Category Archives: Digital

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

The Challenges of Addressing Digital Audiences

Effectively addressing digital audiences is a critical function of being a technical writer. However, our authors this week demonstrate how difficult this task can be. Not only are audiences fragmented in a digital space (as Bernadette Longo points out in chapter 6), but there are many cultural practices and barriers that prevent us from communicating to everyone adequately (as Barry Thatcher shows in chapter 7).

Besides fragmentation and cultural barriers, I would argue that algorithms also create challenges for technical writers to adequately construct, address, and engage with digital audiences.  

Constructing Audiences

There are many algorithms that can make it challenging to form a digital audience. For example, Google’s algorithms can make it challenging for users to find your content. In order to rank on the first page, you have to follow rules and tackle specific key terms. I’ve learned that in order to get my articles to rank, they need to be over 1,000 words, mention the keyword more than once, link to multiple websites, have the article be linked on other websites, be published on a Google trusted site, be shared by others, have numerous pictures, and the list goes on.

Search results for best IoT platform

If you follow these rules and algorithms, it can be quite easy to rank and gives users a means to find your content. However, these rules don’t make it easy to address audiences effectively. I have found myself spending so much time trying to meet the requirements (such as saying the keyword more than 50 times), that I wonder if I’m actually creating helpful content for users. The search results are also so competitive and manipulated that you have to write sensational headlines and more just to get noticed. I’m not saying it’s impossible to write SEO (search engine optimization) content and not have it be helpful, but it certainly presents a challenge to content writers to construct and address digital audiences effectively.

Addressing Audiences

Tom Johnson, a well-known technical writer, states that writing good documentation can be challenging because it can feel like your writing to the “absent user”. That’s because documentation platforms provides little or no measurable means to track how users engage with your content. Of course, as Tom Johnson points out, there are numerous tools that can be used to gather knowledge and feedback of how users are engaging with your documentation — surveys, web analytics, plugins, etc.

Google Analytics — An example of web analytic platform. Source: freeCodecamp

Even though we have these tools, I believe Tom Johnson makes a good point that digital spaces (like documentation) don’t inherently give us many tools to understand how users engage with our content. I find this same challenge when writing a corporate blog. I know users are visiting my content due to web analytics and other marketing tools, but it can be difficult to know if the content is addressing their actual needs. In a digital space, the best means to get feedback from users is from surveys, but even this can be challenging because users are usually flooded with so many different forms of digital communication. And when users do take surveys, they can provide general, or extremely non-specific feedback.

No matter how you cut, the web (by design) does not give technical users many helpful ways to address their audiences. They must go out of their way to interact with end users and get feedback. I believe this is why technical writers have to train themselves to become more customer and UX-driven. Without these practices, technical communicators cannot be effective at their job.

Engaging Audiences

Algorithms can also make it challenging for digital creators to create engaging content. For example, have you ever searched a simple question on YouTube and can only find 15 minute long videos that take forever to answer the question you searched? That’s because YouTube’s algorithm favors longer videos, which forces creators to prolong their videos to meet these arbitrary requirements. That means creators could be spending more time trying to extend their video length, rather than creating  quality content that actually helps users with problems.

What to do?

While specific rules and algorithms can limit technical writers, they can be easily overcome. In the end, it’s the job of the technical writer to be aware of these rules and continue to find ways to communicate effectively despite them. It’s the reason why we are hired. We’re expected to not just know how to address audiences effectively, but know the algorithms that effect us from being able to communicate adequately.

Am I an Important Cultural Worker?

In Ch. 6 “Human + Machine Culture” by Bernadette Longo in Spilka’s text Digital Literacy, the definition of culture is easily broken into acts that include and exclude (p. 148). In order to feel part of a culture, whether that’s a college campus, a church, an ethnicity, or a city, one must draw borders and agree upon the boundaries of that community. This seemingly innocuous task is exclusionary. While it’s pleasant to believe in the democratizing force of the internet, we have learned in previous readings that the barriers to inclusion still exist, for rural areas, low-income areas, elderly populations, etc. From these last chapters of Spilka’s book we’ve also learned that cultural differences can exacerbate communication problems. Yet, we connect online despite these boundaries, contradictions, and limitations. Longo asks, “Can virtual social connections established within a human + machine culture satisfy our human need to connect with other people?” (p. 148). The answer seems to be no, not entirely, but they can alleviate some of those exclusionary tensions and we can work to draw a wider net around our culture(s).

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Cultural Communication Differences, courtesy of meetus@US

 

Longo also makes clear that as technical communicators or anyone who works with language, we have the “power to invite people in” because we are “important cultural workers” (p. 151-52). Because Longo deconstructs the idea that the online culture is universal or homogenous, she forces us to question how to make the communication tools we produce accessible to all in order to extend the cultural boundaries. As producers, we have the privilege and responsibility of deciding whose culture and knowledge will prevail, and historically we have erred on the side of science and logic do the effect of decimating other histories and cultures (p. 153). We prioritize the rational, the technique while subverting the imagination, nature, art, and pathos (p. 158). I went into the liberal arts because of those subversions, but I’ve immersed myself in logic, technique, and intent. Just as our society has evolved to prize the extrovert, the loudest, and most gregarious, it doesn’t mean that those people always have the best ideas. Does the same mentality apply to technical communication? Do we fall into the fallacy of doing things the same way because that’s the way we’ve always done them? I buck against the notion of free-flowing and “flowery’ help design menus but I’m basing that mostly on my own cultural training and preferences.

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Homogeneous vs. Heterogeneous, courtesy of Thesaurus.plus

I know I have been guilty of the worker (or user) as victim trope when designing technical documents in my early years (p. 159), but Longo illustrates that try as we might users will figure out their own ways to use our documentation, oftentimes not in the way we intended. People are ingenious and impatient. Doesn’t it behoove us to give them the benefit of the doubt, ask for their input, and design with their usability in mind rather than assume we know better than they do because we know more about the product than they (presumably) do? As usual, I will apply this to my current position as an educator. When I started teaching, I was terrified that students would ask me a question that I didn’t know the answer to and that I would have to admit that I didn’t know. I shake my head at how naive and pompous that now feels. Of course I don’t know everything, and my students’ experiences enable them to see content from entirely different perspectives than my own. Isn’t that richer? The more I’ve let myself stop being the primary keeper-of-knowledge and made my classroom collaborative and interactive, the more engaging it has become for all of us in the room.

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What it feels like during many mandatory professional development meetings (sitting and getting), courtesy of techlearning.com

 

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Control freaks unit!, courtesy of Psychology Today

I’m a planner and a bit of a control freak. I like to know what’s coming and I like to steer, but sometimes I learn more (and my students learn more) when we put the planner down and see where we end up. In Chapter 7: “Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures,” author Barry Thatcher asks technical communicators to return to the tenets of purpose, audience, and information needs, but also to organizational strategies and style preferences (p. 190). Perhaps that means that we have multiple forms of the same content but tailored to the audience. Maybe that means audiences can design the best content solution to fit their needs (though I don’t know how that’s engineered or executed well)? I am very much for examining our own cultural biases and ethnocentrism, but I acknowledge that it’s hard, dirty work. Just as jurors can never be completely objective (nor can any human being), it’s hard to set aside our own inherent cultural upbringing and fully understand or appreciate that another culture does it completely differently. Even as a I read the case study of the US vs. Mexican communication differences, I found myself automatically preferring the Western style. To me, it just made more sense.

Perhaps we start there. We stop to analyze why and to realize that people from other cultures feel equally justified in finding their way the “right way.” If communicating effectively came easy, we wouldn’t have to keep teaching ourselves how to do it. It doesn’t. Human beings are complex. Digital audiences are complex (p. 221). Blakeslee (Ch. 8) recommends we keep researching and applying what we learn, and we keep asking ourselves the hard, uncomfortable questions. That’s where the growth lies. As one of my favorite poets and late-great songwriters wrote,

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in” (Leonard Cohen).

Digitization Here, There, and Everywhere

I enjoyed this week’s readings, which challenged me to analyze several components of digital communication from various angles. Though all four chapters were thought-provoking, I think I was most intrigued by Chapter Eight, titled “Addressing Audiences in a Digital Age”.

Reaching the Masses through Technology

It goes without saying that, in modern society, we rely heavily on technology while actively using it to communicate with audience segments of various sizes and demographics. In fact, there really isn’t a way to efficiently contact the masses in bulk without the help of technology. After all, even spammy snail-mail would require technology for mass printing.

Marketing Land

Image courtesy of Marketing Land

Technology aside, a general communication approach and style is contingent on several variables, including but not limited to:

  • Subject(s) – Sender(s) AND receiver(s) of message
  • Situation – What is the intended message and its purpose?
  • Setting – Where are we and what is our method of communication?

We communicate uniquely specific to these (and other) variables. Simply put, we cannot communicate with everyone via the same methods. Instead, we must be cognizant of or subject(s), situation, and setting while applying the appropriate communication approach.

This same mentality most certainly applies within our techno-ciety as well. Though it would be perfectly convenient to use the same digital platform(s) to communicate with people from all walks of life, this simply isn’t possible. Thankfully, there is no shortage of platform options.

It Starts with Social Media

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Image courtesy of Inner Ear

Social media, in its ever-growing nature, allows for efficient, effective communication with the masses. Accordingly, it continues to be the primary means of digital communication in our tech-niverse. However, with countless social media platforms available, it is important to devise a game plan (content strategy, if you will) to determine the appropriate platform(s) for each type of audience.

In devising a content strategy, I believe this is best achieved through market research. Sure, these days, a search engine would produce endless results on such a topic. However, instead of trying to create a “perfect” content strategy (spoiler alert: not possible), use your research as a general guide to determine what has and hasn’t been successful in the past for other technical communicators relying on social media.

Measuring Your Success

You’ve now invested time, effort, and (quite possibly) money in your social media campaigns. Therefore, you owe it to yourself to make sure your communication efforts are effectively reaching your intended audience(s). Accordingly, you should closely monitor your communication process along way.

The Media Online

Image courtesy of The Media Online

Throughout your technical communication journey, it is important to track audience engagement. Such tracking acts as the proverbial ‘pulse’ on your content strategy. Most commonly, engagement can be monitored through page follows/likes, direct messages, posts, comments, shares, and other such notifiers. Also, there are many available ‘extension’ platforms (several of which are free) that dig down deep into page analytics as specific as link-clicks and page views.

Looking at Digital Literacy Through Different Lenses

Research Participant Lens

During my senior year in college, I worked with the electronic company, Magnavox, as a human participant in several research projects they were conducting to get a better feel for what their audience needed/desired with regard to installation instructions.  In each instance, I would be put into a room, alone, with their boxed product and asked to simply set it up based on the instructions in the box.  I was also asked to make edits to the instructions that I felt would help me, the user, to understand them better.  At the time, I was in it for the $100 paycheck I received after each task was finished.  However, looking back I realize that I played an important role in their consumer feedback!

In Chapter 8 of “Digital Literacy for Technical Communication” (Spilka 2010), author Ann Blakeslee discusses the subject of, “Addressing Audiences in a Digital Age,” by conducting five case studies with technical writers from three different companies.

The findings from the five case studies, as a whole, support a problem-solving and contextualized approach to audience in digital environments in technical communication.  In particular, they suggest that while technical communicators may not know their exact audiences, the complexity of the product and the typical environments in which the product is used provide them with guidance in understanding their prospective readers.  Digital audience adaptation, therefore, requires a problem-solving approach that allows writers to identify and analyze their audiences and to learn about their audiences’ contexts and uses for documentation (p. 204).

Her research showed that, “writers have always used a set of heuristics and strategies for learning about their audiences and addressing them specifically.  (Her) findings support the continued use of such heuristics and suggest some specific ones for learning about and addressing digital audiences…some of (which) depend on or are facilitated by digital technologies.” These include:

    • targeting specific users and situations as a way to respond to and address audience needs;
    • developing personas;
    • Interacting with users;

Returning to my experiences with Magnavox, I can see that they put the first heuristic into practice.  However, the last three were not applicable/necessary.  Once I began my work of assembling and wiring the electronic devices, I was left alone (watched through a two-way window) and no help was offered.  I also did not receive any response to my feedback from those conducting the experiment.  As a matter of fact, I was instructed to put my feedback in a box on the table and leave the room when finished.  I picked up my check from the receptionist on my way out.  My only “response” from Magnavox was when I was contacted and asked to participate in the next round of research (I always assumed that meant I did well and my feedback was helpful).

Looking through this lens, I see the importance of giving feedback as a customer.  I like the idea that my voice will be heard, and more so, that someone may actually be listening.

Technical Writer Lens

Just a year after my research work with Magnavox, I began my own career as a Technical Writer for the small water heater company that I have written about several times this semester.  At that time, we didn’t have online documentation (2001), but as the writer of their print documentation, I often felt the need for audience feedback.  Much like Blakeslee’s case study writers from Tax Soft and Secure Net, my company prevented me “from having direct contact with…customers” (p. 208).  Most of my feedback came from the customer service representatives who would field calls from the (usually irate) customer and pass it down to me.  As case study participant, Amanda, said, “…we have to deal with it after the fact and so basically we have to find out from other people that we failed in order to succeed later” (p. 209).

I am not sure if I have shared this before, but my husband currently works for this company at which I was employed in 2001-2002.  It is no longer the small water heater company it once was as it was purchased about 10 years ago by the largest water heater manufacturer in the world, and now employs eight technical writers across the United States.  My husband is the Engineer/Manager to which the four writers at his facility report.  Of course, him being the “boss” keeps me from being able to return to work there as a technical writer (can you even imagine working for your spouse?), however, it also allows me to stay informed and have insight on the way things have changed since I worked for them as their only writer 16-17 years ago. In discussing this chapter with him, I asked whether the company had gone to any kind of digital communication.  He told me that they have, but only in the form of a searchable PDF file of the use and care manuals and installation instructions on their website.  None of those are set up in a way where the “user can access and go directly to the parts pertaining to them” (p. 205) or use them as “walk-throughs” (p. 206).  My husband also sits on the board and is acting Chairman of the ASHRAE (The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) committee, and, with further questioning, he reminded me that the safety standards (such as ANSI and CSA) require that certain warning labels pertaining to appliances be visible at all times in a written format.  That means that the documents cannot be easily taken apart and sectioned in a type of digital, click-what-you-need format.  If the information appears without a certain safety label in close proximity, the company stands liable should any harm be done or death occur.

While my husband’s company does not put a lot of written literature online due to standards issues, they do produce instructional videos such as this one A.O. Smith Water Heater Pressure Relief Valve for consumers looking to better understand or make small repairs to their water heater.  In fact, they have an entire website dedicated to water heater education called A.O. Smith University. They also have a section where they do live, recorded videos and they allow customers to text them questions during the show to be answered live.  Not exactly top of the line in digital literacy since the customer would have to know when the live show is being held and tune in at just that time to have his questions answered, but it is a start.

Looking through this lens, I see the challenges some companies and writers face when trying to keep up with the ever advancing technology and digital literacy.

Consumer Lens

As a consumer in the digital world, I like instant gratification.  Last week, I received an automated text message at midnight that I was almost out of data on my cell-phone.  How can that be?  The bill just cycled!  Several years ago, I would have placed a phone call to my cell phone provider the next morning and discussed the issue/options.  However, for this instance, I grabbed my iPad at 12:04 am and went to the Verizon app where I instantly began an online chat with customer service.  The representative was able to direct me to the portion of the app where I could see my usage where I realized that I had done a 5-hour live Facebook video the night before while on data.  OOPS.  Regardless, I chatted with him for over an hour while watching Criminal Minds on Hulu and painting my fingernails. I also made a bowl of noodles and called (loudly) for the dog who went outside at one point and hadn’t returned.  As the consumer in this situation, I preferred that hour long chat to a 15-20 minute phone call because it was convenient.  At the end, I received a customer satisfaction survey.  I marked each item accordingly and went back to watching my show on Hulu with a new, unlimited data plan for my next oopsie.

Looking through this lens, I certainly appreciate a heavy online, night or day, presence from the companies with which I do business.  I see the importance of understanding digital literacy and of a company putting it into practice.

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Image from Helpsocial.com

Viewing China’s Social Credit System Through a Cultural Lens

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A street in Hong Kong from Getty Images

In Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, Barry Thatcher writes about understanding digital literacy across cultures. He points out that ethnocentrism about the way digital media will be used is common in U.S. research and theory. Thatcher advises technical communicators to consider the cultural aspects of a technology’s audience. He discusses the difference between individual vs. collective, universal vs. particular, and specific vs. diffuse. Thatcher uses China as an example of a collective culture. He writes that collective cultures “emphasize solidarity in relations, the common good of the group, and little need to focus on individuals.” By contrast, the U.S., Thatcher explains, values individualism.

An interesting case to examine how audiences view technology through a cultural lens is China’s social credit system. Recently, I read an article about China’s plan to monitor and rank its 1.4 billion citizens according to a social score in a system that punishes and rewards them for their behavior. Alexandra Ma of Business Insider reports the system is expected to be fully operational by 2020, but millions of people are already part of pilot programs.

“Like private credit scores, a person’s social score can move up and down depending on their behavior. The exact methodology is a secret — but examples of infractions include bad driving, smoking in non-smoking zones, buying too many video games and posting fake news online,” writes Ma.

Ma reports that local governments in China monitor behavior, and millions of Chinese people with low social credit scores are being punished by:

  • Banning them from travel and hotels
  • Blocking their children from the best schools
  • Preventing them from working in state-owned businesses
  • Putting them on blacklists for getting government contracts or credit cards
  • Slowing their internet speeds
  • Confiscating their dogs

Those with good social scores, according to Ma, get more matches on dating websites, discounts on energy bills, and better interest rates at banks.

Reaction to the system seems to depend on cultural values. Simina Mistreanu in an article for the website Foreign Policy explains the system is meant to promote trustworthiness in China’s economy and society. On the website What’s on Weibo, an article by Manya Koetse compares media coverage of the social credit system on Chinese online media versus Western media. Koetse writes that in Western media the social credit system is described in dark ways such as Orwellian, dystopian, chilling, or creepy. Chinese reaction is more positive. A citizen is quoted saying, “I feel like in the past six months, people’s behavior has gotten better and better. For example, when we drive, now we always stop in front of crosswalks. If you don’t stop, you will lose your points. At first, we just worried about losing points, but now we got used to it.”

These differences in the way Chinese media and Western media cover the story may be based in our cultural views. In China, the collective good is paramount, but in the U.S., we value individual rights. Most Americans would view a social credit system as an infringement of our freedom even though in the U.S. we do have systems that monitor the behavior of people and companies. We have financial credit scores, but they are mostly private and only accessed by authorized people and companies, and many states, such as Illinois, have banned the use of credit reports for job applications. The federal government maintains a no-fly list; however, it’s only for suspected terrorists. State and local governments have sex offender lists…only for people convicted in a court of law. Businesses may be rated through organizations such as the Better Business Bureau and websites like Yelp and Amazon, but these are not created by the government.

In my opinion, China’s social credit system is an interesting idea, but it would never work in the U.S. Americans would not want the government to have too much control over our lives. Furthermore, people would figure out a way to get around it and abuse it. Overall, its potential negative effects far outweigh its benefits.

Recruitment and Digital Audiences

Recruitment and Digital Audiences

Blakeslee in “Addressing Audiences in a Digital Age,” describes technical communication as it interacts with user-centered design, or UX. As communicators, it’s ingrained in us to keep the audience as the forefront of creating any materials, both in writing and design, so that the audience engaging with the material can process it easier, quicker and more intuitively. However, with the shift to digital communication, specifically digital reading of documents, it’s critical that we re examine if the audience has changed. Blakeslee says, “The thinking here is that technology potentially makes our writing accessible to a much broader audience than before” (p. 201).

UX

Anything published on the internet could essentially be accessed by any user with a computer. These users have different identifies, cultures, languages, preferences, etc. So how can documents, which are published online, be written with a specific audience in mind? Can they be written for a specific audience? What boundaries are in place to create these communities.

These questions from Blakeslee reminded me of recruitment materials I utilize at work. As a reminder, I work at UW-Madison in the Mechanical Engineering Department. There has recently been a major push to create new online and in-person accelerated Master of Science programs for our department.

Download the PDF here.

We have a variety of target audiences for these programs, but one of the target audiences in international students. We partner with a number of schools in India and China and they are some of the student we aim to recruit into these programs. I don’t work directly with creating or distributing recruitment materials, but our graduation admissions office does and I am included in many of these meetings. In the early stages of discussing partnerships with schools and these programs, we knew immediately that we would have to adjust our materials to fit the international audience. Some of these adjustments included re-ordering information on the flier so international tuition rates are listed first and selling not only the program but the City of Madison and the State of Wisconsin as well. Whereas with resident students, they likely already know about the State of Wisconsin and City of Madison. Additionally, it was important to adjust the language so that it fit the skill level of the international students.

To test these materials, we started with developing personas, as Blakeslee discusses, but really found the most value out of interacting with readers. As Blakeslee says, “another valuable heuristic for learning about and understanding reader needs is interaction, especially with actual readers” (p.208). We at UW-Madison are lucky to have a number of international students who are from the universities in India and China that we are partnering with, so we have access to these students who are already on our campus. The design team developed the materials and then tested those materials in a session with volunteer students from these partner universities to watch how they read and understood the information. (Thank goddess for free pizza, it really brings the graduate students into a room!) By watching these students process the information and having a discussion with them it was easy to make changes to the document based on that specific audience.

It may sound like an ideal situation, and maybe it is, but it worked. We have had positive feedback from the materials we have sent to these universities and our enrollment numbers from students at those universities coming into our programs continues to grow. So  yeah, it’s difficult to keep the audience in mind when publishing documents for the whole world to see, but in reality there are almost always going to be some type of restraints on the community of people you are targeting with messaging. For us, it was retraining the target audience to international mechanical engineering students who were possibly interested in a masters degree. Knowing those boundaries narrowed the audience, even though the information is published on a public facing website for the world to see.

Teaching Take-aways Concerning Digital Literacy

 

CollaborativeWriting

Collaborative writing, courtesy of KQED

This week we tackled Chapters 3-5 in Spilka’s 2010 text Digital Literacy. Working backwards with Chapter 5: “Content Management,” the chapter’s author William Hart-Davidson reassures us that technical communicators should not be so fretful about their profession since the proliferation of content management in the digital age will make their jobs more valuable, not less. However, he shares that “in an information economy, more workers will write” (p. 129). So while content management will alleviate some of the fears of job loss that technical communicators face, they must accept that more people in their organizations will write. In some ways, this gives technical writers even more to do; as in, do they become the gatekeepers of all communication? Realistically, they cannot. With an already-expanding job description, technical writers cannot manage all the tasks of content creation plus content management in a silo or as a solitary member of the team. They need help, which is where educators can help to reinforce the need for strong writing skills, across disciplines. Quotes like those help reinforce for my undergraduate students that they all need better writing skills, no matter what profession they are going into. If “communication is why companies operate,” then all workers must be better communicators (p. 135).

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LMS like Blackboard offer educators chances to act as technical communicators again. Courtesy of AppAdvice

As I read chapters 3-5 of Spilka’s Digital Literacy for Technical Communication (2010), I realized that as the instructor/content manager of multiple Blackboard shells for multiple classes, I am acting as a technical writer for the classes I teach. With a background in technical writing, I hope that I am skilled at thinking about usability, audience needs, and communication when I create those shells, but putting myself in the mind of a technical communicator can possibly allow me to see the areas where my students struggle, particularly important for online courses. In Chapter 4: “Information Design,” authors Michael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski explain how “technical communicators are well situated to contribute to the development of information spaces and to advocate for users needs in emerging digital spaces” (p. 105). My primary job as an instructor is to help my students understand and apply content, so it is in my best interest and theirs to give more consideration to how they use our digital spaces. Much of what the authors cover in this chapter aligns with what we discuss when reviewing audience analysis and writing purposes. The same tenets apply to critical literacy.

Salvo and Rosinski made me ponder how I apply the notions of granularity, mapping, signposting, metadata, and pattern language in my classes. Over the last several years, our college has created and mandated a standard template that all instructors must use in designing their Blackboard (like D2L) shells. The left-side navigation is all the same, and there are standard buttons we must all use; however, we can customize the design (colors and flair) of the Blackboard shell, add buttons, and arrange the content within the shell as we so choose. When this change was first proposed, there was faculty outcry about academic freedom, but the changes were user driven. Our students had complained about the lack of consistency from instructor to instructor, course to course. Looking over the shoulders of students as they try to find information helps me see where more or fewer signposts are needed. The authors caution that we shouldn’t expect users to remember a virtual space’s ambience, so adding in additional maps and signposts could be helpful (p. 12).

Signposts

Signposts, courtesy of Hillcrest Primary School

Finally, with Chapter 3: “Shaped and Shaping Tools,” author Dave Clark highlights three main theories we can begin to apply to the “rhetoric of technology” to better understand it, or to assess the “broader implications” and “potential influence” that technologies have on how we communicate (p. 87). This chapter inspired me to create an assignment that asks students to analyze their expectations of, experiences with, and performance of a certain tool, say Microsoft Word or PowerPoint. I’ve formerly assigned a rhetorical analysis of a piece of writing, but asking students to perform a rhetorical analysis on a tool of communication may be valuable to them and could reveal some real benefits and issues with those tools.  

No doubt that new technologies and tools will carve new avenues of consideration for technical communicators and educators and will affect how we talk about and practice the rhetoric of technology. Just as the World Wide Web had to outgrow its ugly baby stage to reach maturation, all new tech tools will force societies to determine their best uses, standards, and rules. Again, the overarching theme of all of these three chapters seems to be to remain flexible and open to change, and to consider the hows and whys of what we do and how to do it best.

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

The Yin Yang of Technological Advancements

Since I have been out of the field of technical communication for the last 15 years, this week’s readings framed my understanding of some of the changes that have taken place since I left.  It seems there has been a major shift to all things digital.  While I have no work experience in the field to share and relate to this week, I did find that I was able to relate my direct sales experiences to those of my mom 25 years ago.  Much has changed, and the shift has seemed natural and easy.  As a matter of fact, I am quite thankful for many of the changes and I am beginning to see that, while I have not been a professional writer over the last 15 years and I have not had experience with the changing publishing software, I have certainly kept up with the changes in digital and social media by virtue of simply keeping with the times.

Twenty-five years ago, my mom decided to begin selling Mary Kay Cosmetics on the side to supplement the income from her full-time retail management job.

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Source: candiecooper.com

I was fourteen and she would often enlist my help in handwriting her party invitations that she would give to friends in the mall where she worked.  She personally handed out each invitation and answered any questions the guest may have.  She also asked that each one RSVP if they planned to attend.  The night of the party, she would usually have each person that RSVP’d show up, occasionally with a friend, but not often.  In the end, she had a small circle of friends who purchased their make-up from her.  After a few years, she lost interest in the business and became more active in her full time career and that was the last I heard of direct sales until I was an adult, married with children, who had decided to put my career on hold.

As soon as I entered the world of direct sales, I knew much had changed since the days of helping my mom with her Mary Kay party invitations. My business is done almost completely online.  My invitations are events that I create on Facebook through my business page and share with my customers or give to my party hostesses to share with their friends and family members (see section “More on Facebook Events” below for my thoughts on this aspect).  My actual parties are done via my phone camera and broadcast as a Facebook Live video.  Gone are the days where my mom would spend hours cleaning the house and baking treats for her Mary Kay guests.  I go into my office, put a photo screen behind me to block out any mess from the day and keep my video background clean and focused, and hit “go live.”  I am also not limited to an audience of my friend circle and their friend circles.  My reach extends across the US as people share my video with their own Facebook friends and family.  While I find myself having some nostalgia for the “old way” and that “personal touch,” I admit that my business is much more successful than my mom’s because I am able to reach so many more customers due to the way I use social media to conduct my business.

I am also constantly looking for ways to use social media more effectively for my business.  As things continue to change in the world of technology, I often find that something that “worked” for me last month has stopped drawing the same response or interest.  That is when I go searching for answers online.  Check out this blog post I recently found:  42 Facebook Post Ideas from Businesses Who Know What They are Doing.  Fellow Students – I think it could also be helpful as we begin to write our final papers for this course.

More on Facebook Events

Facebook Events seem to be the social media preferred way to invite people to do almost anything.  It is simple in that the host just creates an event, fills in the details, and invites most of their Facebook friends list with the click of a few buttons.  To see just HOW easy, check out this quick YouTube Video on How to Create a Facebook Event. The drawback?  Those invitations have lost that personal touch in a way that seems to be affecting the outcome of the event.  While wedding and graduation invitations are still sacred and more personal (usually snail-mailed), I receive about fifteen invites on Facebook each week to join a direct sales online party, to come to a friend’s child’s birthday party – even to attend our family Thanksgiving dinner!

In chapter 4 of Spilka’s “Digital Literacy for Technical Communication,” authors Salvo & Rosinski discuss Johnson’s (1998) research and ask us to,

“Consider memos, parking tickets, wedding invitations, white papers, and reports for decision making: each of these genres carries part of the message in visual design and physical presentation.  The design indicates a range of possible responses to the text.  One can accept or decline an invitation…Johnson reminds technical communicators of the power of inherent design and presentation: while innovation is possible, it comes at a cost.  Innovative documents man not carry with them clear boundaries for readers” (p. 108).

This paragraph resonated with me especially as I considered the part about how, “One accept or decline an invitation…” (p. 108).  Facebook events are so impersonal and so generally disregarded by most people that, often, invitees will click “maybe” on an event and never show up.

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Source: graphjam.com

Maybe they never intended to show up, maybe they had some interest and lost that interest before the event, or maybe they forgot.  Whatever the case, Facebook events are notoriously inaccurate when it comes to any kind of RSVP or guest count abilities.

In my business, I will create an event for my customers who wish to host a party.  That event links me with their friends so they can invite and I can share what this party is all about and how they can go about shopping.  While this method of inviting is convenient (most of my hostesses live across the country), they aren’t always the best method when it comes to getting friends interested and to actually attend the Live party.  So many hostesses will complain after the party, “My friends said they were coming and only x showed!  I can’t believe it!”  Well, I can.  It happens every time.

Another ongoing issue with Facebook events is that sometimes the invitees never see the invitation.  Recently, a dear friend invited me to her son’s birthday party via a Facebook event.  I never saw the invite.  She called me a week after the party saying that they missed me and I was totally clueless.  Technology is awesome, but nothing beats getting a small, hand-written birthday party invitation in the mail.  It shows me that I wasn’t an afterthought to my friend – or part of her, “I’m in a hurry, click, click, click” guest list, but instead I am a treasured friend for whom she made time and gave an effort to invite.

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Source: Imagur.com

While I am appreciative of technological advancements for business purposes, I wish it wasn’t also taking over in regard to the way we communicate with true friends and family.  Where are we going to draw that line?

Content Management: Simply Complicated

I enjoyed this week’s assigned readings from Rachel Spilka’s “Digital Literacy for Technical Communication”, which I found to be quite thought-provoking. However, between the three chapters, I was most intrigued by Chapter 5, William Hart-Davidson’s “Content Management: Beyond Single-Sourcing”.

Hart-Davidson defines “content management” as “a set of practices for handling information, including how it is created, stored, retrieved, formatted, and styled for delivery” (p. 130). While this basic definition accurately summarizes my general understanding of content management, I appreciate how Hart-Davidson thoroughly explores the process while detailing its evolution.

Content Management 2

Image courtesy of Das Tor News

As Hart-Davidson explains, a Content Manager has many responsibilities, making him/her an integral cog within an organization. However, before a Content Manager can take on such responsibilities, a content strategy must first be devised and implemented, preferably by the Content Manager AND his/her colleagues. If this crucial first step is skipped, the content will not maintain consistency with regard to format/style, organization, or placement. Sure, the organization’s decision-makers may provide free rein to the Content Manager, allowing him/her to make executive decisions with regard to content. However, I have firsthand professional experience that suggests this could greatly backfire.

Just over two years ago, I was hired as a Content Editor for a reputable pipe & supply company on the south side of Chicago. Though a Content Editor is not the same as a Content Manager, the former belongs under the proverbial umbrella of the latter, with the two sharing several of the same responsibilities. In my role as Content Editor, I was responsible for creating and maintaining product descriptions/navigation for this company’s new eCommerce website. However, having not previously worked in the supply chain industry, I blindly stumbled into this role without a clear blueprint in place.

Regardless, having received minimal direction, I did the best I could in this role, having surprised myself and others with how well things turned out. However, despite some positive feedback from my colleagues, there were several others who were displeased with my product layout. Accordingly, this layout was reworked several times over by me and others as we aimed to create something that everyone would be satisfied with. Unfortunately (but perhaps not surprisingly), this did not happen.

I have to imagine that no work-related project will ever appease all employees within an organization, regardless of how much time and effort goes into it. However, I firmly believe that, had my colleagues and I worked to establish a blueprint that (most of us) agreed on, this product layout would have required far fewer redos thereafter. In other words, had we actually executed the first step, the subsequent steps would have been far smoother.

Content Management 1

Image courtesy of GetRedtie

In summation of Chapter 5, my general takeaway is that the larger an organization is, the greater the amount of pressure on the organization’s Content Manager. While this may seem like common sense, I do think such an individual’s performance could “make or break” an organization’s, productivity, workflow, results, and bottom line.

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

 

 

Technological Adaptation & Appreciation

As Rachel Spilka explores in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, technology is all around us, even when we’re not consciously aware of it. It goes without saying that we live in a technologically dominant world. Therefore, in this endless digital cloud that is modern society, it is our responsibility to accept technology as a dominant, driving force that is here to stay. As advanced and impressive as technology currently is, in accordance with history and current trends, technology is sure to continue its growth at an increasingly rapid pace.

In an interesting foreword within this same literature, JoAnn T. Hackos provides a brief exploration of this ongoing technological journey. Along the way, we must remain fluid and flexible in adapting to technological changes, for better or for worse. Also, it is in our best interest to appreciate technology for its various benefits in helping to improve our lives.

 

Technological Adaptation

Technological Adaptation

Image courtesy of Technology & Leadership blog

In accordance with the inevitable, rapidly growing phenomenon that is technology, it is imperative that we adapt and adjust along the way. This is especially important in work settings, with nearly all companies implementing some form(s) of technology ranging from basic to advanced. Furthermore, such companies rely heavily on said technology in ensuring smooth workflow and sustained success.

On the flipside, technological glitches and defects can temporarily (or even permanently) impede a company’s workflow processes. For example, I think we’ve all been to a fast-food restaurant that, at that very moment, experiences technical issues with its electronic payment processors. Most commonly, it seems that credit/debit card readers become exhausted and require resting periods during business hours. As a result, during those times, businesses are unable to process credit/debit card payments, instead accepting cash payments only. These types of glitches interrupt business workflow while preventing revenue, as would-be customers turn around and leave. After all, these days, the vast majority of consumers relying solely on electronic payments, often even via mobile device (ex: Apple Pay). In fact, partially as a safety precaution, it seems fewer and fewer people carry cash with them at all anymore.

In work settings, we cannot strictly reap technological benefits while unrealistically expecting glitches to never occur. Instead, just as we must adapt to technological enhancements intended to improve workflow, we must accept inevitable setbacks as they occur, ideally while refraining from becoming agitated or hostile. In fact, it is wise for all of us to practice and perfect a “Technological Difficulties Spiel” to use when addressing colleagues and/or clients while working through such glitches.

 

Technological Appreciation

Technological Appreciation

Image courtesy of Smartereum

It’s safe to say we’re all guilty of occasionally (or often) taking technology for granted, regardless of which generations we come from. Through its ups and downs, I strongly feel that we should appreciate technology as a whole. After all, it does help to make our lives easier through automation of otherwise mundane, time-consuming processes. Such automation helps to ensure efficiency and accuracy with these types of processes.

To put it in perspective, when you’re using technology to complete a task, try to imagine how that very task would have been completed prior to the initial implementation of technology. To take it a step further, imagine how that same task would have been completed during technological infancy, before significant advancements had been made. Perhaps some of us bloggers are “seasoned” enough to remember how such tasks were manually completed pre-technology. However, there’s a younger generation of users that were born into tech-society and have been surrounded by it ever since. Technology is all they know, so they would struggle to consider life from a pre-technological perspective.

Regardless of which generations we come from, or what we de/don’t remember about past technology (or lack thereof), it is important for all of us to maintain an appreciation of technology, its past achievements, ongoing progress, and future enhancements, the latter of which are sure to amaze.

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.

Aging Gracefully in Tech Comm

MiddleAge

Happy middle-aged people, courtesy of Daily Express

This past year, I turned 42, and I’ve had to start admitting that I’m now “middle aged.” Gasp. Forty was harder than I thought it would be, and I’m trying to age gracefully, but I hear poet Dylan Thomas’s ghost whispering to me, “Do no go gentle into that good night!” I get the same feeling every time I read about the evolution of the technical communication field. Practitioners and textbook authors seem positively anxious about what’s happening in the field, and I would argue unnecessarily so. Each field goes through growing pains, and as a former technical writer and a teacher of writing, I’m less concerned about what we call it and more concerned about what we do and how we continue to evolve gracefully within the profession.

When entrenched in any field of study or interest, it’s important to understand its history. The historical timeline that R. Spilka (2010) chronicles in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication covers some obvious changes that have occurred in the last several decades. Changing social norms, technologies, and business practices have had the largest impacts: more women are writers, more work is online, all technical communication work is done using technology, and as a result the skill set that technical communicators need has expanded. This is true of most professions. My mom taught in a two-room schoolhouse. She didn’t use a learning management system (LMS) to display course content or let students and parents review grades online. As a twenty-first century instructor, I use an LMS daily, most of my classes have computers, and we’re offering many more online courses. The profession changes, and so do we as practitioners.

When I graduated in 1999 and shortly after was hired to be a technical writer for an internet-based start-up company, I wished that my undergraduate degree had prepared me more for the technical aspect of the field. I had used Word to write essays, but that was about it. I had to teach myself some HTML, graphics, and the new-at-the-time RoboHelp program. Spilka notes that when the internet bubble burst a few years later, more employers were looking for the technical communicators who had those technical skills (p. 37). Teaching myself those skills was good for me. It made me more motivated and confident, but it would’ve been easier to transition quickly into the field with more computer software and technical skills.

At my first writing job, I was a lone technical writer in a group of computer software engineers. As I moved on to my next writing job, I would start to mimic some of the changes that emerged from Phase 3 to Phase 4, according to Spilka. In the early ‘00s as the Internet became part of our workplaces and households, my work broadened to include website copy, marketing brochures, both print and online, and working within a team of writers for multiple clients. By this time, the Internet and the websites on it had a less rinky-dink and a more professional appearance. Internally, we developed standards guides that we distributed throughout the company and expected everyone to adhere to. Rather than just seen as “translators,” we were included in design and

Google

Early Google landing screen, courtesy of Telegraph

marketing meetings. Quite honestly, I liked it better that way.

Spilka caps off the second chapter of Digital Literacy by writing, “technical communicators’ work is undergoing significant changes at a rapid pace” (p. 75). He later admits that all industries are.

No longer is it enough to just be a writer. Technical communicators (aka symbolic analysts) must be Jacks and Jills of all skills and must keep those skills up-to-date with the changing needs of the market–as must most employees in this information age. The largest take-away from these two first chapters is the need for technical communicators to keep demonstrating their value, and that means their dollar value. With the threat of downsizing and globalization, the author posits that technical communicators must muscle their way to mission alignment and administrative recognition. It seems like this shouldn’t be necessary, but I suppose it is. 

Spilka ends Chapter 2 with “While the period ahead may be at times unsettling for practitioners and educators alike in the technical communication profession, it also promises the kinds of challenges and rewards as such periods always yield” (78). That’s right, Dylan Thomas! We won’t go gently, but go we must.

Dylan Thomas

Seductive Dylan Thomas, courtesy of Literary Hub

 

 

 

P.S. Googling images of middle-aged people is an exercise in humility itself. It results in a lot of Truman Show-esque couples in weirdly smiling embraces.

 

 

 

The Constantly Evolving Role of a Technical Communicator

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Angie Myers shoots a video with SWE Past President Jonna Gerken. Photo credit: SWE Public Relations Manager Jenny Balogh

As manager of digital media for my client, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), my role is constantly evolving as I oversee content development and marketing communications for the society. Instead of simply creating content primarily by myself as I would have in the past, today I must find ways to help my clients work together to develop their own multimedia and share it through a variety of communication channels.

Today’s media environment demands a consistent stream of content provided in a variety of ways at a low-cost by a reliable source in an authentic voice. To meet that need, those of us who work in technical communications today have to be resourceful, lifelong learners. In Chapter 2 of Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, R. Stanley Dicks writes that user-centered design, collaborative technologies, and user-generated content are transforming the jobs of technical communicators.

“Rather than the relatively limited contributions of writing and editing in narrowly defined and conceived technical communication jobs, future jobs are more likely to require that communicators engage in the more complex symbolic-analytic work involving not just developing information but also managing, reconfiguring, disseminating, and customizing it for a diversity of audiences and in a diversity of media” (Dicks, 2010, p. 75).

As I encourage SWE to embrace the organization’s communications strategy, I am always looking for ways to help create content and share it through social media. I ask SWE members, sponsors, and staff to write blogs, do Facebook Live posts, and record videos as well as podcasts. When I request their contributions, I facilitate the development of content by explaining any processes or tools involved.

Using Collaboration to Create Content
Using collaborative technology is an essential aspect of developing content in today’s workplace. For example, to write marketing emails, SWE now uses Google Docs. First, I write copy in a Google Doc that is concise and includes multimedia such as videos and images. Next, I share it with coworkers who are involved in program(s) being promoting. They proofread and edit the document directly. Finally, it is viewed and approved by the organization’s leadership. We all have access to the same, updated content that is saved indefinitely in Google Docs to use again at a later time.

Recently at SWE’s annual meeting, I shot video interviews with SWE members who were taking part in programs such as the SWE High School Leadership Academy, Collegiate Leadership Institute, and Academic Leadership for Women Engineers. Prior to the conference, I asked SWE staff who oversee those programs to help me develop questions and select participants for video interviews. After the interviews were recorded, I sent the video files to a transcribing service so that I have a verbatim transcript of what they said on video. Next, I will create a written script of the edited video so that my team can create video graphics and the content can be easily approved to make sure the video includes all of the pertinent information. When I publish the video on YouTube and in a blog post, having the transcript will improve search engine optimization (SEO) and make the content accessible to a broader audience. Using a transcript also makes it easier to pull out quotes while sharing video and podcasts on social media.

Transcribing Videos and Podcasts
For anyone working with video or podcasts, transcribing, captioning, or subtitling can be a time-consuming, labor-intensive and costly task. Transcription services in the past cost a fair amount of money, which made them too expensive for some projects. Fortunately, I have started using Rev.com. It costs $1/minute for transcribing, and the transcripts come back within hours of uploading the content. The service has been around for a few years. The company’s FAQ page says it employs workers in the U.S. and some overseas after business hours.

Using a service like Rev.com is a good example of finding a new solution to a communication problem, which is one of the primary functions of being a technical communicator today. I am always learning new processes and technology in a constantly evolving communications landscape.

Change is Good!

This week’s reading was very nostalgic for me!  During the last semester of my senior year of college, I began an internship with a software company where my role was to work with RoboHELP to develop online help for their medical software.  In May of 2001, I graduated with my Bachelor of Arts in English with a focus in Technical Communications and went to work within the next three months as a Technical Writer at a small water heater manufacturer in Tennessee.  I was quickly trained on using Freehand10 to create and edit their use and care guides and installation manuals.   During this same time-frame, I had a local bank contact me and offer a freelance project to re-write all of their training guides.

'Day old Bread, 50 off' & 'Day old software, 75 off.'

Image Source: cartoonstock.com

I remember recommending Macromedia Freehand10 and they actually purchased the software and I did the work transferring all of their documents in the new program.  I cringe a little now when I think of that.  I was new to the field, and I had no idea how much software would change over the next decade.  In my defense, Freehand10 was a great program for layout and design work when compared to their previous software choice, Microsoft Word. It made page layout so much easier by having each part in an easily movable “box” – text boxes, photo boxes, etc.  It eliminated that (still present) issue with MS Word where everything adjusts itself to the next page the second you close and re-open or print the document.  In “Digtal Literacy for Technical Communication,” Chapter 1 writer Saul Carliner says that, RoboHELP was… “later sold to Macromedia which was sold, in turn, to Adobe” (Spilka p. 37)  Today, Macromedia Freehand10 is a thing of the past – and had been replaced by Adobe inDesign – at least at the water heater company where I first learned the ropes of Freehand10.

Failure to Evolve with Changing Technology

In 2003, I put my career on hold to stay home with, and later home school, my two sons.  The oldest graduated in 2017 and the youngest will follow in 2022.  As I begin to consider re-entering the work force in my field, my biggest worry has been whether or not I will be able to learn the new technology.  Last year, when my oldest graduated from our home school, we participated in a co-op style graduation ceremony with a local home school group.  Because of my background as a tech writer, I was asked to create the graduation programs using inDesign and get them sent off to the printer.  I was able to get a copy of inDesign and I set to work – only to realize (very quickly) that my learning curve was going to take a bit longer than the time I actually had to reach the deadline on these programs.  I had to ask a friend who works in the field to do the layout for me and then I was able to plug in the photos and information.  It was disappointing to me and added fuel to my fears of whether I am going to be able to survive in this field given how much the technology has changed over the last 15 years.  Initially, I chose to work toward my masters degree in hopes that I would somehow get back up to speed with regard to technology as well as everything else.  Unfortunately, that has not been the experience thus far.  “Digital Literacy…” Chapter 2 author, R. Stanley Dicks says,

For academic programs in technical communication, a primary issue is the extent of training they need to provide.   Most academic programs have limited resources to purchase costly publishing software; especially prohibitive financially is complex enterprise software like content management systems.  More significantly, the purpose of an academic degree is to serve the student for decades after graduation by providing durable skills and knowledge.  Technology skills and knowledge are perishable, often outdated within five years.  On the other hand, employers expect students to develop skills with publishing technology as part of the education process, so avoiding technology altogether in the academic curriculum is not an option.  Each program has to find its own balance (Spilka p. 47).

Distance education has made it even more difficult for students (like me) to learn technology skills as part of the education process as it is impossible for me to utilize any of the software that may be available on the UW Stout campus because I am in Tennessee.  Likewise, it would be quite costly to purchase a personal copy of each software that I may want to learn, and, as I found out quickly when trying to work on the graduation invitations, difficult to teach myself these new programs.  I hope that employers will take this into account as I return to the work force and allow for the training I will need to get technologically up to speed.  The good news is that I have stayed current on using technology when it comes to e-mail and social media, and I do tend to learn new programs easily when I have the time to “poke around” with it.

A Whole New Way to Work

In his section on “Distributed Work,” R. Stanley Dicks says that, “Improved communication technologies mean that workers can collaborate without being co-located (i.e. without being in the same physical space, such as an office” (Spilka p. 73).

remote2

Image Source: teambonding.com

In the early 2000’s, when I was working in the technical communications field, the idea of “working from home” was not quite yet available.  Although my company had considered this and was beginning to consider the idea, technology had not yet advanced to the point where my they felt comfortable allowing it just yet.  Now, my husband works for this same company as an Engineer Manager and he often holds meetings with company executives across the globe.  He went into work at 6AM last week so he could have a teleconference with the folks in Japan!  Had this been an option to me, I may have never had to put my career on hold to raise my kids; perhaps professional parents in 2018 can now have the opportunity to simultaneously do both!

 

Being Your Authentic Self…Online?

This week, I read Constructing and enforcing “authentic” identity online: Facebook, real names, and non-normative identities, as written by Oliver L. Haimson, Anna Lauren Hoffmann. I found this piece to be quite interesting and informative, offering Facebook insight I hadn’t previously given much thought to. This article explores the contradictory balance of authentic y and discretion. The general expectation is that Facebook user accounts should display the exact, full names of their respective users. However, many users view this expectation as irrational and unjust, due to the negative consequences that have resulted.

Throughout Facebook’s 14-year history, this aforementioned authenticity has backfired for many users who did not exercise discretion with their posts. Sure, we could easily make the ‘devil’s advocate’ argument that there must be accountability with the users, who should ensure that they aren’t posting content that could be offensive and potentially damaging. However, those same users could argue that, if Facebook wants users’ accounts to reflect their authentic selves in display name, shouldn’t their accounts also reflect their authentic selves with regard to personality, interests, and viewpoints? Furthermore, isn’t it hypocritical, contradictory, and disingenuous for Facebook users to not post directly from their respective minds and hearts?

Regardless, in our technological society, we have made significant progress since the term ‘2.0’ was coined more than ten years ago. By ‘progress’, I mean we no longer imply that platforms have an original, ‘boring’ version followed by an improved, ‘fun’ version. Instead, we are trending away from a black-and-white view of technology as bad and good. As a result, we are trending towards a more open-minded approach to software development and implementation. For example, these days, a development team is unlikely to ask such questions:

  • What types of functionality and navigation could we seamlessly build into this software?
  • What’s the coolest layout for this type of software?
  • What’s the fastest method for implementing this software?

Instead, a development team is more likely to ask the following types of questions:

  • What types of functionality and navigation would most likely be preferred by this software’s user base?
  • What type of layout would be most helpful for users of this software?
  • If we begin developing our sprint enhancement list next week, what is a potential timetable for pushing this enhanced software into a beta environment for testing?

Technology continues to evolve across the globe, making the term ‘2.0’ obsolete and archaic. Instead, every day, developers are gathering user feedback to continuously fix bugs, implement enhancements, and improve the user experience. Software can no longer simply be ‘fixed’, as the process is ongoing.

 

References:

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.

Forming Virtual Communities with DIY YouTube Videos

woman using laptop for home repair

Howard Rheingold writes about collective intelligence, why social networks matter, and how using the web can make you smarter in the last three chapters of Net Smart. The ideas and information discussed in these chapters apply well to First Monday’s 2016 special issue that focused on critical perspectives of a decade of Web 2.0.

The Meaning of Web 2.0
The term Web 2.0 was invented around the turn of the century as the dot-com bubble burst, and it was popularized in an article by Tim O’Reilly in 2005, What is Web 2.0. O’Reilly and his colleagues realized that even after the dot-crash in 2001, the web was more important and useful than ever. New applications and websites were being developed and deployed with increasing frequency and having far-reaching implications on the integration of technology in our everyday lives.

Screen Shot 2018-10-14 at 4.51.28 PM

As the chart shows, instead of creating personal websites in Web 1.0, people were blogging in Web 2.0. Instead of only consuming published content that transmitted information in one direction in Web 1.0, people were participating in Web 2.0 by developing and contributing content themselves creating two-way, interactive information transmission.

Do-It-Yourself YouTube Videos
For First Monday’s special issue on Web 2.0, Christine T. Wolf writes about “DIY Videos on YouTube.” Do-it-yourself videos on YouTube are good examples of user-generated content that illustrate the ideas outlined by Rheingold including collective intelligence, social networks, and how using the web can make you smarter. Wolf describes how YouTube has blurred the line between expert and lay person. Knowledge is shared among peers, and social groups are formed. In fact, YouTube content creators refer to themselves as YouTubers and as members of a specific community of YouTubers. In Chapter 4 of Net Smart, Rheingold refers to these characteristics of the web as mass collaboration and virtual communities.

In her article, Wolf focuses on the home improvement community. As Rheingold states, members of a virtual community seek to learn from each other as well as teach each other. Do-it-yourself YouTube videos are educational, instructional, and social. As Wolf suggests, they combine “personal, social, and economic realms of everyday life.” She also examines how algorithms shape social networks and in the case of YouTube, they affect the videos that are presented to the user, and in turn, what the user watches affects what additional videos they are shown, and which videos similar users are shown.

Wolf explains that the subject of home repair emerged during the data collection phase of her study. Of the 21 participants in the study, 20 reported using DIY YouTube videos to complete home repairs. I can relate to this because as a woman who lives alone, I have also used DIY YouTube videos for home repair. I have used videos to help me replace the knobs of my bathtub faucet and the seat of my toilet. Recently, I watched a YouTube video to figure out why my home intercom system started to make a nonstop humming sound. I was relieved to be able to fix it myself without having to spend a lot of time and money on it.

Effects of Virtual Communities
During interviews with the study participants, Wolf found that watching DIY YouTube videos affected:

  1. Information practices – subjects questioned the relevance of other media such as books
  2. Self-efficacy – subjects felt empowered and more confident in their abilities
  3. Credibility – subjects used common sense to assess the credibility of the information in a video (Rheingold refers to this as crap detection in Chapter 6 and other chapters.)

In Chapter 5 of Net Smart, Rheingold addresses the impact of a virtual community on users when he discusses social network analysis. He writes about the data that show if your friend’s friends are obese, unhappy smokers you are more likely to be obese, unhappy, and smoke. Likewise, if you are in a DIY home repair YouTube community, you are likely to feel capable and self-reliant. Being in a virtual community also offers social capital that you can use when you have a specific question. You can contact one of the YouTubers in your community to ask for help or advice.

It is important to use the five literacies that Rheingold outlines in Chapter 6 when viewing video content on YouTube: Attention, crap detection, participation, collaboration, and network smarts. Wolf concludes, “Through everyday information practices, people are continually made and remade through their exposure to ideas — these ideas shape identity making by influencing perceptions of what is or might be possible.”

Talk to Me!

In this week’s readings, I made a connection between Howard Reingold’s talk of “Net Smart,” Scott Kushner’s article, Read Only, The persistence of lurking in Web 2.0and my personal business – specifically my Facebook Live Videos.  Kushner says that, “…Consumer habits research reveals that a wide swath of the social media user base lurks: these users read, watch, and listen to content, but they do not contribute any of their own.”  Reingold reminds us of these “invisible audiences” of which we must always be aware (p.235).  In my business, I am acutely aware of the invisible audience or the lurkers.  When I hit the live button, I can literally watch my viewer count go up and down throughout the live show.  Often I will have lots of conversation moving in the thread, but it will be the same handful of people responding to me and corresponding with one another during the live video.  I may have 40 viewers, but only 10 people talking.  And of those 40 viewers, very few will remain constant throughout the video.  Many will click on and off of the video to do other things on the internet (or offline); some will simply tire of the live video content and leave prematurely.  Lurkers may feel unsure of what is going on in the video and prefer to watch quietly so they do not ask any questions that seem silly or insignificant.  I have built a group of viewers that are very accepting of new faces, but that have also gotten to know one another on a personal level and that choose to Facebook friend one another outside of my videos.  I am sure that can be intimidating to those who lurk – but I count on the interaction between those connected viewers during my lives!

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Image from Rebecca Snyder, Vantel Pearls Independent Leader Facebook business page.

Why I Work to Increase Viewer Interaction – and How

Facebook operates on a series of algorithms and one of those is that live video interaction/participation directly correlates to how much exposure Facebook gives your video.   Kushner says, “At the end of the day, it is still the eyeballs that matter to Facebook.  In this case, participation becomes ornamental, and the forms of easy participation that today serve as gateways to increased participation may sink into platforms’ ever more sophisticated boxes of content-targeting tools.”  Reingold says that, “if you tag, favorite, comment, wiki edit, curate, or blog, you are already part of the Web’s collective intelligence” (p. 148).  Later, he reiterates, “Participation can start with lightweight activities such as tagging, liking, bookmarking…then move to higher engagement…” (p. 249).  While I realize that people have many reasons for only watching (or lurking) on my videos, I try to stimulate these passive forms of interaction by often calling on my viewers to click the hearts when we open an oyster.  I may say, “Give *insert name* some love and let’s see what color she gets for that gorgeous Caribbean Shore bracelet!  Start those hearts!”  Sometimes even the most passive lurker will add to the anonymous heart collection.  Likewise, I discourage mad faces and my admins will block people who come onto my videos giving mad faces as this is often a tactic of trolls to get their buddies onto your videos.  They, too, know that interaction drives up viewers.

As an extension of my live videos, I run a VIP Group for my customers/viewers.  Joining is completely up to them – I do not put them into this group myself; they must request to join.  During days that I am not live, I (or my admins) will put up interaction posts – for the sole purpose of eliciting interaction from my group.  It is a tool to keep my followers interested in me and what I am doing;  I am showing my active members that I have not disappeared just because I am not on a live party.  I am also working to bring my lurkers out of hiding (on the live videos) by getting them more comfortable in the VIP group first – as it has proven to be a less intimidating, slower-paced setting.  Here is an example of an interaction based post that was amazingly successful!  You likely see these all time on Facebook whether in a friend’s feed or on a business page.

Screenshot (93)

Image from Grad School Pearl Girl VIPs Facebook group page.

And notice that, just as Reingold suggested, I am not only asking my customers to participate, but I am showing a “reciprocating cooperation” (p. 149) by responding to each comment they make on my post, in some way.  I am furthering the interaction by interacting back.  I never realized how important that small detail was until I joined the VIP page for a very successful make-up gal.  She would ask a question and hundreds of people would respond, but she never uttered a word.  It was obvious that she was not trying to connect with us but simply working to keep the algorithms ever in her favor.  It is a delicate dance to make Facebook like you by keeping your viewer responses up while also making sure to not seem like you are posting ONLY to keep your viewer responses up.

My Rule Looks a Little More Like 60-20-20

Kushner brings up Neilson’s work on participation inequality and his idea of a “90-9-1 rule” and describes it as being “where 90 percent of users lurk, nine percent ‘contribute from time to time’, and merely one percent ‘participate a lot and account for the most contributions.'”  In my personal experience, I have more of a 60-20-20 rule.  60% of my nightly viewers tend to hop off and on all night, never speak, and mostly just help to make up my viewer count.  20% of my viewers actively participate by commenting on the pearls during my live videos and placing orders with me which forces them to speak in the live feed as they choose their oyster and answer any questions I may have about their order.  The other 20% are my tried and true viewers.  These are the core of my business as they are the ones who will share my videos often, talk back and forth to one another, click the hearts for me if they see the viewer count go down, open an oyster to get the party going, and purchase from me almost nightly.  These are the people that I count on completely.  If you average that out – I keep around 40 viewers per night.  The math says that 24 of those viewers are passive lurkers, eight are contributing from time to time, and eight count for the majority of the contributions.

A Little Appreciation Goes a Long Way

After reading “Net Smart,” I have realized that I am doing a lot right in terms of networking.  I have always found that the best way to increase participation on my videos and in my group is to give my viewers and customers a reason to interact.  The simple/fun posts help keep the thread boosted to the top of their news feeds and thus keep my VIP group in the forefront of their minds even when I am not live, but that is not enough.  Reingold says, “Small talk nourishes trust.  Trust lubricates transaction” (p. 251).  I allow and encourage my customers to connect with me on a personal level by sharing parts of my life with them.  It makes me “real” and thus helps to establish trust with them.  For instance, I have talked on my live videos about my oldest son moving away and how hard that transition can be for me at times.  I also share my accomplishments with them – making sure to let them know that my business accomplishments could not happen without them!  For example, I recently received a gift from my leader for having sales of over $250,000 in 20 months!  That is their accomplishment as much as it is mine!

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Image by Rebecca Snyder

Just as they celebrate my triumphs and tragedies, I celebrate theirs.  Some of my customers know that I am a Christian and they will ask for prayers in the video.  Many keep in contact with me via Facebook messenger and some have sent me friend requests on Facebook.  I try to make sure my interactions are not just organic reach but are personal and connected.   Most importantly, showing customer appreciation is key!  A little bit goes a LONG way to keep customers coming back and loyal.  We all need to feel valued and appreciated.

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Image from Grad School Pearl Girl VIPs Facebook group.

DIY, with Help from the ‘Bots

Allergens_GOT

Stark wisdom, courtesy of imgflip.com

After this past seven weeks of reading, I’ve come to a “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality about my involvement in the digital world. Reading Rheingold’s book Net Smart urged me to start using my social media platforms in a more interactive way, including creating my first Twitter account. To put this new digital immersion to the test, I thought I’d try to elicit some advice from Facebook friends by asking for allergy remedies. Pollen counts were high in Wisconsin this past week, and I was suffering, so I took to Facebook for advice. Because I so seldom post, I wasn’t expecting much of a response, but I had about 10 people comment. The jokesters in my life recommended scotch or gin with a dose of “wait it out”, but several other friends offered real advice and remedies. One such recommendation was the use of essential oils. Intrigued by that option, I decided to delve further by Googling “how to use essential oils for allergies.” This led to several DIY videos and articles.

Small-World Network, Old-World Coffee Klatch

By calling out for this allergy help, I was doing what Rheingold called collaboration and cooperation, “humans solv{ing} problems collaboratively” (p. 149) wherein “virtual communities are technologies of cooperation” (p. 151). I directly asked for help in an effort to learn something, knowing that small talk like this builds trust in this virtual community. I used my “small-world network” where network implies a “sparsely knit/loosely bound” community to seek advice. Twenty years ago, I might have asked two or three friends (aka coffee klatch) the same question face to face.

CoffeeKlatch

Coffee Klatch, courtesy of Hubpages

By asking my network, I received answers from Duluth and Houston, from men and women, from young and middle aged. I diversified my answer, and at the same time, I broadcast that answer to other people in my network or “personal learning network” (Rheigold, p. 229).

Using Rheingold’s analogy of “gardening” in the online community, I thanked all the contributors, responded directly to a few, and ignored the ones that were off-topic (p. 166). When someone in my network poses a similar question in the future, I will use my “social capital” and look for ways that I can contribute to the discussion (Rheingold, p. 212).

I know it when I see it, but who showed it to me?

Decades ago, the idea of obscenity or pornography was defined by a federal judge as broadly as “you know it when you see it.” As Christine T. Wolf writes in her June 2016 article “DIY Videos on YouTube: Identity and possibility in the age of algorithms,” online credibility is often judged this way by viewers, including me. My common sense credibility detection involves:

  1. How many views has the video gotten?
  2. How many subscribers does the video producer have?
  3. How is the video titled and tagged?
  4. How is the video shot (professionally/amateurishly)?
  5. How credible do I perceive the speaker to be? Does the speaker tell me?

Like the participants in Wolf’s study, I employed CRAP detection, but I didn’t give much thought to how or why specific videos appeared in my feed. She notes,

The particular mechanics of the platform — the how and why of what videos are presented to them — sink into the background. Given the central role media like these videos play in constructing notions of self, ability, and confidence, the seeming invisibility of the platform — particularly the algorithmic sorting that provides a heavily customized experience — raises concerns over the potential power algorithms wield in shaping social realities” (Wolf).

My “how to use essential oils for allergies” search resulted in videos by yogis, doctors (of natural medicine), beauty gurus, mommy vloggers, and people selling essential oils. I have a YouTube account, a Facebook account, and a Google account. Of course, my reading/watching habits are being shared across platforms. I would like to test what my search results would yield when I am logged out of all those accounts, on a public computer or friend’s computer.  I strongly suspect the results would differ.

Act, or Be Acted On

My biggest take-away from this week’s readings are the need to stay ever vigilant, skeptical, and curious. Rheingold’s closing remarks caution readers, “If you aren’t an actor in a democracy, you are the acted on” (p. 242). That applies to voting, consuming, and prosuming. I can use his advice to realize that even my search results are curated by invisible forces that I should consistently question. However, I’m also heartened by the notion that Web 2.0 is dismantling some of the hierarchies of knowledge that have been in place (Wolf). With YouTube, I can DIY just about anything I wish to. And it is building confidence. My husband and I have replaced a sink, fixed a toilet, and restarted a flaky water heater, tasks we probably wouldn’t have even attempted in the age before YouTube. That’s empowering. The next time a household DIY comes up, we just need to ask a few more questions as we evaluate the videos we’re watching. If nothing else, I might start doing a few out-of-the-norm-for-Amery searches to see if I can throw off the prediction-bots. 

Blogging: Balancing Accuracy and Authenticity

As bloggers, we aspire to create content that reaches the masses. We hope to craft a message that appeals to a specific persona. Over time, we expect to build an audience in the form of a loyal following. However, to do so, we must first establish credibility and trust among those viewing our posts.

Informative Blog

Image courtesy of LEENTech Network Solutions

To establish and maintain credibility among our viewers, we must appeal to our intellectual side while creating content that is factual, accurate, and helpful. Such content should be supported with quality sources, such as books/textbooks. A truly credible blog post likely wouldn’t cite other blogs as sources. However, this becomes a catch-22, since we’d rather not cite other blogs for our blog posts, yet we hope our blog will gain enough credibility to be cited by others.

Compu-Heart

Image courtesy of Iconfinder

To establish and maintain trust, we must appeal to our emotional side while creating a blogger persona that our audience can truly identify with. Our closest followers would feel like they know us personally, as if we go way back. Those who can identify with us will feel compelled to read our content regularly, in hopes of obtaining advice that would truly speak to them, thanks to the similar nature of the two sides. In other words, such a success story might feature an audience member saying “I can’t wait to read Jeff’s blog post this week. I really get that guy, as he and I are quite similar. He offers frequent advice very specific to my current life situation, which I obviously appreciate.” Perhaps this success story sounds a bit too fairytale-ish, but it should serve as a general aim for bloggers looking to identify with an audience while the former gains trust from the latter.

To simultaneously sustain credibility and trust among our audience, we must find and actively implement a balance of information and emotion within each blog post.  To borrow a cliché, we must find a “happy medium” for our content. In a perfect blogging world, a blog would be informative while sounding like it was written by a human being instead of a robot.  Easy enough, right?

Put the Phone Down, Filter the CRAP, and Hit it Big!

Social Media is more than just a distraction to some.  The reading this week made me really step back and evaluate myself with regard to my own level of distraction caused by my response to the notifications from social media and e-mail.  I spent and entire day being acutely aware of my habits in a way that I had not previously, and here is what I discovered:  I am a social media addict with unchecked OCD!

Each morning, my alarm sounds (on my phone) 15 minutes before I have to get out of bed.  This is purposeful because it allows me to silence the alarm and spend those 15 minutes waking up while scrolling through my e-mail, text messages, missed calls, and of course my Facebook business page/messages.  I have been known to stay in bed doing this for 30-45 minutes, often missing my opportunity to shower and beginning my day with a coating of dry shampoo and body spray.  On days when I do have time for my  shower, I take the phone into the bathroom with me and will often prop it against the wall at the top of the shower so that I can be sure to not miss any important messages or phone calls.

When I am out of the shower, I check my phone again for the temperature and the daily weather so that I can get dressed accordingly.  By then, it is usually time for me to wake up my youngest son to begin his day (we home school).  I often Face Time him as his wake up call, you know, to save those 10 steps I would make to his bedroom.

I spend the remainder of the afternoon as a slave to the pings and bings of notifications.  If I am waiting on an important call or email, I find my (actually diagnosed) OCD pattern of checking every few minutes rears its ugly head.  I will admit that, often, this pattern does not change when I am in the car driving.  In his book, “Net Smart,” author Howard Rheingold notes that, “Texting while driving kills…(and) the fact that anyone would risk life and limb for an LOL is a clue that something about texting hooks into the human propensity to repeat pleasurable behaviors to the point of compulsion” (p. 45).  ACK!  He is right!  Try as I may over the years of driving with my son’s in the car and teaching the boys to drive, I still can’t say that I am 100% cell phone free while driving.

texting and driving

Image from quickmeme.com

My brain knows I need to be, but something almost uncontrollable begs me to check that phone at every ping.  And, turning the volume off doesn’t change that desire to check.  In fact, it almost sends it into hyper-drive as I worry that I have missed something imperative!

Most evenings I work my business by doing online Facebook parties to open oysters and sell jewelry.  During this time I am totally plugged in – working while checking a barrage of private messages, keeping up my online presence, and reading/responding to live comments as they come through my feed.

To finish my day, I lay in bed and scroll through Facebook or read articles online that interest me until I get tired enough to fall asleep.  I can’t even speak to how many times I will be reading through an article or a friend’s Facebook timeline only to find myself in the circle of links and clicks that lead me to chase a white rabbit down the social media rabbit hole.  If you aren’t sure what I mean about the rabbit hole, here is a great article I read recently after a night of chasing that rabbit for about 3 hours:  Following the White Rabbit Down the Social Media Rabbit Hole

Fine Tuning my CRAP Detector

In Chapter 2, Rhinegold points out that, in order to be smart in our use of the internet, we must learn to filter out what is true and what is false.  Rhinegold says, “Don’t refuse to believe; refuse to start out believing.  Continue to pursue your investigation after you find an answer.  Chase the story rather than just accepting the first evidence you encounter” (p. 78).  I am going to take a second here and get really personal in an attempt to give an example of a broken “CRAP detector” (p. 89) and the toll it took on my quality of life for over a year.  I mentioned above that I battle OCD.  My OCD doesn’t come in the form of counting or repeating steps for fear that something bad will happen.  My OCD presents itself with health anxiety – I am a hypochondriac when I allow my mind to take off in whatever direction it chooses.  Rheingold assures us by saying, “What person doesn’t search online about their disease after they are diagnosed?”  After my youngest son was born (15 years ago), I went through a severe bout with my OCD/hypochondria where I determined from Dr. Google that I was dying from a brain tumor.  I lost a good year of my life with worry and anxiety, but I was too afraid to see a doctor or mention these concerns because I just knew I could not handle a horrible diagnosis in my fragile mental state.  According to the internet, I had every symptom.  I was dizzy, I felt my speech was stumbling and slurred at times (even though friends and relatives had no idea what I meant and had not seen/heard any issues when speaking to me), occasionally my vision was blurry and I was experiencing flashes and floaters.  I was feeling like I was in a memory fog and often felt clumsy and off balance.  I often would run to a mirror and stick my tongue out to see if it went straight down or off to the side -Google told me to try that.  Unfortunately, Dr. Internet failed to tell me that brain tumors generally affect one area of the brain at a time.  So, if I had blurry vision caused by a tumor in my brain, it would be located behind my eyes (most likely) and symptoms would all be related to that one tumor in that one place.  A tumor behind my eye would not cause me to have slurred speech, a foggy memory, or to lose my balance unless, of course, it was metastatic.  It took me a year and a Lexapro prescription to tune my crap detector enough to realize that I had been feeding my unfounded fears by seeking worst case scenario CRAP on the internet.  I am happy to report that I continued with that Lexapro prescription and I no longer live my life in fear of dying from whatever Google diagnosed illness I may have.

dr google

Image from me.me

Working to “Hit It Big”

In Chapter 3, Rheingold begins to discuss meaningful ways that we can participate in social media.  Because social media is such a great tool in my business as a network marketer, I can’t just decide to unplug completely.  Instead, I can make small changes to the way I operate on social media (perhaps beginning with locking my phone in the glove box when I drive).  My inital interest in this graduate course came from my desire to learn how to better present myself online and how to be intentional in my participation on social media.  Reingold reminds us that, “The good news is that learning to participate effectively online (like learning attention and crap detecting skills) is a matter of mindset and practice – and the payoff can be big.  Knowledgeable online participation can help you land a job, find a mate, organize a movement, or sell a product or service.  As citizens, professionals, and consumers, we hit it big, manage to get by, or fail utterly in large part because of our ability to connect and converse with others by way of digital networks…” (p. 114).  I am ready to do what it takes to “hit it big!”

 

 

 

“This Change Isn’t Minor, and It Isn’t Optional”: Becoming Multi-textual

Several years ago, my co-worker invited me to watch Daniel Simons’ “gorilla basketball” clip that Rheingold references in his book NetSmart (p. 45), a clip on selective attention that asks viewers to count the number of passes between basketball players. I watched the brief clip and didn’t noticed the gorilla. I was intent on the task I was given; I was selective with my attention. The same co-worker uses this clip in her College Success course to illustrate how we can tune into and out of the items we deem most important.

GorillaBasketball

Gorilla Basketball, courtesy of https://gorillabasketballvideoaln.wordpress.com/

We’re Being Augmented, not Damaged

The thesis of Rheingold’s first three chapters from NetSmart is that we can train and improve our attention, a task that will be necessary to thrive in this technology-drenched era. As someone who practices yoga regularly, I was eager to read more about how paying attention to my breath (something we do all the time in yoga) could help me  hone my attention even more. I also felt validated to read about “email apnea” because it’s something I have seen my husband do when answering work email from home; he momentarily stops breathing (p. 45). Mostly though, I was heartened to read that rather than harming us, digital media could simply be augmenting us (p. 40). The past several weeks’ readings have made me worried, but Rheingold’s book offers some concrete steps for us to facilitate the augmentation that is happening to our brains already–hopefully for the better. 

A Digitally Literate Democracy

These chapters offer copious opportunities for noteworthy catch phrases that describe our new world: “volume control,” “attention-deficit culture,” and “artificial sense of constant crisis” (pp. 55, 56, 57). We recognize these symptoms and look wearily at the repercussions they have on our ability to communication and connect. However, what made me the most hopeful was how Rheingold compared digital citizenry to literacy. We are not born readers, and even the great philosophers Socrates and Plato both feared “the written word and its effect on us”, particularly for its loss of control over knowledge (p. 60).

458px-Sanzio_01_Plato_Aristotle

Socrates & Plato

They feared that just because more knowledge would become available to more people that did not mean that the people would understood that knowledge. The owners of that information also lose their ability to translate the knowledge to suit their purposes. We see this today with our plethora of media options, cries of fake news, and echo chamber preferences. We know now that literacy was a democratizing development; I am hopeful that digital literacy will be, too.

Pay Attention: A How-To

We touch on the methods that Rheingold lists in Chapter One in classes I teach, and I’m happy to use the suggested toolkit in future classes and help students understand that there is a connection between mindfulness and improved grades (Hall Study, p. 68).

pay-attention

  1. Be mindful by “paying attention on purpose” (p. 65).
  2. Ask, ‘Have I drifted?” (p. 73)
  3. Meditate (or at least focus on breathing) 10-15 minutes a day (p. 71)
  4. Give yourself meaningful chunks of time to focus on one task, uninterrupted. Turn off technology during that time (p. 75)
  5. Decide what types of tech tools you use at home, where and when, such as “no screens at the dinner table”)

Crap Detection, AKA Information Literacy

In my classes, I ask my students to be skeptical, not cynical. When they do research, I ask them to use a worksheet titled “CRAP,” which is an acronym for currency (how recent), reliability, authority, and purpose/point of view, which is precisely what Rheingold deals with in NetSmart’s Chapter 2. I’m happy to integrate the triangulation technique (find three sources that agree) to their researched assignments as well as some of the websites he recommends: https://www.snopes.com/, FairSpin, and FactCheck.org. He writes, “Information literacy is the answer to growing information pollution” (p. 89). This is a helpful metaphor to use, especially when he frankly asks, “How much work is it to check three links before believing or passing along information” (p. 91). It’s not, Mr. Rheingold. You’re absolutely right.

Participation Points

Susan Cain, author of the book Quiet about the power of introversion, admonishes educators who promote participation points that often go to the loudest students, not the most knowledgeable or most thoughtful. She must be excited by the potential that digital participation has for the quiet kids. Rheingold reminds us that “young people are using digital participation tools for learning and creating” not just socializing (p. 117). Need to learn how to fix your specific brand of toilet? There’s a YouTube video for that. Have a question about the Civil War? Google it. In the scant few decades that the internet has been alive, we have created an unimaginably large database of knowledge, accessible now and for free (mostly).

I’ve taught literature for several years, and it wasn’t until teaching it online that I fully got *almost* all of the students to contribute to the conversations about the texts. It’s entirely too easy to stay quiet in a face-to-face class. It’s pretty easy to let the loud or the smart (or in some cases both) kids who’ve read all the material do all the talking. The participatory culture of the digital world, while scattered and sometimes shallow, allows for instant depth and connectivity. Rather than read an article in the newspaper, drink my coffee, and forget about it, I can read the article, read about the author, click to find out where Azerbaijan is, and understand more fully why there are tensions there.

FCO 394 - Nepal Travel Advice Ed3 [WEB]

Where is azerbaijan? Courtesy of Google Maps

Rheingold ends the chapter with, “Attention literacy is reflection. Crap detection is analytic. Participation is deliberate” (p. 145).  Understanding the intention behind his NetSmarts will help us evolve into this more digital world and become better citizens for it.

You’ve Got 6 Seconds to Make Your Point

Screen Shot 2018-10-04 at 11.59.00 PM

In Net Smart, Howard Rheingold writes “self-control along with the skillful use of attention, participation, CRAP detection, collaboration, and network awareness through social media ought to be taught to future netizens as early as possible.” Rheingold wrote that in 2012, but it has never been more relevant than it is today.

Paying Attention to a Screen
The first chapter of Net Smart is about attention. As a professor, Rheingold is frustrated by all of his students looking at their laptops and smart phones while he is giving his lectures. Instead of expecting students to shut down their devices, he decides to teach them about attention. He also discusses mindfulness and being aware of how you direct your attention, not just how you spend your time.

I’ve noticed in meetings these days no one seems to mind if you are looking at your laptop or your smart phone. In the past, it was considered rude or unprofessional, but today it is expected that you bring your laptop to meetings. Often, we use them to take notes, or we plug them into a monitor to show the group a visual presentation. As long as you are paying enough attention to know the answer when someone asks you a question, being distracted by a screen is acceptable behavior…at least it is in my workplace culture.

In my personal life, it’s a different story. One of the reasons I liked my boyfriend early on in our relationship is that he gives me his undivided attention. When I am around, he never spends time looking at his phone or paying more attention to the TV than me. If that ever starts to happen, I’ll know something has changed for the worse in our relationship. If you truly care about someone or something, that person or thing has your attention. If you don’t really care about it, you can easily find something digital that’s more interesting and holds your attention.

Shrinking Attention Span
Rheingold’s teaching about attention reminds me of the Ad Council’s #SheCanSTEM campaign to get young girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math. My client, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), is one of the nonprofit partners participating in the campaign, so the Ad Council gave the Society videos to use on social media. Some of the videos are only 6 seconds long. You can watch them on SWE’s YouTube channel.

In one that features SWE member Lisa Seacat DeLuca, a girl asks Lisa, “What do you do for a living?” and Lisa replies, “I work at IBM in our Watson Internet of Things Division.” The girl reacts by saying, “That’s really cool,” and the video ends. (I guess if you don’t know what the Watson Internet of Things Division is, you can always Google it.) Go ahead and watch the video below…after all it’s only 6 seconds.

Allison Fleck reported in Ad Week in May of this year that a survey of more than 300 brand marketers and agencies found that the 6-second video format is the most effective ad type for digital media. Of those surveyed, 81% said that 6-second ads are effective or very effective. According to Ad Week, 53% of advertisers use 6-second ads, and in two years that percentage is expected to climb to 77%.

In a May article in Ad Age, Krishan Bhatia, executive vice president of business operations and strategy at NBC Universal, attributes the success of 6-second ads to “lower attention spans.”

In an Ad Week article from last year, Jake Malanoski, a customer acquisition director, explains that shorter is better because “if somebody hasn’t heard of you, they are not going to give you the time of day.”

Technically Speaking On Technical Writing

To be honest, I found this week’s readings to be rather troubling and discouraging. Granted, it’s possible that I’m overthinking the content, which may have quickly taken my brain to a place of angst and frustration. However, as I digest and reflect, my general takeaway is that social media is slowly but surely pushing the technical writing profession towards irrelevancy.

Technical Writing

Image courtesy of Campus Commerce

This notion rings similarly to that of blogging ultimately replacing journalism, a topic we covered previously. However, that topic was hardly troubling to me for two reasons. For starters, though I appreciate and enjoy quality journalism, it’s not a field I specifically aspire to enter. Second, I feel like this ‘blogs are the new beat’ trend has been progressing for several years now, so it’s something I’ve come to terms with. Though often unqualified to create and publicly share written content, bloggers do have a voice, as projected through the web.

Robot Journalist

Image courtesy of Springer Link

However, as one who aspires to build a career in technical writing, I am heavily disheartened by the thought of social media overshadowing and/or replacing technical writing. With the latter requiring a combination of intense focus, natural skill, and endless practice, it seems unfair for any unqualified yet self-proclaimed ‘social media specialist’ to take over and hog the spotlight.

While a ‘quantity over quality’ approach is seemingly becoming the status quo of web content, I’m also seeing a ‘speed over quality’ approach, which may be more frightening than the former. Traditional journalism emphasizes that it is far more important to publish accurate, credible content than it is to be the first to break a story. However, social media seems to contradict this age-old approach, with users racing each other to post something even remotely coherent and believable. This is partially because posted content can be edited a later time. However, this approach is rather transparent, with users largely taking into account their own egos, as opposed to the best interest of their audience.

Save Technical Writing

Image courtesy of OwlGuru.com

Will technical writing ultimately be negatively impacted by social media, just as journalism has been impacted by blogging? Say it isn’t so, fellow communicators!

Out with the Old – But Wait a Minute!

In this week’s readings, we take a look at how social media has changed and, in some cases, re-defined the role of a Technical Writer.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading through the research collected by Blithe, Lauer, and Curran in their article, Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World.  They point out that the job title of “Technical Writer” seems dated in this current Web 2.0 world, and the authors quote Bernhardt (2010) in saying:  “Our graduates are getting jobs, but it is becoming ever more difficult to say just what kind of jobs are out there and what kinds of skills they demand” (265).

I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in English with a Technical Communications concentration in May of 2001.  My first job out of college was a Technical Writer position with a local water heater manufacturer.  I was the sole writer at the time as the position had been created not long before I came on board and had only been filled prior to myself by a graphic design/CAD operator who had some writing aptitude.  I recall applying for positions and many companies having absolutely no idea what a Technical Writer was or what I could possibly do for their company.  I can’t even count the number of times I was asked if I was, “some kind of secretary.”  To say that our field has progressed by leaps and bounds since then is an understatement and, perhaps, social media has  played a role.

tech-writing-dilbert-4

Image from dilbert.com (August 3, 1995)

Some of the data that I found most interesting from the Blithe, Lauer, and Curran study was that most writers responding to their survey seemed to be under the age of 40 and the authors, “…admit that the survey results give us a more reliable picture of what younger alumni are doing, and a less reliable picture of what older alumni in advanced positions are doing” (270).

am-i-qualified-enough-to-apply-to-this-job

Image courtesy of http://www.prepary.com

So, what does this suggest for someone like me – someone who graduated in the field 17 years ago, took a great deal of time off, returned to graduate school, and will graduate and return to the field in the next few years as someone in the over 40-years-old category?  While I feel that my current job with Vantel Pearls has helped me to gain some social media skills and aptitude, I question whether it will be enough – or whether I will be skilled enough in the advancing trends in social media to prove competitive with my younger colleagues vying for the same positions.  I had better get to work learning these social media nuances!

But – Where is this Headed for the Social Media Illiterate?

In her article, Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making: Technical Communication Between the Global North and South, author Bernadette Longo states that, “We in technical communication applied our expertise in what Maggiani (2009) described as ‘one-to-many’ communication” (p. 23).  “In contrast, …Maggiani argued:

In a social setting, the skill set of the technical communicator grows.  The ability to successfully apply these skills, however, become more transparent.  Ultimately, though, while the line of authorship blurs, content would become richer, deeper, more useful, and would include multiple ownership or collaboration.  A collaboration through social media, properly undertaken, results in the truest form of audience-centered content” (p. 24).

During my time as a technical writer for the water heater manufacturer, we went through an issue where I was only receiving feedback from the engineer and the voice of the user was not being heard when it came to the manual design and content.  We tried bringing in representatives from the customer service department to help bridge the gap, but it never was quite enough to make the voice of the people fully heard.  I left the position in 2003, but a few years ago, they decided to use social media to allow customers to give feedback on the usability of their current manuals.  Much has changed since this was done and the manuals have become much more novice user friendly with actual photos (rather than CAD art), larger print, online access, etc.  – check it out:   Residential Electric Water Heater Manual – Photos/online. While this social media outreach was successful, some voices were still not “heard.”

Longo speaks mostly to the way that social media is not available to everyone around the world (in developing countries) the way that it is here in the US.  But, she fails to mention that many people in the US still do not have access.  I know families in my area who still live “too deep in the woods” or “too high in the mountains” for internet providers to be able to connect them to a line – or cell phone tower signals to be able to reach their remote locations.  Then we also have to consider age as well as expense when it comes to constant connectedness.  My mom is almost 70.  She has a cell phone but feels she can’t afford monthly internet access on her fixed income.  She doesn’t own a laptop or PC and she uses her cell phone date for anything she may want to do online.  While that does mean that she is “connected,” she does not have the benefit of a a large screen or keyboard, and some companies have very unusable mobile websites.  As social media takes center stage in the lives of the current generations, some in the older generations are being left behind.  My momma would much rather make a phone call or go by and visit someone than to go find them on social media or send them a personal message through the messenger app.  As a human, that matters to me.  When we are discussing peoples’ “voices being heard,” I don’t like to think that we are phasing out the elderly and the poorer people and nations.

confusedcomputer

Image courtesy of 11point.com

I suppose you could say that, in my advanced age, I am accepting change a lot more slowly than I once did.

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.

 

 

 

Creating Agile Communicators: Teaching Writing with ICTs

This week we read several scholarly articles on the technical communication field, where it’s going, how it’s defined, and how it uses social media. As a writing instructor, my major take-aways from the readings by Ferro, Longo, Blythe et al, and Pigg include:

  • The need for more collaborative writing
  • The need to understand the importance of emergent technologies
  • The need to understand how writing will change because of those technologies
  • The “need for social and communicative agility” (Ferro, p. 19)

Ferro asks, “how do we teach students to write in forms that do not exist?” (p. 20), while Longo argues that “teachers must understand their roles as mediators and integrators of ICTs [information and communication technologies]” (p. 23). While I don’t specifically teach technical communication, this question and assertion can guide what I do in the classroom to ensure that my students are prepared to communicate well in the 21st century.

We can start by using the  ICTs that students use in their personal lives. As a department, we’ve recently struggled with how to address the issues of “fake news” and the broadening complexity of information literacy.

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Information Literacy, courtesy of Otis.edu

Now that ICTs allow us to tailor our news feeds to show only what we want to see, how do we promote a more comprehensive analysis of news and information? As teachers, we tend to shun the use of social media in our classrooms, but perhaps we are fooling ourselves while simultaneously doing our students a disservice. Recent links on this blog indicate that fewer students are using Facebook, but we why not integrate lessons using Instagram, SnapChat, or blogs? Some may bristle at the notion of interacting with students this way (it’s too personal, too gimmicky, too much extra work), and we will have to embrace that once we’ve finally figured out how to use a certain ICT, “those darn kids” will be on to the next one. However, incorporating more ICTs in the classroom could make the classroom more relevant to the current technological climate as well as help students become more agile in the future technological climate.

Using ICTs can help students understand the concept of audience better. Longo’s article “Using Social Media” emphasizes that users have become producers. One common complaint of composition students is that they feel their writing is “just for the teacher” and that the notion of a real audience is therefore false. If educators can create content that supplies student writers with a real audience (even better, a real audience of their peers) perhaps they will invest more in the content they create? If they are already composing SnapChat group chats and YouTube videos, asking them to write a five-paragraph essay for their instructor can feel archaic and pointless. By using social media, “we can design documents that are more explicitly responsive to audience needs” (Longo, p. 24). Using social media in the classroom provides educators a way to “recreate a professional setting where [students] learn about users directly” (Longo, p. 31). This real-life writing assignment provides immediate feedback for students from a larger audience and can allow them to carry that writing portfolio with them relatively seamlessly.

Using visuals is increasingly important in communication. Blythe, Lauer, and Curran’s article, “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World,” reports that surveyed technical communication alumni are increasingly responsible for visual communication (not just written communication). We are largely a visual society, and though the uptick in emoji use makes some of us nervous

HieroglyphsEmojis

How far have we come? Are we just circling back around? Courtesy of Steemit

(me included), visuals help to contextualize the written word and ensure greater reader comprehension. The social media applications that younger people are using are more visual (Instagram/Snapchat), but visuals will not replace the written word. Learning how to use both well cannot be a detriment.

HieroglphHumor

Source: Medium.com

Students should practice critical thinking as often as possible. Blythe et al recommend that technical communication students should be “exposed to situations in which they must choose the best channels for communication”, that they should be “exposed to a wide range of technology that will facilitate that process”, and that they should be “versatile with multiple media” (p. 281). I’m no longer a technical writer, but one of my most bemoaned complaints as a new technical writer in the early ‘00s was my lack of technical training. My college classes taught me how to be a better writer, but I had to teach myself how to use the technology. Aligning technology with communication is training students, no matter what their final profession, to be skilled in all forms of communication: audience analysis, visual communication, and content creation.

Creating better communicators across disciplines serves all of us. As more and more of us become both producers and consumers (“prosumers”), embracing the changes in teaching and technologies keeps our work interesting and makes our global world a more interactive and understandable place.

Technology: User’s Best Friend

Technological Friend

Image courtesy of Haiku Deck

This week’s reading and corresponding blog topic compare technology as being a ‘friend’ versus being a ‘tool’. However, the way I see it, technology (among many other things) is both a friend AND a tool. After all, with ‘tool” being an all-to-common slang term, haven’t you ever used the term jokingly to describe a friend, or negatively to describe a foe?

 

I love you, technology

Digital Friends

Image courtesy of Faith and Technology

We get frustrated with our friends. They often disappoint us, hurt us, and anger us. Sometimes, we even think we HATE our friends. However, no matter how bad things may get, true friendships are unconditional and eternal. Similarly, as aggravated as we sometimes get with technology, it is here to stay.

Technology most certainly meets the criteria of a true friend.

Technology is our friend for various reasons. Technology saves us endless time and energy, helping to expedite otherwise manual/mundane processes through automation and digitization. On the flip side, true friends help us to save time and energy through miscellaneous favors and general assistance.

Technology promotes efficiency and accuracy in information input/output. For example, if a user inadvertently attempts to submit inaccurate information, the techno-wizards will quickly put their heads together before flagging the information in the form of an ‘ERROR’ message. In parallel, genuine friends will correct us when we’re wrong, always telling us what we need to hear, even if it’s not necessarily what we want to hear.

Technology allows us to remain productive while “on the go”. Thanks to the wonderful creations that are mobile devices and Wi-Fi, we can complete any number of interactive tasks while away from home and/or the office. Though possibly a stretch in comparison, friends keep us accountable while we’re on the go, as friendship knows no bounds. A true friend is a true friend, even if he or she is in a different room, building, city/town/village, state, country, etc.

Perhaps most importantly, technology makes it easy for us to stay connected to friends across the globe. Imagine that! Technology, our friend, allows us to maintain and nurture our friendships. In other words, technology is a crucial, mutual friend that links us and our human friends.

Life is obviously much easier with technology than without. While the younger generation might occasionally take technology for granted, the rest of us surely recall what life was like before technology landed on Earth.

At the end of the day, we NEED our friends, just as we NEED technology.

 

My friend, the tool

My Friend, The Tool.jpg

Image courtesy of Webreality

Personally, I refuse to classify technology as a strictly a friend OR a tool. Instead, I believe technology is simultaneously (and perhaps equally) both.

Merriam-Webster offers various definitions of ‘tool’. In the context of this topic, perhaps it is most relevantly defined as an element of a computer program (such as a graphics application) that activates and controls a particular function.

I believe this definition helps to mesh the ‘friend’ and ‘tool’ components of technology, which helps to facilitate execution and production through various means and platforms.

Technology is our friend. Technology is a tool. A friend can assist us in ways that a tool can. Now, let’s put them all together.

Triangle

Always Open for Business

In chapter 9 of Mary Chayco’s book SuperConntected: The Internet, Digital Media, & Techno-Social Life, the author discusses the subject of “constant availability” with regard to digital and social media connectedness.  Chayco says, “People who live in tech-intensive societies can come to truly depend not just on digital technologies, but on the convenience they afford” (p.183).  She quotes an interviewee of hers that said, “The pro-side is I’m available, and that is the downside, also” (p. 183).

Fortunately, and unfortunately, this rings true for an online, social media based business as well.  If I need to contact a local store, someone at the post office, or even a restaurant, I have to wait until they are open again for business.  For instance, yesterday (a Saturday), I visited my son and found that the cat he recently adopted from the Humane Society is having some sneezing.  Of course, I wanted him to take her to our veterinarian for a check-up.  Unfortunately, the vet we use does not open again until Monday morning.  Considering that sneezing is not a medical emergency, there was no warranted reason for him to take her to a special 24-hour Emergency Vet Clinic.  So, alas, we will call on Monday.

My online business operates much differently.  One might say, I am always open – even though my hours are clearly posted on my website.

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Image from: Rebecca Snyder, Vantel Pearls Silver Leader Facebook business page.

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Image from Vectorstock.com

My posted hours do not stop customers from messaging my business page AND my personal page all hours of the day, every day of the week.  …And, I am guilty of doing the same.

My son and I decided we wanted to get similar tattoos recently.  We knew that the tattoo shop was closed at 2am when we were discussing this idea, but that did not stop me from contacting the shop that came most highly recommended (by my local Facebook friends) via private message (yes, at 2am) and asking about availability for the next day.  To my surprise, the reply came almost instantly with the tattoo artist who was available to do our artwork and what time we should plan to show up as walk-ins.  And, when we showed up that next morning, the owner remembered our message and got us right in for our tattoos.

 

 

As users of  24/7 social media, where do we draw the line?  Or better yet, are most even aware that they could be crossing a line?  An argument can be made that, anyone who does not want to be contacted outside of business hours can simply ignore the messages until they are back “in the office.”  However, as simple as that seems, Facebook has made it complicated to ignore a message.  It dings, it sits in the notifications and haunts us with that little red number at the top of the app letting us know that we have UNREAD MESSAGES, and, if that isn’t enough, Facebook also shows our customers that we have read the message by having our little profile picture circle move down the message thread.  No denying we received it – or even what time we read it!  Thanks Facebook!

 

I suppose the worst that could happen is that I lose a customer for not responding quickly enough to a message she may feel is urgent enough to send at 2 am.  For some businesses, that probably would not matter as they have many customers and many more to come.  In my smaller customer base (around 400 buyers total), it takes each one to make this work for me.  So, I truly can’t afford to lose even one customer – and I find myself jumping through hoops and answering messages as quickly as I receive them, even if that is in the middle of the night.  Chayco speaks to this and suggest perhaps it is not the fault of digital technology.  She says, “Keeping up with a flood of stimuli and information can be challenging and burdensome.  Tasks may start to snowball;  people can feel they need to work and/or be digitally connected day and night, lest they fall behind the curve…but…these stresses are not caused by digital technology us.  In fact some of these stresses are simply the ‘cost of caring'” (p. 191).

 

 

The Spiral of Silence in Social Media

The desire for human connection drives much of our communication.  But at what point does hyperconnectivity become anxiety inducing or silencing?

 

Hyperconnectivity is the extreme increased interconnectedness of people who resulted from technological advances.  Social media platforms massively contribute to hyperconnectivity. Numerous studies and articles are written to address and discuss the impacts on society, communication, and mental health as a result of the rapid changes in to our interconnectedness and changes to communication methods.

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

Ben Abbot, for Virgin (How the human need to connect works with hyperconnectivity), addresses the fact that as a result of comparing ourselves to others, we struggle with insecurity.  This is a result of us viewing all the happy, idealistic posts our social media “friends” post and comparing them to what’s really going on in our lives, as opposed to the idealistic posts we make on social media.  I’ve felt inadequate by other’s projection of perfection on Facebook, even by those who I know well. I do understand that no one is perfect.  However, I quickly forget that when all I see is everyone’s projections of how they want their digital reputation to come across.  It seems there is a goal of digital perfection.  I’m actually taking a break from Facebook for a while because my hyperconnectivity caused rising anxiety and I started to use silence for self-preservation.

 

Hyperconnectivity has caused me to become silent in order to preserve my dignity and sanity.  This  is the result of a theory known as the Spiral of Silence.  The Spiral of Silence is a term created in 1974 by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, a German political scientist. According to the website, Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann: The spiral of silence, dedicated to Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s work, her assumptions of social behavior are controversial but the spiral of silence theory is widely cited and replicated in social sciences.  The spiral of science is based upon numerous hypotheses.  The core basis to this behavior is that people are afraid of social isolation and therefore will be silent if they feel their opinion or belief will be rejected by the mass of their public sphere (in our digital world, those would be our Facebook page “friends” or Twitter followers.). The spiral of silence is typically elicited by controversial issues (politics, abortion, religion, etc.) and causes someone to be silent out to fear of pressure or social isolation.  The decision to be silent usually is done subconsciously (according to Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s research.  However, I’ve consciously made the decision to remain silent in many cases.  In 1974, when Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann defined the spiral of silence, mass media had a recognizable effect on public opinion by amplifying one side’s opinion and thus silencing the other.  This sounds to me that it is much more likely that silence is done so more consciously rather than subconsciously.  It is not that individuals changed their mind to avoid isolation, they kept their opinion to themselves.  An article by James Vincent (The “Spiral of Science”: How social media encourages self-censorship online,) discusses research done by Pew Researching Group that proves people will stifle their opinions on social media if they believe that their friends won’t agree with them.  Further more, the research and James Vincent’s article agree that concern for social isolation may not be the only reason for silence.  It appears our hyperconnectivity is evolving the spiral of silence into including factors such as “likes” and the permanency of  posting online opinions into our silence.

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

Social media influences the spiral of silence on a much larger scale than mass media in 1974 because of hyperconnectivity. Further more, the way we become silent is different and the reasons we stay silent are different.  There are many reasons to stay silent: we value what others think of us, we want to avoid conflict, we don’t get enough “likes” on our posts, or we are simply overwhelmed by hyperconnectivity and all the information that we simply need a break.  I expect this is a short list of reasons and will grow as more research is done on the effects of hyperconnectivity and human behavior.  Has our desire to feel connected caused us more harm than good?

 

 

Overwhelmed or Emboldened? I Choose Emboldened

Frankenstein

Courtesy of Amazon

This fall I’m teaching an online Introduction to Literature course. The first piece of fiction my students read is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a 200-year-old Gothic novel that asks the same question that Mary Chayko does in Chapter 10 of her 2018 book Superconnected: “what does it mean, really, to be human” (214). In a discussion board post, my students agreed on three major requirements:

  1. the desire for knowledge and learning;
  2. the ability to form connections with other human beings and show empathy for them; and
  3. the ability to feel intense feelings like love, faithfulness, rage, and vengeance.

Some critics believe Shelley wrote Frankenstein as a warning against the ever-reaching power of man. Essentially, they claim it is a treatise against the notion of “playing God.”  I ask my students to think about how Shelley’s monstrous creature relates to today’s modern advancements like cloning and artificial intelligence. Much of the content throughout Chapters 8, 9, and 10 of Chayko’s text made me feel anxious, hand-wringy. Then I came upon media theorist Douglas Rushkoff’s quote:

“Living in modern technologized times can be a shock to the system [. . .] the more we become aware of these challenges—economic troubles, climate change, wars, any of a host of social problems—the more we can become overwhelmed with the prospect of actually solving them” (Chayko, p. 215).

Yes! That’s how I felt while reading this week’s content. That’s how it feels right now when I go online or turn on the radio. A recent New York Times article, “It’s Not Just You: 2017 Was Rough for Humanity, Study Finds,” shared that reported negative feelings were at an all-time low across the globe (Chokshi, 2018). Quite frankly, worrying about internet surveillance is the last issue many people (including me), already tired, stress, and overwhelmed, want to add to their worry list.

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Kim Jong Un and President Trump, Source: Time Magazine

However, like many other big issues (greenhouse gases, suicide prevention, North Korea) that we individually can only do so much about, individually we can educate ourselves on these issues and talk about them with friends and family, or blog about them on platforms like this. We can pay more attention when headlines about “net neutrality” pop up in our Facebook newsfeed. We can read works like Chayko’s and try to answer the questions she asks. As people privileged to live in a technologically-adept and responsive society, we have an obligation to make sure these new advances that make our lives easier and more efficient aren’t thwarting the human rights of others, that they don’t do so already.

Mary Shelley warns of “playing God,” but we know since Frankenstein’s publication in 2018, we have seen advancements that would frighten and mystify her. “As science writer James Gleick looks at it, ‘We can be overwhelmed or we can be emboldened’ (2011, p. 419)” (Chayko p. 215).  I choose emboldened, with the knowledge that liberty isn’t free. As Sam Cooke puts it: “A change is gonna come.” We have to be ready for it.

Dating apps, devices and microcoordination

Mary Chayco’s book SuperConntected: The Internet, Digital Media, & Techno-Social Life dives into the 24/7 connectedness we have to others. We, as technology users, are connected to our social groups 24/7 regardless of physical location. As I was reading through Chapter 8, I kept bringing the content back to users on dating apps.

Dating App Pic

This connectedness and constant availability can hinder relationships as much as it can strengthen them. For a moment, consider the available dating apps: Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, League, etc. In these apps, users can open the app, connect with other users, and message the person virtually immediately as long as it’s a mutual connection. But when and how does the other person respond? If the person responds immediately they may come off desperate, however – as users who are essentially constantly available and connected, how long is appropriate to wait before responding? There’s are tons of articles on the internet offering advice to users on this subject, like this one from EliteDaily “How Long Should You Wait to Respond to a Message on A Dating App?” which says the key is to wait five minutes. Chayco says, “because the internet and digital media permit individuals to contact one another at a moment’s notice, people often expect to be able to reach one another and to make plans at any time. These rational expectations can be heightened when people want or need extra attention” (p.183). In the dating app scene, I believe it is true that these types of rational expectations are heightened. Users are expecting a timely reaction because of how connected we all are to our phones, but balancing those technological expectations with dating expectations can add some confusion in the mix.

modern dating

Once users on these apps connect with a person, they can message the person through the app and make plans to meet up in real life. Chayco continues in this chapter to discuss the ease of making plans with technology, she calls it microcoordination (p. 184). Sure, technology like cell phones give users an easy way to make & change & adjust plans but, as Chayco says “it can also help contribute to a climate in which plans and schedules are generally seen as vague, indefinite, and perpetually incomplete” (p. 184). I listen to this podcast, “U Up?which is a podcast about modern dating (p.s. It’s hilarious and I highly recommend it). In the podcast,  Jared Freid and Jordana Abraham, the co-hosts, are regularly getting emails from listeners and discussing how to move dates from casual conversation on the apps to a real-life date. And they are always discussing how so many people are getting ghosted (see #2), getting dates canceled last minute, and generally having texting conversations about going on a date but never actually making the plans.

u up

Weighing the readings this week against modern dating and dating apps, it seems that technology is making it easier than ever to meet people online, but harder than ever to actually make plans and follow through. Gone are the days of formal dates and grand gestures to win someone over. In today’s dating scene, dating apps seems to be the norm, where users are consistently connected to each other, but somehow this connectedness perhaps also hindering relationships.  

Feeling Superconnected

Hello, fellow bloggers!

For starters, my sincere apologies for my delayed contribution. I had this post saved as a ‘Draft’ before attempting to submit it via mobile phone. Unfortunately, it seems I was unsuccessful in that effort, which I hadn’t realized until tonight while searching for post comments/feedback from you all.

Regardless, I am thoroughly enjoying Superconnected thus far, as I can relate to many of Chayko’s perspectives, opinions, and suggestions. Pardon the clichés, but she pushes me “out of my comfort zone” while inspiring me to “think outside the box”. Before I began reading, I really wasn’t sure what to expect, though I also didn’t expect her messages to be so deep, thought-provoking, and borderline controversial. That being said, I feel pleasantly surprised, intellectually stimulated, and eager for future readings.

Below are my reactions to Chayko’s primary areas of focus of web content: Ownership and Security.

Ownership

Ownership

Image courtesy of Digital Resource

As a whole, I agree with Chayko’s general stance on web content ownership. The way I see it, all web content is susceptible to at least being accused of plagiarism. While we can argue that our opinions belong solely to ourselves, even subjectivity is bound to be common among users. In other words, no matter how unique I believe my opinions to be, others are bound to share the same opinions. Therefore, if I publicly post what I’m hoping will be a unique, original opinion, others may still accuse me of content theft.

I believe this is what Chayko is getting at as well. However, it seems like she’ll provide a strong opinion and then almost immediately encourage her audience to challenge her opinion. Does anyone else gather this?

Security

Internet Security

Image courtesy of Router-Switch

Again, in general, I believe Chayko and I share similar views on web content security. No matter the precautions we take, I think it’s safe to say that all web activity is susceptible to being monitored by a third party, and all web content is susceptible to being obtained by an untrustworthy source.

You’ll notice that many websites contain a ‘Security’ section outlining the platforms being used to promote information safety and confidentiality. For example, such a section may contain a ‘Norton Antivirus’ logo, implying that this antivirus software is activity being used by the website. You may also see a ‘PayPal’ logo, designed to assure users that it is safe to purchase the website’s products through this reputable third-party payment processor.

However, please don’t be overly trusting! You can never be too careful when it comes to internet security. Such icons don’t necessarily guarantee any specific level of security, as any website in the techno-sphere can contain images of antivirus software and/or payment processors. To be a little more explicit, thieves can host fraudulent websites containing endless, invisible viruses and forms of spyware. However, to create a false sense of security, these thieves can easily include the aforementioned ‘decoy’ icons on their wormy websites. Copyright infringement? Perhaps, but still hardly the least problematic area of this type of web-trap.

Final Thoughts

people in the information space

Image courtesy of Mobile ID World

I am not certain there are right or wrong answers to the aforementioned topics. Regardless, these particular topics are prevalent, controversial, and “here to stay” (you had to expect one final cliché).

 

Why Google Needs Oversight

google on smartphone

A smartphone and computer running Google search. Photo from Depositphotos.

In Superconnected, Mary Chayko discusses the inception of Google. It was developed by Stanford PhD students Larry Page and Sergey Brin and revolutionized the internet when the search engine became publicly available in the late 90s and created algorithms in the early 2000s. Today, Google is the world’s leading search engine.

“At the same time that it produces results for the user, Google also stores, caches, and archives large portions of web content as the web is being searched…Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, and other major tech companies also allow the data that flows in and through their platforms to be mined and in some cases participate in the mining. As a result, nearly everything that is done on the internet is tracked, analyzed, stored, and then used for a variety of purposes,” Chayko writes.

Google Accumulates Power
In May of this year, Steve Kroft of the TV news magazine 60 Minutes reported on the power of Google and critics who say the company, worth three quarters of a trillion dollars, is stifling competition. Google, which is owned by the holding company Alphabet, went public in 2004. It has also bought more than 200 companies including YouTube, the largest video platform, and Android, which runs 80% of smartphones.

In the 60 Minutes story, Gary Reback, a well-known antitrust lawyer, says Google is a monopoly. He says it’s a monopoly not only in search, but also other industries such as online advertising. Plus, Google accumulates information about users and sells that information to advertisers. He points out that people tell search engines more than they tell their spouses, giving Google a “mind-boggling degree of control over our entire society.”

The Business Insider reports Google is also a major player in the news industry, surpassing Facebook last year as “the leading source of traffic to news publishers’ websites according to Chartbeat…the majority of traffic to publishers’ websites from mobile devices.”

Google Dominates its Competition
Also, in May, the Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Mims wrote about the growing demand to break up the monopolies of Google, Facebook, and Amazon. He writes, “…as they consolidate control of their markets, negative consequences for innovation and competition are becoming evident.”

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Google search results for “Mexican restaurants near me” showing Google information at the top of the first page

Jonathan Taplin, a digital media expert, says in the 60 Minutes story that Google has no real competition because it has 90% of the search market and Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, has 2%. The co-founder of Yelp, Jeremy Stoppelman, points out that Google has changed its search results over the years so that instead of returning the best information from around the internet, results at the top of the first page are often from Google properties. Google lists results from its own data first such as maps, restaurant reviews, shopping, and travel information. This is especially important when many users are viewing results on the small screen of a mobile phone.

Google Faces Regulation
Google has been fined by the European Union for anticompetitive actions. Over the summer, the EU slapped Google with a $5 billion fine. According to the Business Insider, the EU ordered Google to stop using its Android operating system to block competitors. Google is appealing that fine. Last year, the EU fined Google $2.7 billion for illegally promoting its shopping search results over its competitors.

The U.S. government should follow the example of the EU and provide more oversight of Google and other tech giants. It’s clear that Google is a powerful force in society, and with the company’s dominance comes the need for transparency and accountability. Recently, Google, Facebook, and Twitter have been called to testify and answer questions at U.S. Congressional hearings regarding Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. An Axios article by David McCabe had more ideas on how the government could provide oversight:

  • Require Google to release more information regarding its algorithms
  • Make it easier to sue big tech companies like Google
  • Designate it as a “common carrier” which would allow the government to appoint a body to oversee Google

All of these options should be considered, and more should be done to make sure Google and other powerful tech companies do not wield too much influence over our lives without our knowledge and consent. It should be noted that I relied heavily on Google to research this blog post.

Crowdsourcing is Key in my Social Media Based Business

Before I discuss crowdsourcing and its necessity in my social media based, direct sales business, let me give a bit of background.  I work for Vantel Pearls as an independent consultant and team leader.  This company began as an in-home party sales company much like Tupperware or Thirty-One Gifts.  However, with Facebook’s invent of the Live Video Streaming feature, Vantel Pearls consultants began to take their parties from the living room to the live video platform, thus allowing them to reach an audience well outside of their local social circle.

During my live videos, the customer makes a purchase, selects the oyster they would like to open, and I shuck the oyster, live, to reveal the pearl inside.  That pearl is then sent to our home office to be set into the jewelry piece they selected and they will receive their jewelry in 2-3 weeks via US Mail.  It may seem simple – Hit the “Go Live” button and voila, everyone in the USA sees your party, hops on, and makes a purchase!  Right?  Well, no.  As a matter of fact, Facebook algorithms make it virtually impossible to reach more than a small handful of even your Facebook friend’s list, much less those outside of your circle.  This is what makes crowdsourcing so important in my business.

Mary Chayco’s book SuperConnected: The Internet, Digital Media, & Techno-Social Life discusses crowdsourcing in depth in Chapter 4.  She says, ” Online attention can take the shape of a single glance at a photo or a more active step: a like, a follow, a share, a comment” (76).  It takes time and effort to build a social media presence.  My business began with my local social circle and a select few of my Facebook friends who had interest in the product and experience I was selling.  I encouraged those friends to host a party with me; they became the “hostess” with the promise of earning free jewelry based upon the purchases made by their friends and family (their circle).  They invited these friends and family members to the party and by doing so, increased my “circle” a bit more.

During my live parties, I spend time engaging with my customers and making sure they are having fun.  I wear silly hats, play games, bring on special guests and offer prizes to buyers as well as to people who SHARE my video on their personal pages.

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Image from: Grad School Pearl Girl VIPs Group Page

By having them comment a phrase with the hashtag sign in front of it  (#Just1morepearl),  I am able to randomly choose a “Share Winner” though FB feature called “Woobox.”  I ask that they make all shares public so that I can verify the share was made once the winner is chosen.

Mary Chayco says, “This is, indeed, a kind of economy, and it is one that has come to matter to many of us.  Attention is attracted as something shared is acknowledged online.  A kind of compensation follows in the form of likes, follows and comments.  More tangible rewards like social connections, jobs, and money can even follow” (76).  Facebook allows me to keep track of likes, shares, and follows via “Insights” that can be found on my Facebook Business Page.  It keeps track of the trends week-by-week so I can see the ebbs and flows in the number of people who are seeing and interacting with my page.

Mary Chayco points out that, “Attention online is subject to increasing returns.  That is, the more one has of it, the easier it is to get more.  …To succeed in such an economy, it helps to create or re-mix attention getting content and then to rapidly capitalize on bursts of attention as soon as they occur in hopes they will follow back and engage in return” (76).  This is something I find myself doing often.  When I change the times I go live, or the prizes I give away on a given night, sometimes my live viewers will jump dramatically.  When they do, I immediately take that cue to mention liking and following my page, joining my VIP group, or signing up to receive my text notifications.  I rev up the energy, start singing – anything to get those people to take it one step further and like or follow my page in hopes that they will, over time, see me pop up in their feed and ultimately, become interested enough to make a purchase.

However, all of this has been more that I can do alone.  Around Christmas, I enlisted the help of four “Admins” to help me run my Facebook Business and VIP pages.  These four individuals are responsible for making posts to increase interaction on my pages during times when I am not live, booting trolls from my live videos who, as Mary Chaco describes them, are “individuals who… “hijack”…and provide extreme, irrelevant responses in an attempt to pull focus away from the…original intent” (74), and sharing my live videos in groups to increase viewers.  I suppose you could say I outsourced crowdsourcing.

In March, Vantel Pearls sent me to Rivera Maya, Mexico in an all expense paid trip for being in the 125 top in sales.  My gratitude went to my customers, because, without their constant shares, post interactions, and purchases, I would not have a business.  While I am certainly not famous nor the absolute top seller in the company, I count my business a success because of my customers’, Admins’, followers’ willingness to share me with their friends and family – their willingness to crowdsource!

Blogging: Past Experiences and Article Reflection

Past Experiences with Blogging

I discovered my passion for web writing/editing back in the fall of 2013 when I began taking online Professional Communications courses through Fox Valley Technical College. To hit the ground running, I created two blogs of my own. First, I created a Milwaukee Brewers blog called Barrel Man’s Brew Blog. Shortly thereafter, I created a professional-advice blog called Positivity and Professionalism. Though clearly dated, the blogs are still live:

Barrel Man’s Brew Blog

Positivity and Professionalism

I enjoyed maintaining these blogs, as it was solid “beginner” experience for me in my new field. However, I found them to be time-consuming, possibly because I was trying too hard to create “perfect” content out of the gates. As a result, I most actively blogged while I was only working part-time.

The time factor is the primary reason the two blogs have become stagnant. However, having gained significant personal and professional experience over the past few years, perhaps I could rekindle my bloggership while hopefully being more efficient and responsible with my content creation/management.

“What Blogging Has Become” by Robinson Meyer

I enjoyed reading this article while learning about Medium, a company I was previously unfamiliar with. In fact, I learned that Medium created Blogger, the blogging platform of Barrel Man’s Brew Blog.

Though I enjoyed this article, I’ll admit I’m saddened by its primary message. Meyer insists that blogging is dead, old news, a thing of the past, etc. However, I’m not specifically offended by Meyer’s words, as it’s one person’s opinion at its core. Instead, I’m disappointed that, well…he might be right. Upon further review, it seems many other internet voices agree with that of Meyer, whose post might reflect a trending, collective viewpoint on bloggerhood. Darn it. Just when I was considering a blog reboot!

Unless I’m misunderstanding the content, I believe Meyer is explaining how blogs were so prevalent that they became the status quo of internet content, or the new “normal”. Furthermore, with blogs becoming increasingly prevalent across the web, it’s as though bloggers spread a message to the effect of “This is the type of internet content that appeals to the masses in the 21st century. Deal with it!”

As a result, it seems many electronic newspapers, magazines, and journals have adopted a “bloggistic” writing style to stay current and relevant. Accordingly, traditional journal-type blogs are no longer common because the majority of internet content contains a blog-like formula. In short, blogs are no longer cool and trendy, since everyone is blogging, even if they don’t realize it.

Your feedback is welcome, as I am not sure I’ve grasped the intended message of this article.

Thank you!

Jeff

From Mommy Blogs to YouTube Vlogs

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Heather Armstrong (Dooce.com), courtesy of ProBlogger

I began reading blogs when I was a technical writer in Fargo, ND, in the early 2000s. Professionally, I followed some technical communication blogs, and personally, I read a handful of “mommy blogs”, one of which was the famous Dooce.com (Heather Armstrong), who has gone on to write several books about her experiences with mental illness and parenting. I still read a few of those lifestyle blogs, but many of the bloggers quit blogging after five years or so. I also had a personal blog for about six months where I mostly recorded my thoughts and observations for the day or week. I quit because it felt odd when people started commenting on my posts.

According to Nardi et al (2004), people are motivated to blog for five reasons: 1) to document their lives; 2) as a form of commenting on events; 3) as a way to process topics (catharsis); 4) to figure out how they feel about a topic (“thinking with computers”); 5) to build community with like-minded individuals (p. 43-45). My personal blog was a version of motivations 1, 3, and 4, and the other blogs I read were for similar reasons. I agree that these are reasonable motivations and that many bloggers touch on all five of those motivations at some point in their publication history.

When I began reading blogs, most of the bloggers posted at least several times a week. As their blogs grew their audience and perhaps the bloggers’ personal lives became more complicated as a result of that, their postings became less frequent, which is also a trend that Nardi et al (2004) note; they call it “blog burnout” (p. 42).

Nardi et al’s article “Why We Blog” was published in 2004, and a considerable change has occurred in that 14 years. Kissane (2016) chronicles the five most important trends in blogging include: 1) the end of the blogger and the advent of the influencer; 2) the size of posts becoming longer and more substantive; 3) removing or at least responding less to viewers’ comments; 4) incorporating more and better graphics; 5) measuring how long viewers stay on the site versus whether they visit the site. I definitely see these trends happening. Though I watch more YouTube now than I do read blogs, I hear more and more people refer to themselves as “influencers” or “creators.” Graphics have definitely become more elaborate, and I know that Google/YouTube provide tools for users to perform data analytics, which tell creators how long people are staying on specific pages or videos. I’m not sure I see the trend of fewer comments, but I know some creators choose not to reply to comments or even to block or remove distasteful content (troll behavior).

To have an online presence, be it blog or vlog, influencers must stay up-to-date on technological trends and essentially become mini producers. They have to know how to edit, tag, add music, know the rules around adding content (like music), keep on top of comments, police the comment community, and keep content fresh. Several of the big YouTubers have management teams, and more advertisers are recruiting these influencers to help sell products. That’s an entirely other can of worms regarding ethics and rules.

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!

Access to Health Care Information for Non-English Speakers

My final paper was inspired by one of my recent blog posts about digital literacy across cultures.  Digital literacy plays an essential role in how groups of all types of people access information.  My paper explores how non-English speakers access to public health information compare to the homeless.  Both are sensitive groups in America that would benefit from increased digital literacy.  This paper compares and contrasts how they are able to receive information.  It also explores two ways technical communication can be used to improve non-English speakers access to public health communication.  The primary is the use of public libraries and the subsequent will be through the use of English speaking helpers who help the non-English speakers gain access to jobs and information.

I wanted to compare homeless and non-English speaking communities because they have similarities and differences.  Some non-English speakers may also be members of the homeless community. Both populations tend to be sensitive due to lack of access to medical care, access to technology and both face a variety of challenges in their daily lives.  Both groups lack traditional communication tools which can hinder their access to health care information.

My main finding was the best way to get non-English speakers access to public health related information was to help them help themselves.  Public libraries are a great free resource to information, computers and internet access. One tool I found very handle was Google’s translate tool.  You can either type or copy and paste in text and select the output language.  This could be an easy way for a non-English speaker to translate their own health information to their native language without having to rely on others or a simplified version.

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Figure 1. Translate.Google.com

What I remember from going into a public library as a child is that the computers were set up with the library website as the homepage.  I was interested in looking at different websites for different towns to see what type of language support if any was available.  I was pleasantly surprised by my hometown library website.  There was a orange button in the lower right hand corner that hovers as the page moves.  It is a link to translate the page.  This is a great resource for non-English speakers.  It makes it easy for them to learn where to click to have the information translated into their own language.

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Figure 2. ecpubliclibrary.info

The conclusion I came to was the best way to help others would be to teach them to use technology, teach them where and when they can find access and help and encourage them to learn.  As non-English speakers become more comfortable with technology they will be able to find more resources on line for public health information but it will also improve other aspects of their life.  They could even learn English through a website in their native language making things much easier.  This could help them increase their job skills and potentially find a higher paying job as well which could also increase their access to health care information.

Blending 70s and modern tech

While I was looking for sources for my article that discussed the military’s use of emerging communications and technology, I found this article from the Duffel Blog, which is the military’s version of The Onion. 

The article, “Navy Issues Tablets to Prepare Sailors For Careers Working With 1970s Electronics” isn’t wrong. In fact, the system I was trained the maintain, the AN/SLQ-32, was developed in the 1970s.

Duffel Blog “quoted” the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens: ““This is a cost effective way to replace the two books we issue at boot camp and it will also streamline the training process so recruits can spend more time folding clothes.”

Also true. And yes, I spent a lot of time in boot camp folding and ironing clothes. These mundane tasks are given to teach recruits to pay attention to details. Most of boot camp is designed around that purpose, actually.

However, while issuing tablets to Navy recruits can generate some funny stories, it signals a huge change in the service: audience analysis. Military service is often categorized by blind obedience, but the Navy is moving away from that philosophy. Leaders are encouraged to explain the “why” behind orders. And the military is creating training methods and knowledge management systems that mimic the devices and apps digital natives are already familiar with.

When the news about Navy boot camp issuing tablets to recruits, I joined in the ribbing around the ship that new recruits were spoiled. However, reading the story again through my technical and professional communication lens, I can appreciate Stevens’ revolutionary idea and I applaud him for making it happen. Because several of his salty peers would have dismissed the idea the way I originally did.

In addition to looking at new technology, I also examined the military’s use of social network sites. Overall, the military encourages servicemembers to use social media for its positive benefits, like keeping in touch while deployed. The military has even created its own knock-off version of Facebook. YouTube, Blogger, and Wikipedia. However, the military is still working on negating the negative aspects of social media: OPSEC violations and harassment.

Speaking of OPSEC. Check out this sweet declassified report I found.

Finally, I examined how technology was changing warfare tactics. I found a source that talked about Russia spending a lot of money to create #fakenews when it annexed Crimea in 2014. #shockedsaidnoone

However, #fakenews will be an issue for incoming servicemembers because multiple researchers found today’s students aren’t very good at discerning fact from fiction online.

Overall, I assessed the military’s use of technology and emerging communication methods as on the right track but with room for improvement.

Gatekeepers

This course has helped given me a different perspective on digital literacy. Looking at the speed at which technology is being created, I anticipate I will lose my touch if I were to even step away for a second. I can also imagine there will be much to talk about with the repeal of net neutrality in the next course.

For my final paper I chose to focus on social media and how it can be used to improve disaster relief situations. In my paper I started by revisiting the argument between Andrew and David, and looked their argument on Gatekeeping vs. Amateurs. I found that certain processes in disaster relief thrive better with amateurs and some better with gatekeepers.

In one paper I found, a crowdsourcing software implementation, similar to Uber, helped match people who were in need of help with people who needed help (Murali et al., 2016). This can be especially useful when disaster relief may not even be scheduled, but people are able to offer assistance to each other. The most interesting thing I found, though, was that in using crowdsourcing software, we mostly focus on people who are amateurs using the system, but the dynamic of a gatekeeper still does exist within the software. In the case I found the software punishes or rewards people who behave as expected. Additionally, people can be rated and this rating can be viewed by others. This is all to deter misuse and exploitation of the system. At this point we rely on whether or not the design and functionality actually work well enough to maintain a proper workflow so that as many victims get help from volunteers as possible.
I also tried to focus on how social media in the papers I looked at used different levels of communication as stated by Rheingold. I specifically looked at different levels of collective action and how certain applications may support networking, coordination, cooperation, and collaboration (Rheingold, 2014, pp. 153-154). I found that most applications these days are achieving a collaborative level of collective action.

I also wanted to quickly share some of the data from my case study. I did my case study on Equifax and used Twitter and Google’s Natural Language API to generate some meaningful data for my study. The Google API focuses on Sentiment which is basically how positive or negative the words used in a sentence are. I calculated average sentiment per tweet. I then used a free tool called Tableau to visualize tweets made by Equifax over time. I recommend Tableau for anyone who needs to make a chart and share it quickly, I found it about as good as any paid ones I have used in the past.

TwitterEquifax

Twitter Equifax Data

https://public.tableau.com/profile/miriam6169#!/vizhome/EquifaxData/Story1

References

Murali, S., Krishnapriya, V., Thomas, A. (2016). Crowdsourcing for disaster relief: A multi-platform model. 2016 IEEE Distributed Computing, VLSI, Electrical Circuits and Robotics (DISCOVER), pp. 264-268. doi: 10.1109/DISCOVER.2016.7806269

Rheingold, H. (2012). Net Smart. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Digital Literacy Across Cultures

This week I found an interesting connection between  Chapter 7: Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures in Spilka’s (2010) Digital Literacy for Technical Communication and the workplace. Spilka discusses that accessing and understanding digital media in some communication settings is one meaning of digital literacy. The chapter specifically focuses on the US EPA (EPA) and the Mexican Counterpart Semarnat.

I work for a state agency in the natural resources division.  Specifically  public dining water regulation.  This chapter made me think about the audience we had while regulating drinking water quality and how culture plays a part in who has access to the information and what information is available.

There are a few ways the public can receive heath information about possible contaminates in their drinking water.  They could initiate the gathering of information by accessing our website.  A significant amount of information is available and many  publications are available in PDF form to save or print.  The other way they could gather information is if they work at a business with drinking water issues and see postings in the break room and by faucets or fountains.  They also could go to a number of local businesses such as a church, bar or restaurant and find the same posted information.

Our publications have been created to include multiple versions for some of the hot topic issues such as lead and lead.  Both brochures are available in English, Spanish and Hmong.


Image: dnr.wi.gov

Another way we offer multi language support is through our customer service lines.  You can talk to someone on the phone, a chat through the website, or email in your questions.  All three of these services are available in English, Spanish or Hmong.

The main idea I had while thinking about this post was what happens when someone is no longer seeking this information out but a sensitive population that is unable to access this information due to cultural issues.  It is no secret that we have undocumented workers in Wisconsin.  If one of these undocumented workers work at a location with water contamination issues such as nitrates it may be difficult for them to understand they are at risk if the information is not given to them.

When there is a specific contaminate violation often times  businesses have to post a public notice that alerts the consumers to the public health risk.  While we do provide language in the violation that if they have 5% or more non English speaking consumers they also need to post in the most common language.  What percentage of these at risk non English speaking consumers will actually receive this information?

Further digging on our website came up with a number of resources specifically to translation and public notices.  These are great resources for businesses that need to public notice but I still feel like not all at risk consumes get the same amount of information as their English speaking counterparts.

Cross-Cultural Communication

Although we have built communication bridges across the ocean, the cultural differences in our adaptation remain unique in each cultural context.  Accommodating these barriers has proven to be one of the most difficult and complex tasks I have encountered.

I enjoyed looking at the different emails given by Barry Thatcher to the team in Mexico (Spilka, 2010, pp. 172-173).  It is evident that the emails are much more formal in Mexico than in the USA for business relations.  Beyond formalities, it is evident that the revised email follows some cultural process that just doesn’t exist in our culture.  Re-introducing myself in an email to someone would feel very awkward, especially if we’ve been communicating for a while.

world-map-large

Several times I have been in charge of managing an offshore team.  Many of the areas we have employed the teams from have very different “hierarchical and interpersonal values” (Spilka, 2010, p. 170).  Depending on the culture, the workers may be either too proud or too scared to communicate effectively.  When email is one of the main forms of communication, this can be very problematic.  The biggest issue I encounter is that questions that should be asked are not asked.  Sometimes I will need to take Barry Thatcher’s approach by formalizing an email that shows respect.  Other times I will need to show that I am approachable and accessible for them to communicate as a peer rather than a manager.  If we do have someone from the same cultural background locally we will sometimes employ them to help build the relationship.

I have travelled to meet the offshore team a few times.  It’s funny that even though technology has given us so much, travelling to meet and break some bread with offshore teams builds this relationship better than any email has ever done.  Even communicating with team mates across the USA is helped by being able to put a face to a name.  Bernadette Longo states that “People value human relations” (Spilka, 2010, p. 156).  This is evident in this case.

Barry Thatcher also examines cultural differences in layout and composition of a website.  Almost a decade ago I studied abroad in South Korea.  I remember trying to navigate the websites there and it was almost impossible.  Even if I was able to translate the page, the cultural differences in layout and process were much different.  I had also wanted to use the popular social media site, Cyworld, but was quickly denied because it required a Korean Social Security number.  Finding the correct websites were also difficult without the ability to read or write in Korean.  Although Google could bring up some results, the cultural knowledge was mostly inaccessible.

To try to accommodate communication gaps across cultures, my company has its own CMS specifically for different cultures.  Each user will have their own culture profile configured, and when they look up templates for documents, they will be specific to the region they are located in.  If they are creating a document to be distributed in a different country, they can retrieve the document for that specified culture.  This approach seems to embrace the fact that we all have different approaches to how we communicate digitally.  At the same time, I cannot imagine having to maintain that system.  Possibly, it may also create a sense of exclusion rather than inclusion for certain contexts.

Right now, the solution for cultural divides seem more human than machine.  I can’t really see this changing either, as cultural understanding requires empathy, and is a dynamic being.

 

11/16/2017 Edit:

Attaching some examples of emails from other cultures. The one on the left is an email to my husband from some Brazilian Vendors, and the one on the right is from Spanish vendors. It’s interesting to note the formality differences in the messages. 

Siestas by the sea and the importance of empathy

This summer, I briefly worked with the captain of ARC Almirante Padilla FM-51 during a multi-national exercise. During some town time, he told us that Colombia’s coastal cities, like his hometown of Cartagena, take mid-day siestas and businesses are often closed. Unfortunately, the Colombian navy does not siesta during lunch. The captain said sometimes this is frustrating when he wants to use his lunch break to run errands but all the local businesses are closed. He also pointed out that Colombia’s inland cities, like its capital Bogota, don’t siesta either.

ARC Padilla

ARC Padilla FM-51

Others asked the ship captain about Colombian food and the weather. No one asked about business communication practices. I don’t know how much value the Colombians place on e-mail communication, but is likely not as high as Americans. In Barry Thatcher’s (2010) essay “Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures,” he pointed out Colombia is the only Latin American country that considers e-mail as an “in-writing” agreement and only if the senders and receivers can be verified (p. 182).

This week’s readings in Rachel Spilka’s (2010) anthology Digital Literacy for Technical Communication reminded me of working with the Colombian captain for several reasons.

  • Bernadette Longo (2010) noted in her essay “Human + Machine Culture” that “people value human relations. We want to feel connected to other people” (p. 156). She also observed that “since the 1980s, our interactions with people have become more and more mediated by electronic devices” (p. 156). I am glad my colleagues and I took the opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation. After reading Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology & Less From Each Other, interpersonal communication skills are not something to take for granted.

 

  • Thatcher (2010) pointed out that Americans tend to assume the rest of the world operates the same way we do; however, many countries, especially Latin American ones, tend to value interpersonal values more than we do (pp. 170-171). Hearing that some countries still value siestas is a good reminder not to take everything so seriously.

I am glad my colleagues and I took the opportunity to learn more about Colombia because it added to my “empathy bank,” so to speak. Ann M. Blakeslee (2010) conducted case studies with five technical communicators for her essay “Addressing Audiences in a Digital Age.” She learned only half of the writers were actually able to communicate with their audiences to learn what their preferences are (p. 208). The other writers were prevented from having direct contact with their customers and only received second-hand information from other company employees (p. 208).

In addition to direct customer communication, the technical writers used personas, trouble call logs, and user reviews and feedback forums to perform audience analyses (Blakeslee, 2010, pp. 207-210). These practices also contribute to the overall empathy levels of the technical communicators Blakeslee (2010) surveyed. I think Steve Krug (2014), who wrote Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability said it best: “Empathy is virtually a professional requirement for usability work” (loc. 2,627).

So my goals this week are:

  1. Take opportunities to communicate face-to-face instead of through electronic means.
  2. Continue to use empathy in my decision making.
  3. Nap.

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

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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.

Rhetoric around the house

Dave Clark (2010) had a hard time finding a good definition of “technology in his essay “Shaped and Shaping Tools.” I feel confident seven years later academia has caught up and crafted a definition of technology that includes rhetoric. Because around my house, the non-humans are more adept at persuasive discourse than the human. Here’s my list, starting from the top:

1. Socks. I learned watching the Canadian Broadcasting documentary The Lion in Your Living Rooma cat’s meow is the same frequency as a baby’s cry. So Socks uses pathos to express his desires. Here he is asking to go outside.

2. Roomba. My vacuuming robot would be a great example of rhetorical technology because she uses ethos, pathos, and logos to communication and she’s not nearly as demanding as the cat. I’ll tell you how she accomplishes this using actor-network theory.

Clark (2010) touched on actor-network theory toward the end of his essay. I think actor-network is important to the discussion of rhetoric and technology because the theory states that “almost all of our interactions with other people are mediated through objects of one kind or another” according to John Law (1992) in “Notes on the Theory of the Actor-Network: Ordering, Strategy and Heterogeneity (p. 381). In 1992, Law (1992) used an example of an overhead projector to make his point of how things mediate communication (p. 382). Today, Law (2010) would have several examples to chose from, including Twitter which was Clark’s (2010) “current techno-rhetorical obsession” in 2009 (p. 86).

I think Roomba shows some advancements in rhetorical technology because she communicates directly with the user; her communications are not mediated. Her ethical appeal is derived from the fact that she is capable cleaner. Some friends and recommended Roomba, but we were skeptical because of the $600 price tag, but she was worth the investment. Before Roomba joined us, the house needed to be vacuumed at least weekly to keep up with the dog’s shedding. I see Roomba’s logical appeal every time I empty her bin and dump out all the dog hair and cat litter she’s collected around the house. Roomba appeals to me emotionally, too,  because I associate her with positive experiences. After she completes a job, her associated cell phone app generates a map that shows me where she cleaned.

RoombaMap

Roomba’s success is due to the fact that her designers at iRobot did not just build a vacuuming robot, but they considered the other actors who would interact with the robot. In Roomba’s case, the other actors are people of varying technical backgrounds. The app offers written, photographic and video demonstrations on how to troubleshoot and conduct routine maintenance. And Roomba’s debris extractors are designed so the user cannot put them back in the wrong positions.

Hopefully, products like Roomba can help researchers like Clark (2010) better define technology and how products can use rhetoric to provide a better experience for consumers.

3. Husband. Does not use ethos, pathos, or logos, but still somehow manages to get his way … sometimes.