert so why in the world would anyone ever want to read what I had to say? And then, of course, is that obnoxious fear factor side to blogging.  What if someone makes a comment on what I post and it ends up being a nasty comment?  Real Estate brings enough toughness into the world, I didn’t need to introduce another source for potential nastiness!

So imagine my surprise when last semester I had Engl-700 Rhetorical Theory with Dr, Pignetti and found out we would be blogging on a weekly basis.  I definitely had mixed emotions at first.  A little bit of nervousness and also excitement.  Sometimes we (well, I do for sure) have to be forced out of our comfort zone to do something that we found intriguing but never tried.  Those first couple of posts were pretty torturous!  To think that this blog wasn’t just the safety of the class members on the D2L discussion boards, it was a blog that anyone can find and comment on (that fear factor was screaming loud and clear!).  And . . . that is exactly what happened to another classmates blog post.  After the initial shock of the comment from the “outsider”, and several comments back and forth asking the commenter to have some blogging manners, my worst blogging fear had come and gone.  To my surprise, the world didn’t end.  And the blogging continued.

I still envy those who can just write about simple everyday things and make it sound so elegant and effortless.  Blogging isn’t as much of a challenge for me as it was in the beginning but I don’t think I will ever master the “Art” of casual written conversation in the public sphere where posts from years before can come back and haunt you.  I think I will leave that to my annual Christmas card letter.

Tried Blogging, but it never stuck…maybe now is time to try again.

Blogging is something I have a little bit of experience with. I started my own blog at the beginning of 2011 that was intended to chronicle my weight-loss journey. Each Monday and Thursday I had intended to post my progress along with my actual weight and BMI. After about what looks like two months I stopped posting. I only had one follower, my friend Jami, and I was talking to her on a consistent basis anyway. I may have to think about starting this up again, but its a bit depressing that I weigh more now than when I stopped blogging.

The only other experience I have with blogs is reading them. I don’t really have any blogs that I read on a consistent basis, but often times look at them for various things. I’ve looked up Gluten Free recipies, my step-mom has a gluten intolerance, and other recipes that I usually end up “pinning” to my Pinterest Page and then never actually using.

I’m not sure what would make me be a consistent, returning reader to a blog posting. With what I am doing now it is harder to make the time to do any pleasure reading. I am married, with one child in 3rd Grade, my husband is a part of the MN Air National Guard, working full-time up there and I have decided to return to school and get my Master’s Degree, all while working full-time.  A concern of mine is that writing these blog posts each week and the corresponding responses will take too much time. I say this now, because the 2nd class I am taking this semester has still not posted the syllabus, so I have no idea on the requirements for that class. This semester is starting off as a very stressful start to my Master’s Degree.

The only other experience I have that even resembles blogging is my past experience in the online learning at Lake Superior College and UW-Stout. Traditionally, my classes have required one discussion post and then post two responses to other classmates discussion postings. this is very similar to the requirements for this class.

As part of the learning for this class I hope that I can learn a lot about this emerging media and apply it to my current job and towards my newly refreshed weight-loss blog. I will need to concentrate on writing for the internet and make my posts interesting and make people want to come back and read more about my journey.

Blog Evolution

The first blog I ever read was written by an old high school classmate of mine. She linked to it from her Facebook page and I thought, oh, Andrea’s writing a blog! That’s great! This might be something I want to do one day, so let’s see how hers looks.

Essentially, she wrote about her life as a stay-at-home mom. She shared stories a few times a month that talked about the frustrations and joys of raising a family. This may sound harsh, but I don’t think I even finished reading the first paragraph of the most recent post. Although I like this person very much, I really was not interested in reading about her trip to the grocery store with the kids or her husband’s issues with his boss. And it wasn’t that I didn’t care what she was up to, but to come back to a site repeatedly just to read about one person’s life does not appeal to me. I can get all that information in one place, for many people, on Facebook, and in much fewer words. Based on this first experience, I believed blogs were just cyber diaries and decided it wasn’t something I wanted to spend time on, including writing my own. No one cares (except maybe my mom or husband) what I think or do each day. Sorry, Andrea! Keep on blogging, but I’ll pass for now.

My blog picSource: Rott, L. (2013).  Blah blah blah blog image created in MS Word.

I began to appreciate blogs when I started reading one written by a local physician who is partial owner of the allergy company that I work for. His blogs were not only informative and scientific, but interesting, humorous and easy to read. They detailed different patient cases and clinical experiences he’s had over the past 30+ years of practicing medicine. The site is a bit of a ranting site, but I still find it enjoyable to read. I invite you to take a peek if you have a moment: www.renaissanceallergist.com. So, why did I decide this blog was worth reading? It’s relevant to my life and I get something out it: information that helps me with my work.

Another blog that I began reading was www.allergymoms.com. Written by a woman with kids that have bad food allergies, it’s more than just a daily diary of her life and dealing with her kids’ diseases. She interviews experts in the field on the latest and greatest allergy treatments, posts links to recent news in the allergy world as well as links to other websites and resources on managing allergies, shares recipes, products, etc. Like the doctor’s blog, this blog relevant to what I do for a living, but it’s also educational and helpful to others.

I also read blogs from time to time on http://www.huffingtonpost.com.

That pretty much summarizes my experience with reading blogs, but I can now add to my resume that I have experience WRITING a blog, courtesy of last semester with Dr. Pignetti. Like with the current class, we were required in ENGL 720 to blog each week to share our perspectives on the readings. I found the communal blog to be extremely beneficial as it encouraged conversation and provided a unique situation to learn from fellow classmates. This is similar to what Du and Wagner (2007) discuss in this week’s reading. They talked about blogs as “online learning logs” (p. 2.). Blogging, or even just posting regularly to D2L like with some of my other classes, is a form of collaborative constructivism, also described by Du and Wagner. With collaborative constructivism, “learning emerges through shared understandings of more than one learner and the construction of understanding builds upon interaction with others” (p. 6).

My husband also had the opportunity to blog for an English class he had two years ago. Although the purpose was primarily to improve writing skills through the use of a modern medium (to make it more fun and relevant), he found there was a good deal of communal learning taking place. Everyone would provide constructive feedback on grammar, spelling and writing structure which was great because it was a writing-focused class.

From cyber diaries to communal learning…quite the paradigm shift! I am glad to embrace it, however, and I look forward to expanding my views even further this semester.

Trusting Online: Finding Common Ground

To me, it seems a huge coincidence that one of this week’s topics is “trust.” As I wrote last week, my wife, Jody, found her grandpa’s missing Purple Heart, which he earned during World War I, on an internet site honoring soldiers who were wounded or killed in action. Jody wanted that medal back in the family, so she asked Mr. Maier, the man who runs the site To Honor Our Fallen, if she could buy it back.

According to Carina Paine Schofield and Adam N. Joinson’s paper “Privacy, Trust, and Disclosure Online,” “Trust is the willingness to be vulnerable, based on positive expectations about the actions of others.” My wife and I felt pretty vulnerable this week, but on Saturday, when I was in Michigan, I received a tearful call from my wife that she was holding her grandpa’s medal in her hand. It was back in the family.

Purple Heart, Jody’s grandfather

Last Sunday, when Mr. Maier told us he would send the Purple Heart back to us if we covered his investment in the medal and research surrounding it, we were put in a tough position. Mr. Maier did not operate a store, he had no reputation as a seller, and we knew of no recourse if a transaction went badly. Should we trust him? If we did, were we being foolish?

Schofield and Joinson’s article identifies three dimensions of trust including “ability,” “integrity,” and “benevolence.” We weren’t really worried about his ability; shipping a package with delivery confirmation is easy enough.

Mr. Maier’s “benevolence” was a concern that needed some thought, though a week ago I wouldn’t have considered calling it that. According to Schofield and Joinson, benevolent companies and organizations look out for their customers’ best interests and do not exploit them. Jody researched average prices paid for Purple Hearts and found out Mr. Maier was actually asking less than what a lot of other people make in selling these medals. Considering the emotional attachment we had expressed for this family artifact, he could have asked for more money. But he didn’t, and we were starting to trust him because of his benevolence (and the research Jody did–trust doesn’t need to be blind).

Still, we wondered about Mr. Maier’s integrity–whether he would actually follow through and send us the medal after we paid him. In retrospect, it was his “benevolence” that helped us believe in his integrity. Since he wasn’t asking for as much money as other people were asking for these medals, maybe that indicated he would be fair with us and keep his end of the deal. Also, the nature of the website he ran showed benevolence; he was not collecting Purple Hearts as a for-profit venture. He was using them and the information he researched about the recipients to share online as a memorial to veterans. Didn’t we have to trust him?

Yes, actually, we did. If we didn’t trust Mr. Maier, there was no way the medal would be back in the family.

And the reality is that he trusted us, too. He trusted that my wife’s account of how her grandfather was wounded, her memories of the man, and the significance of the medal were sincere. He trusted that we wanted the Purple Heart, not so we could turn a profit with a different buyer, but because it had meaning to us.

So we all trusted. And even though we never met Mr. Maier or talked to him or saw a picture of him, I don’t think we are complete strangers. Through Jody’s emails to him, he was given a glimpse of some of what we value–history, connections to family, and remembering the sacrifices made by our elders. And through the work of his web site and traveling Purple Heart memorial, he shows us that we have a lot in common.

Information Society

Do you remember this band from the 80’s?  There’s no real relation between this and the article, Privacy, Trust and Disclosure Online” by Schofield and Johnson. but they included the following quote, so I couldn’t resist:

 

 

At no time have privacy issues taken on greater significance than in recent years, as technological developments have led to the emvergence of an “information society” capable of gathering, storing and disseminating increasing amounts of data about individuals. (p.16)

The focus of the article is on personal privacy and all the various aspects of that, such as psychological, physical, and interactional (p. 14), but one area that really impacts us is organizational privacy.  By that I mean, the ability of the employees of our customers to retrie ve and share information without exposing it to our other customers (their competitors).  We would love to implement the kind of communication that social media provides, but our customers are very concerned about keeping their proprietary information away from their competitors.  Even just letting other customers see the kinds of questions they are asking could give away some key competitive details.

It is hard enough to really understand the difference between your actual privacy and perceived privacy as an individual, but I think it is probably even harder for people to make decisions in this area when they are making them on behalf of their employer. This might be the single biggest obstacle to implementing social media in business to business (B2B) communication.

Resistance is Futile

We are the Borg. Resistance as you know it is over. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own.

– The Borg

At work my employee computer ID is QA4268.  If someone logs into our CMS and wants to search for something that I have created, they can’t use my name, they have to know that QA4268 is me–or that I’m QA4268.  Hmmm . . . now that I think about it, that is a teeny bit disturbing, which brings me to the article, Beyond Ethical Frames of Technical Relations, by Steven Katz and Vicki Rhodes.  In it they state, “Have you ever noticed how some systems or procedures at work–say, a time tracking system, registration process, or evaluation procedure–are more adapted to themselves, more focused on their own efficiency and operation, than on the human being who is the ostensible object or user?” (p. 235)

They even follow this quote up with a specific mention to most CMSs and how they are often guilty of this–the one where I work is no exception.  The software has all the technical capability that we require and is capable of fully delivering on everything we ask of it, but in many ways it ignores the requirements and limitations of the people that need to use it.  For example, almost all the information about how information is related to each other is presented in lists or tabular reports.  While this does provide all the detail, people are visual beings that work best when they can visualize relationships.  The CMS asks us to bend people to the machine rather than bending the machine to the people.

The problem, as Katz and Rhodes, describe it is that you can’t separate people and technology when defining processes, procedures and tools.  More and more we are merging with our technology (both literally and figuratively) to become some sort of hybrid.  Katz and Rhodes point to examples like automatic spell-checkers and Bluetooth headsets as examples (p. 240).  The point, as I see it, is that we need to view the relationship between people and technology more holistically.  When we say that we want to implement a CMS, we can’t just select a tool and then throw people at it.  Instead of a CMS we should be implementing a CME (Content Management Ecosystem).  To get the most out of these technical relations, we need to make sure that the technology complements our people and that our human skills fully exploit the capabilities of our technology.

A Digital Veteran’s Tribute

Purple Heart

My apologies if what follows relates to nothing in particular from this week’s assignments. It does, however, relate to all the best that the web can do for us. It is also all I can think of right now because the story has reached its digital climax today. If people are worried about losing meaningful connections to those around them because of an over-reliance on internet technology, here’s a Veteran’s Day story about reconnecting.

My wife’s grandfather, born in 1894, was 23 years old when he joined the United States Army and served in France during WWI. In October of 1918, at the Argonne Forest, his unit came under attack, killing everyone but him. Though he had been shot in the thigh and through the hand, he was able to kill the enemy sniper that had destroyed his unit. After spending two months in a French hospital, he returned to the United States and was discharged from the service in April of 1919. He returned to his home in Bark River, Michigan, and the quiet life of a farmer.

In 1941 he was awarded the Purple Heart, and for many years after that, the medal sat on top of his dresser, underneath the portrait of him in his military uniform.

After his death in 1980, my wife’s grandmother needed to move to a smaller place, and as is typically the case, Items are given away. The Purple Heart went to my wife’s uncle. Years went by, as they always do. My wife’s uncle died, then his wife died, and eventually their son moved out of their house. When the house was being cleaned out, the Purple Heart could not be found.

That was a number of years ago. Every once in a while my wife and her mom talk about her grandpa, their memories, and his service. They share what little information they have, but are always left with the sadness that his military artifacts have probably been sold, with little thought of how costly they were to earn.

Enter a technological Veteran’s Day miracle. This morning, my wife was at the computer, again trying to find more information about her grandfather. For some reason, she searched images this time, found a picture of a Purple Heart, and followed that link to a site honoring wounded and fallen veterans. There was an entry for her grandfather, and the medal pictured beside his information had his name engraved on it.

The owner of the site collects Purple Hearts, researches the individual who is named on the medal, and posts the information and available pictures as a veterans memorial.

Jody, my wife, contacted the man who ran the site, told him the family’s story, and said that she would like to be able to buy back the medal in order to give it to her mom. He normally does not do such things, but he was touched by Jody’s words, and the Purple Heart is coming home.

Here is a connection to family that was lost–most likely sold. Through the internet, that connection can be re-established, at least to some degree. It is truly amazing to think what individuals can do and who they can touch as a result of digital technology. When my wife’s grandfather left the military, he could not read or write. He left his mark, an “x” on his discharge papers. He also left his mark on his family, and to a degree, the democracy we benefit from today. And sites like the one my wife stumbled across today are sharing that mark with the world.

The Human + Machine Culture and The Metaphor of the Ring

As I read Bernadette Longo’s “Human+Machine Culture” in Rachel Spilka’s Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, I couldn’t help thinking of Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together: Why We Expect More of Technology and Less of Each Other. It seems an obvious connection to me–both authors address the issue of whether virtual social connections are meaningful enough to satisfy our need for deep, real relationships.

In Longo’s second sentence she writes that as she works at her computer she senses that “other people lurk behind my screen–and I want a relationship with those other people, even if it is mediated by the machine that is a physical manifestation of the virtual relationship.” Near the end of her chapter, Longo writes, “Turning back to my computer, I ask myself why I simultaneously love it and distrust the community it enables. What is it that I desire in this relationship; what is it I fear?”

“Lurk”? “Love it and distrust…”? “Desire”? “Fear”? An odd choice of words I thought. Something was nagging at me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I needed to have another look at Turkle’s book to see if I could figure out what dark cloud was causing this trouble. That’s where I found it.

Part of Turkle’s book talks about always being connected, always having our mobile devices with us, and always checking them. She mentioned cyborg experiments in 1996 where people walked around campus with computers and transmitters in their backpacks, keypads in their pockets, and digital displays clipped to their glasses. One of the test subjects claimed to feel quite powerful, but there were also “feelings of diffusion.”

Diffusion! That’s it! In The Fellowship of the Ring, book one of The Lord of the Rings, before he leaves the Shire for good, Bilbo Baggins says to Gandalf that he feels stretched out and worn thin. Diffused, perhaps? The Ring (online technology) can leave a person feeling stretched thin and diffused.

Turkle and Longo are both talking about a fear not unlike what happens in The Lord of the Rings. Just as the Dark Lord Sauron and the Nazgul can see young Frodo when he puts on the ring, Google and Yahoo! and company can see Longo when she’s working at her computer. That explains the lurking feeling.

What of the love and distrust and the desire and fear that Longo wrote of? Isn’t that very much the way Gollum, Bilbo, and Frodo feel because of the Ring? None can really part with it completely. Gollum is driven mad by his desire to regain his possession of the ring, Bilbo leaves it for Frodo, but only with great prodding from Gandalf, and Frodo can only let the Ring go when Gollum bites his ring finger right off. They all loved the Ring, couldn’t completely trust anyone else because of the Ring, and took care of the Ring as the Ring made them more dependent on its seductive power. Are we too impressed by the seductive power of the internet?

Turkle explains the love and distrust and the desire and fear through the story of Julia, a 16-year-old girl who loves texting her friends, distrusts her own judgments about her emotions, desires comments from her friends, but fears not getting an appropriate response fast enough. During the interview with Turkle, Julia even mistakenly refers to her phone as her friend. Kind of the way Gollum refers to the Ring as his Precious.

Turkle writes, “Always on and (now) always with us, we tend the Net, and the Net teaches us to need it.” If we forget our real relationships and communities because of our virtual communities, then Longo and all of us have good reason to fear and distrust.

One Net to rule them all, One Net to find them, One Net to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

Are You Content with Content Management? or Finding Your Data Doppelganger

Parts of Geoffrey Moore’s paper “A Sea Change in Enterprise IT” reminded me of Erik Qualman’s work in his book Socialnomics. Among many other ideas, Qualman’s book discusses how our internet searches, purchases, and use of social media can be traced, studied, used to predict behavior and react to trends, market to individuals, and increase profits among other things.

Moore writes, “In a world of digitally facilitated communication and collaboration, where almost all data, voice, and video are transmitted via the Internet, every interaction leaves a trace.” After mentioning the possible security and legal problems associated with mining and storing this data, he continues,

“At the same time, however, chief marketing officers are drooling at the opportunities embedded in these trace logs. Behavioral targeting is the new rage in digital advertising, anchored in the ability to infer a user’s preferences from their prior Web behavior, and to thereby present them with offers that are better tuned to their likes.”

I know this data mining is happening, and I know somebody out there has a whole lot more information about me than I care to imagine. What picture of me is shown by the digital traces I leave behind? What can a person tell about me by the pattern of gas pumps I visit and swipe with my credit card? What do all my computer keystrokes add up to? And really, how many people want to know?

EMC Corporation, one of the groups listed at the end of Moore’s paper as an AIIM Task Force member is interested in such information. They are sponsoring a project that is attempting to “humanize” all the collected data that we leave behind.

Rick Smolan is the creator of the project titled The Human Face of Big Data. According to their website, the project is “a globally crowdsourced media project focusing on humanity’s new ability to collect, analyze, triangulate and visualize vast amounts of data in real time. Briefly, here’s how it works. Download the app for Android or iOS. Spend about 10 minutes answering questions, and then give permission for the app to keep track of you, follow you with gps technology, and compare you–anonymously–to other participants. I don’t know exactly, since, as an introvert and lover of the movie Enemy of the State, I have an aversion to sharing too much information.

Besides the data collection part of the project, there’s a photo-journalism arm as well. Photographers have traveled the world to capture images of the human face of technology. Later, there will be a free iPad app to share all the information.

As an added incentive Smolan says users will be matched with their “data doppelganger.” Woohoo! Or is it more appropriate to shout “Yahoo!”?

Smolan claims that by collecting and sharing our data with the world, his project can illustrate “an extraordinary three-dimensional snapshot of humanity.”

Really? A snapshot of humans I could see, but a snapshot of humanity? Can data do that? I’d like to think there’s an element of humanity that can’t be measured and stored through an iPhone.

But I may have to try the app just to find out.

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.

Do Corporations Really Get Blogging?

I’m currently (informally) leading a team of people that reside in: England, Germany, Italy, China, Brazil, America, and Finland. None of the typical communication tools (email, webex, IM) could do what I needed them to do.  So, I set up a SharePoint community site for the team that has a blog.  I wanted to create a less formal environment for people to get comfortable with each other and loosen up.

The project that we’re working on requires people to be creative and take risks and that just doesn’t happen unless people feel safe.  Sharing new ideas–especially in a corporate environment with many cultures–is scary.  And, while all the corporate messages say that we need to be more innovative, we don’t really reward people for taking chances or slowing down to think about the future.  I guess it is one thing to say you value creativity and another thing to demonstrate that.

It reminds me of the Ken Robinson TED video that Alex Reid referred to in his article, Why Blog? Searching for Writing on the Web.  Robinson believes that while our schools are trying to maximize students’ potential, they are really killing creativity and valuing the wrong things.

I know that he is talking about schools, but I think it’s true in companies too.  It is in mine.  Maybe our schools have been so successful in quashing the creativity out of us that we can’t innovate to save our lives.

My hope was that blogging would help foster the right environment and rekindle that creativity, but I think I’m just doing it wrong.  I want to keep it loose, but somehow my posts end up reading like legal disclaimers.  I just don’t know what will fly.  Blogs are informal, but companies are not.  What is the right tone?

Week 12: Machines Me

The two subjects for this week’s readings – ethics and privacy – are some of the most controversial issues that digitally literate people have to deal with. Both readings kind of gave me the creeps. I chose to focus on Katz & Rhodes.

I found this reading to be both interesting and frustrating. I disagree with many of their ideas about the ethical frames of technical relations.

I do not believe in the false frame. The Platonic belief that technology only an “imitation of Knowledge” (p. 233), is not entirely accurate. Technology is the result of knowledge. As such, I do believe that technology fits in the tool frame, “as mechanisms and systems to help their users meet their work goals” (p.234). I can even buy into the means-end frame because it makes sense that technology can be used for “production and profits” and “meeting technical requirements of the technology” (p. 234).

As for the autonomous frame: just no. Their questions, “Have you ever noticed how some systems…are more adapted to themselves, more focused on their own efficiency than on the human being who is the ostensible…user?” (p.234). That argument completely dismisses the role of agency and volition. It’s not the computers that are focused on their own efficiency: it is the people who programmed the computers. Taking agency out of the question renders the argument invalid.

Thought frame is less ridiculous. We do use machines as external extensions of our memories, like phones and PDAs. People, admittedly, even have machines within themselves (pacemakers, hearing aids). However, at my work at least, we do not “…refer to people, things, and actions with words like information, function, connection, transmission, input, output, processing, short-term and long-term memory, and noise in the system…” (p. 236). These terms aren’t exclusive to digital technology. Every one of them existed before the advent of computers. Applying them to a new paradigm is fine, but their logic doesn’t work.

The being frame is a result of the preceding frames. Since many of those are fallacious, the being frame doesn’t hold a lot of water for me. I do believe that people are depersonalized and are often treated as “standing reserve,” but that concept is not acknowledged, nor is it easily proven.

One of the parts that was most interesting to me, and not entirely preposterous, is their proposal that our relationships with machines may go from an “I-It” relationship to an “I-You” relationship, which means that at some point we may refer to machines as other sentient, self-aware beings. I can see that happening if machines become more autonomous and are programmed with beliefs. I do not see this happening in our lifetime. The technology might be there, but acceptance of it is doubtful.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Now for the fun part.

Background information: In my study of memes, I came across a team of folks (Autotune the News) who take daily news, autotune the speakers in the news clips, and set the fabricated “singing” to music.

They might be best known for setting to music the rant of Antoine Dodson, a citizen of Huntsville, Alabama, who was interviewed for a news story about someone breaking into his family’s apartment and attempting to assault his sister.

Autotune the news “songified” the incident:

The folks at Autotune the News have an app that lets you “songify” yourself. This week’s readings talked about how “humans and technology (often merged)” would have relationships with one another.

I decided to preempt this merging and created a song from a paragraph in our text. I read it into an iPad and here is the result. Yes, this is me “singing.” Lyrics are included if you want to sing along. Machine Me

Social Media and Aps

Please bear with me as I post this. I am using a WordPress ap on my IPad and unfortunately it is a bit clunky. Over the last week, I have tried to find a way to view more than only my own posts, but alas I have yet to figure that out. So far, this ap only allows me to see and edit my own posts. It seems to be an interface for posting alone.

To this end, it is quite elementary at best for even posting, but I am tenacious – I will see how this works out.

As my topic suggests, this is about more than just WordPress. Tonight, as I was checking out some Twitter posts, I came across a tweet that did more for me than any other since I started stalking the Twitterverse.

http://stumpteacher.blogspot.com/2011/01/twitter-102.html

The above link is a must-see for any aspiring Twitter-er? Tweetster? Oh heck, you get the picture. Unfortunately, his reference to an IPad ap (TweetDeck) is a bit premature – there is only a workable ap for the iphone. But, never fear, I plan on testing it out on my laptop.

Oh yea, I suppose I need to take a picture to test this ap and post it here. Let me see if there is a photo option….. alas there is not, but that is all the better because I look like hell right now.

Wait, I found it – here is a picture of my puppy, Spaz. She is sitting here waiting to watch the #DWTS result show – OOPS, I mean Dancing with the Stars.

20111108-200132.jpg

Well, for some reason,I am having trouble now seeing what I type because the program will not scroll. In the end, I think this ap needs a bit of work!

One last thing, are we allowed to link our posts here to twitter if we want to share them?

interfere with the interface

Heidi’s geek rap reminded me of this TED talk. I would have left the link as a comment there, but figured I should keep up with the vivid posts we’ve got going on!

Week 10 Readings: Human + Machine

The Longo reading from the Spilka book was interesting, even though the article was all over the place. She makes several statements about the genuineness of computer mediated interaction:

Virtual communities encourage simulated social interactions that lead to simulated human connections” (p. 148).

Those of us who inhabit digital worlds often claim that virtual communities are like “real” communities or are even better than “real communities, reassuring ourselves that a virtual life is OK, that it is not detrimental to “real” life (p. 155).

As people become more removed from one another in the physical world, we assure ourselves that the technological revolution enabling this alienation facilitates an idealized community, while also dismantling our physical community. This assertion comforts us, because we come to believe that an online virtual world such as Second Life is just like “real” life and is, therefore, OK (p. 156).

These statements just really set me off. I think it is because of the “normal-centrism” of her statements. Both Long and Turkle are criticizing a milieu that attracts people who are often marginalized within their physical communities. People who like games like Second Life, World of Warcraft and other online games are considered “geeky” or “nerdy.” They are either shy or have been teased into isolation or otherwise rejected by others. Now that a different environment has been created where they can thrive, scholars are trying to assert that what they are doing is somehow wrong. Longo asks, “Can virtual social connections established within a human + machine culture satisfy our human need to connect with other people?” (p. 148). If that’s the only kind of interaction wherein these people have been successful, I say, YES!

One of the sources she quotes says “…to “simulate is to feign to have what one hasn’t,” and “simulation threatens the difference between ‘true’ and ‘false,’ between ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’”(Baudrillard p. 167-168). If the choice is to continue to try and insert yourself into a physical social construct that rejects you over and over again versus thriving in an environment where people accept you, most people are going to choose acceptance over rejection.

One of the silly things about this argument is the fact that nobody gets their pants in a bunch when people talk on a home phone. That’s machine-mediated communication, and it is so unsophisticated as to only let you talk to one person at a time. Why aren’t scholars freaking out about telephone calls? They’re studying cell phone use, but why not the cordless we carry all over our homes?

The geeks finally have someplace to be. Like it or not.

Here’s my creative bit for this week. It’s a rap about geeks, to the tune of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, which you can listen to before reading the rap to yourself.

Now, this is a story all about how
My life got flipped-turned upside down
And I like to take a minute: just sit right there
I’ll tell you how I kill a dragon in its lair.

Now out in a suburb born and raised
I was a chubby kid with a funny old face
Kinda getting’ teased when I’m going to school
By the jocks and the greasers who thought they were cool
When a couple of guys who were up to no good
Startin making trouble in my neighborhood
I got in one little fight and my mom got scared
She said ‘You’re playin’ in the basement, now stay down there.”

I begged and pleaded with her day after day
But she bought me a computer and some games to play.
She gave me a keyboard and then she gave me my mouse.
I put my headphones since I was stuck in the house.

World of Warcraft, yo this is bad
Drinking potions out of a round flask.

Is this what the people of Azeroth living like?
Hmmmmm this might be alright.

I joined up in a guild and we had no fear
The monsters said “RAAAR” and we put it in gear
If anything I can say the treasure was rare
Told my guildies – “To the big boss, we’re just about there.”

I pulled up to the dragon cave at 7 or 8
And I yelled to the my guildies “Yo homies this is fate”
I looked at the dragon
We were finally there
I was having an adventure sittin’ right in my chair.

Addendum: I found this yesterday on the internet:

 

PPS. For some reason I thought the creative tag meant I should separate it. Don’t know where I got that idea from but I put it back together with its original post and just clicked the “creative” category. DERP!