Category Archives: mobile

The story of the broccoli recipe

While reading the Salvo and Rosinski “Information Design” chapter a note that was written by a previous borrower of the book stuck out to me, the note said “F***ING CREEPY” and was written next to a paragraph that describes the following scenario.

“Imagine that a father with children sent the request for “broccoli” into a search engine, and imagine how his results might be improved if the search engine recognized that he was, first of all, at a home computer; such recognition might adjust the parameters of the search. Add that he is searching from a computer located in the kitchen at 5pm, which the terminal knows  because all telephony connections are blocked between 6:30pm and 8:00pm by the user’s request. So the database search interface now restricts the search term “broccoli” to recipes that take an hour or less to prepare. The same search from the same place made on another day at 6:00pm would eliminate all the recipes that take longer than 30 minutes to prepare.” p. 123

broccoli.jpg

Image from https://www.thespruceeats.com/sauteed-broccoli-482862

I don’t think we are too far off from this scenario being real. Marketers know more and more about where we are, what we’re searching, buying, researching than ever before. As technology improves, there are more checks and balances being worked into systems to allow users to choose to block access to personal data. But this example illustrates the potential that search engines can, and often are, using information that is readily available (read: collected by the engine itself based on our habits) to provide more relevant search results for users.

Think of sponsored ads for a moment. When was the last time you were reading a news article or browsing the web and had an ad show up that was for a product you’ve been considering purchasing? Earlier I was browsing American Eagle for new fall sweaters. I ended up not purchasing anything, and left the web page. About an hour later I clicked on an article on CNN that was about young voter turnout. And sure enough, the advertisement on my screen was featuring the American Eagle items I had just previously looked at.

American Eagle

Image from CNN.

Because of my browsing history, the advertisers knew that I was looking at American Eagle, was interested in purchasing something, and ultimately didn’t. So I’m the perfect person to show their ad to. To test it, I had my friend pull up the same article to see if she got the same advertisement, she didn’t. Her advertisement was a DSW ad highlighting winter boots.

So is scenario of the broccoli recipe the future? If so, what role will technical communicators have in creating that online space? And how will this changing landscape redefine what a technical communicator is? As Salvo and Rosinski say, “Effective technical communication has never been simply about writing clearly, but rather, about effectively organizing written communication for future reference and application” (p. 123). As the technological world continues to grow how will all this information be managed and what check and balances will be put in place for users to restrict their machines from knowing all the information presented in the broccoli story?

Does arranging a Holiday Party require collective action?

Scott Kushner, in his article “Read Only: The persistence of lurking in Web 2.0,” discussed the idea that social media requires participation yet, in reality most social media users don’t participate. This non-participation online is referred to as lurking, which is that these people receive online communication but they are not contributing. This concept of non-participation reminded me of Rheingold’s discussion on “collective action” in the online world. Rheingold separates collective action into three categories: cooperation, coordination, and collaboration (p. 153).

Cooperation and Lurking

This idea of lurking from Kushner’s article I believe fits into the “cooperation” category of collective action that Rheingold discusses. Lurkers are social media participants, who use the applications and learn about what other people are doing, celebrating, and posting but who do not leave a trace that they have seen the content. Think of Facebook for a moment, on my account I have 1,000+ “friends” who I am connected with via the app. These friends are posting status updates throughout the week, yet when I am scrolling through the app I only engage with content from some of my closest friends, which is probably around 5% of the content I see on my feed. In this example, I am cooperating with the online world, but I an not coordinating or collaborating in it. This goes both ways, for example in the last status update I posted on Facebook I had 145 people engage with it, of my 1,080 friends that is only 13% of my connections.

Coordination and Collaboration

I think that Rheingold’s concept of coordination and collaboration in the online world play into each other a bit. Back to my Facebook example, coordination comes into play in various parts of the application but especially in the Events sections of the application. Facebook makes it easier than ever to coordinate an event with your friends. Every year over the holidays I host a Christmas Party in my hometown for all of my high school friends, and each year I organize this party through a Facebook event. I enter the description, invite all of my friends, enter in the time and location, and boom – the invitation is sent. From there, my friends are able to RSVP (yes, no, maybe) and comment on the event page. Each year, on the event page, the first post (from me) is a poll that reads: What day is everyone available? Day with the most votes will be the party date. My friends can vote on the poll for when they’re available, and I look a few days later to select the final date. This event tool is incredibly helpful is helping coordinate with my network. If there is a location change or time change, I update the event and all attendees are notified.

Mosinee Christmas_Use

Photo from a Facebook event I hosted in 2016.

Although I think this example fits most strongly into the coordination bucket, I think there is Rheingold’s concept of collaboration at play too. Although it is limited to a small group of people, everyone is collaborating when they are completing the poll that is available in the group. As everyone participates in the poll, it becomes clear what day of the week works best for everyone and their collective answers help me make that decision.

Whether you’re lurking, cooperating, coordinator or collaborating online, you’re still participating. I haven’t run into a friend who doesn’t have a Facebook account where I need to go offline to talk to them about the Christmas Party, my friend group knows to expect this invitation as the holidays are approaching. I wonder if there will ever be a time where mass groups of people will stop tuning into social media; stop participating all together. If so, I hope there is another tool I can use to coordinate this event as easily as I currently do. So is this a from of collective action according to Rheingold, I would argue yes. In this particular example, there are very few individuals who are lurking as it’s encouraging group participation and most of the group is engaging with the event invite. 

Teenage Participatory Culture

We live in a participatory culture that is constantly demanding our attention and interaction. Teenagers are highly engaged in this culture and could be setting the expectations of social media engagement. A 2005 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project referenced in Howard Rheingold’s book, Net Smart, 87% of children between the ages of 12 and 17 were online. (Rheingold, 2014)  A more recent study by Pew Research Center, conducted in 2018 of teens ages 13-17, found that 95% of teens own or have access to a smart phone and that 45% say they are online on a near-constant basis.  Furthermore, those teens recently polled have gravitated to other social media platforms rather than Facebook.  Pew Research Center: Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018

 

correct pic

 

Facebook is no longer the predominant social media platform for teenagers, not even close.  While adults seem to be using Facebook still more frequently, I’ve noticed that changing.  Personally, I have started using YouTube and Instagram more than Facebook. My social media platform engagement change began because of my daughter.  However, I quickly understood the gravitation towards Instagram and YouTube.

 

Teenagers and now adults are becoming social media producers in many different ways.  We are constantly engaged in this participatory culture. In Net Smart, Howard Rheingold defines participatory culture as, “one in which a significant portion of the population, not just a small professional guild, can participate in the production of cultural materials ranging from encyclopedia entries to videos watched by millions.  And it is a culture populated by people who believe they have some degree of power.” (Rheingold, 2014)  One big outcome of this participatory culture is that web participants then become curators.

 

By the creation of media, consuming it, sharing it, and critiquing it, every web participant is actively engaging in this participatory culture.  There are many benefits or rewards to being involved in social media. Pew Research Center also questioned how teens are currently using social media but also questioned about the negative impacts.

 

participatory culture risks

 

From the data, it is obvious that there are some strong positive effects, but also some very serious negative effects.  To what degree is this participatory culture then more harmful than helpful? According to Howard Rheingold, those in these participatory cultures believe they have some degree of power.  (Rheingold, 2014)  However, from the Pew Research Center data, bullying and/or rumor spreading is the main concern of 27% of the teens who reported mostly negative experience with social media engagement.  This doesn’t indicate that the receiver of bullying feels that they have any power. To that point, in Howard Rheingold’s definition of participatory culture, I would change the part that states these people feel that they have power (in general) to interaction in our participatory culture gives us the illusion of power.  That’s not to say that individuals don’t actually have power in certain interactions, at certain moments.  However, to the degree that our culture changes, it opens up new ways to cause harm. Even the most influential celebrities get harassed and bullied on social media.  They have power in one aspect but then zero in the next.

 

Participatory cultural effects in our digital age create new challenges and I have a lot of concern for teenagers being able to cope with this constant interaction.  Considering 95% own or have access to a smart phone and 45% of them are online on a near-constant basis, according to the Pew Research data. The new technologies necessitate an adult understanding in order to help teenagers navigate in our participatory culture.  And to help us adults, too.

 

 

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).

 

 

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

Screenshot of available dating apps for iPhone.

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

Image: U Up? Podcast Cover Photo

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.  

Crowdsourcing, is it beneficial or harmful?

Social media channels exist because users (individuals, companies, organizations, etc) continue to post, share, like, and interact with content. Each user is actively participating in sharing their photos, status updates, locations, likes and dislikes with the world, collectively creating content for others to consume. But at what cost?

Mary Chayco’s book SuperConnected: The Internet, Digital Media, & Techno-Social Life discusses this idea of crowdsourcing, “Because the sum of the contributions of a group so often exceeds the contribution that any one of few people could produce, crowdsourcing can yield astonishing innovation” (p. 73). Examples like GoFundMe, Wikipedia, and Kickstarter are great examples of crowdsourcing content and money for the collective benefit. With crowdsourcing, GoFundMe can raise money for a cause, Wikipedia had detailed content for users to consume, and Kickstarter backs new, innovative products for consumers. In these instances, groups are emerging and sharing in common goals. However, what happens when content is being crowdsourced for individual accounts?

Think about Instagram for a moment. Content is being published at an increasingly quick rate and users with large followings are aiming to publish “on trend” posts. I follow a lot of comedy accounts and many of these accounts have feeds that look like this (@beigecardigan).

Instagram

Screenshot from the @beigecardigan Instagram account.

These accounts are sharing tweets or memes that other users created, published, and now this new account is getting the reward (the “likes”) for republishing it. The “credit” for the content is occasionally (but not always) included by keeping the Twitter username at the top of the post.  

Who is being exploited? Who is benefiting? Does it benefit the person who originally created the content? Maybe they are getting additional traffic to their page, but what if they are not credited? This type of content curation is clearly benefiting the owner of the account who is sharing other people’s original content. There is no need to be original – there’s already a world of entertaining content available at our fingertips.

And it’s not just individual social media users. Companies like Buzzfeed do the same thing regularly. For example, this article 23 Posts That Prove Millennials Really Are The Worst Generation is a collection of tumblr posts and tweets from individuals who commented on why millennials are the worst. Buzzfeed does credit the person (but you couldn’t tell if you weren’t looking, see red circle below). In this case, Buzzfeed is absolutely the one benefitting from this user content. By using other individual’s original content, they create an article, drive audiences to it from their social channels, and in turn advertisers pay them to post ads on their website.

Buzzfeed

Screenshot from Buzzfeed’s article: https://www.buzzfeed.com/katangus/tumblr-tweets-millennials

So is this a problem? Or just part of the social media expectation? Chayco says, “Online attention can take the shape of a simple glance at a photo or a more active step: a like, a follow, a share, a comment. But attention is a two-way street. In exchange for accumulating likes and follows, it is generally expected that one will like and follow in return, though not necessarily an even one-to-one exchange” (p.76). Is this type of content sharing the clearly uneven one-to-one exchange Chayco discusses? Is having your original content shared in a Buzzfeed article enough of an acknowledgement to the user as it is a benefit to Buzzfeed?  

The Monster We’ve Created

Cell Phone Monster

All I could think of while reading Kenichi Ishii’s article, Implications of Mobility: The Uses of Personal Communication Media in Everyday Life was, “This sounds a lot like present day American youth.” This research study was conducted between 2001-2003 in Japan, but I doubt their introverted culture had as much of an impact on their results as they’re letting on.

The article mentioned “32% of Japanese adolescents agreed with ‘I can easily start talking straight away to someone I do not know’, whereas 65% of their U.S. counterparts agreed (pg. 349)”. I understand American adolescents may be more socially skilled, but I believe this has little effect on their dependency on “mobile mail”, better known as texting.

It was also mentioned that, “Japanese youth increasingly seek to avoid conflict and friendships with deep involvement”, and that they practice “long term withdrawal from society” (pg. 349). My first reaction to this information was perhaps SMS messaging initially became more popular among Japanese adolescents than it did in the U.S. As a consequence, maybe they began seeing the negative effects of such convenient, impersonal communication sooner than we did, and had more time for it to penetrate their culture.

However, if this was the case American adolescents and youth still would have never become dependent on SMS. Especially considering their noted “superior” social abilities. I doubt dependency on SMS messaging would vary much across many cultures because it’s not a matter of cultural inclination, it’s a matter of convenience.

The contextual dimension of mobility (pg. 347) allowing non-business users freedom and privacy is in my opinion key to this situation. Convenience, privacy, and freedom from parent’s rules are what created and maintained adolescents’ interest in SMS. This reminds me of Sherry Tuttle’s warning about our desire to connect with each other on mobile devices replacing our desire to connect face to face.

This article speaks volumes about the monster mobile communication has created, and it’s even more interesting that it’s so old. Approximately 12 years later we have less control over mobile devices/communication, they take up increasingly more of our time through social media and it seems to be getting worse.

Adolescents, and students are no longer the primary users of SMS messaging; the addiction is as widely spread among adults. Many of the adolescents who grew up using social media are now young adults and its impact on their social development is an area of my personal interest. It’s also interesting the negative social effects of mobile technology were so obvious from the beginning.

It’s difficult to realize the bad habits you’re falling into while you’re in the situation, and I’m beginning to see the value of that quiet time Sherry Tuttle mentioned more than ever.

It’s Time to Talk- Mobile Etiquette

mobile use in public

In Kenichi Ishii’s article “Implications of Mobility: The Uses of Personal Communication Media in Everyday Life,” he broaches the topic mobile communications and relationships in everyday life. Specifically, one area he explores is the use of mobile communications in public areas. In general, Ishii found that mobile phone users are criticized for violating the implicit rules of public space. When thinking about these implicit rules in everyday life, it makes sense. We all have encountered times when we have witnessed loud or annoying phone conversations in public. Despite public cell phone use being something that everyone finds annoying, many people continue to do. Perhaps they do it to feel important, or less alone, but no matter the reason, for better or worse, these private conversations have an audience.

Everyday Occurrences

I have a coworker who frequently makes private cell phone calls at work. Even though she steps aside to a “private” area to makes these calls, there is little privacy. I’ve found out more about her mother’s health conditions, her sister’s financial problems and issues dealing with internet providers than I care to know. The first time I heard it happen I thought it was a little odd, but because it was about her mother’s health issues I figured it was situational. As it continued to happen, it was made clear that she doesn’t realize that these private conversations are very public. These are things that she normally would not share with me (or probably the majority of my coworkers), yet she seems oblivious to it. Its not that I’m trying to eavesdrop on her calls, but the one sided conversation is so apparent to anyone within ear shot.

The Facts

Luckily, Psychology Today has an explanation for why we find these conversations to annoying.  In part, its because cell phone conversations are generally louder than a face to face conversation. Forma and Kaplowitz found that cell phone conversations are 1.6 times louder than in person conversations– a slight difference, but noticeable nonetheless. Because its hard not to overhear, and the lack of respect this implies for the others around you is grating.

In addition to loudness, these conversations are irritating because they are intruding into our consciousnessLauren Emberson, a psychologist from Cornell University found that when you hear a live conversation, you know what everyone is saying because it’s all there for you to hear. In contrast, when you hear a cell phone conversation, you don’t know what the other person is saying, so your brain tries to piece it all together. Because this takes more mental energy than simply hearing both sides of the conversation, it leaves less energy to allocate to whatever else you might be doing.

When is it Okay or Not Okay to Use Cell Phones

A study from the Pew Research Center found about three-quarters of all adults, including those who do not use cellphones, say that it is “generally OK” to use cellphones in unavoidably public areas, such as when walking down the street, while on public transportation or while waiting in line. In contrast, they found that younger generations are more accepting of cell phone use in public. While the definition of “cell phone use” in this study was not clearly defined, it generally is presumed that it means holding a conversation rather than texting.

For instance, only half of young adults found it okay to use cell phones in restaurants, this activity was frowned upon by older generations. Places where cell phone use is considered unacceptable in both groups include family dinner, movie theaters or worship services.
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Enough is Enough: Cell Phone Crashing

Greg Benson had enough of annoying people talking loudly in public and decided to take things into his own hands. To fill a void in a layover in an airport he came up with the idea of “cell phone crashing”.  In “crashing” the prankster sits next to someone talking on their phone, and then proceed to fill in the gaps left in the one-sided conversation. When one person said “What should we have for dinner?” into the phone, he responded, “I don’t know. Steak and potatoes sound good.” pretending to talk on his own phone. The whole process is filmed with a camera hidden from afar as the hilarity ensues. While the video may give you a few laughs, it may also help you reconsider how public your cell phone conversations in public really are.

So, what do you think? Should mobile devices be banned in certain areas? Or is this an infringement on our rights? 

AnnoyingCellPhoneGuy

How to run a business as a technical communicator

Reading through various articles in the Technical Communication Quarterly, I am finding good nuggets of information on how to run my business on social media, as a technical communicator. Of course, the information that I found can be applied to one’s personal life, but since technical communicators are hoping to make a career with their writing, I will reiterate these points below, focusing solely on the business aspects.

Keep busy with social media

According to Ferro and Zachry’s article, “Technical Communication Unbound: Knowledge Work, Social Media, and Emergent Communicative Practices,” when using social media platforms for your business, there needs to be a “real-time monitoring of texts” and that you should be “monitor[ing] the technological landscape and be ready to integrate emergent types of online services” (p 7). Customers today expect a business to respond immediately to their messages or posts online, and if they do not get that, some of them will use social media to say how horrible the company’s customer service is. Depending on the business, responding to customers can be a full-time job.

Now, from analyzing other businesses’ social media platforms, I saw how they tried out new social media platforms, which they sometimes abandoned when either the company decided that they were not getting enough traffic from it, or they did not fully understand how to use that new platform to extend their business persona. It is always a good idea to try new technologies, as you never know which one will suit your business best. Once you try a new platform, even if you abandoned it, never take it down. I would suggest putting that abandoned platform on your website as a link and naming it an archive. While the content may be old to most, for those who are just coming across it now, it will be new to them.

Stay positive and audience-centered

Always keep your postings and messages positive. This way your company seems like a happy place and people will feel good reading the posts. There is already so much negative things on social media and elsewhere that reading something positive can boost someone’s day. Additionally, when a company posts a positive post, people are more likely to respond to it, as people want to continue this positive feeling. Ferro and Zachry wrote that “contributors…are motivated by the positive feelings associated with participating in a larger community” (p 9). I have certainly noticed in my business postings that if I write something positive, I receive more likes and more comments. (And if I post a positive video clip, I receive more sales).

By staying positive in posts, you are more likely to have “good sense, good moral character, and goodwill,” which Bowdon explained in her article, “Tweeting an Ethos: Emergency Messaging, Social Media, and Teaching Technical Communication,” is what you need to do to write good posts on social media (p 35). By focusing on these ideas, it makes sense that your posts will then be audience-centered, because you want to help your audience with whatever information that you think that they actually need, instead of just your company’s self-promotion.

If you can always put your customer first, thinking about what information that they are seeking, your company will come across positively by being helpful and customer-driven. I know that this is something I will have to work on too, as several of my own business postings are of self-promotion instead of being customer-centered.

Conclusion

Technical communicators can find jobs within a company or use their skills for their own businesses to ensure that their customers are happy because of the positive message that they read, their questions and concerns are addressed promptly, and that they always find audience-centered postings with the information that they are seeking instead of just a company’s self-promotion. On any social media platform, you can provide a link to your website, so there really is no need for self-promotion anyway. Many businesses, including my own, should always evaluate their own postings periodically to make sure that their messages are coming across positive and audience-centered. Moreover, we should continue to look new ways to interact and gain new customers through new technologies, as not everyone joins the same social media platforms, so it is good for business to try them all to see what works best for them.

How Influenced By Twitter/Facebook/Snapchat/Insta Are We?

keep-calm-and-stop-being-nosey-1

How well do I know the “technology” that has become the backbone of my existence? Are the programs that are the object(s) of my constant attention, primary tools of expressing myself, and preferred ways of communicating with friends and family structuring me in ways I’ve never realized?

I sat back and took a long hard look at this possibility, and the only way I could attempt to dissect it was to try and imagine how I’d behave without this “technology”. The issue is I’ve been heavily reliant on social media since 2004 (15 years old). I tried to remember how I expressed myself and communicated with friends before MySpace, as well as the way I used MySpace when I first joined.

Before MySpace, I met and built friendships with many people but when life separated us (ex. Changing schools, moving across town), we lost contact and I forgot about them. I wasn’t upset about loosing touch with these people, but I would think about them from time to time. However, I had no desire to keep tabs on every person I’d ever met for the rest of our lives regardless of our relationship.

Upon joining MySpace I was amazed to see profiles of old friends and neighbors I hadn’t seen in years. Aside from getting real time pictures and updates on their lives, I could also see what their siblings and parents were up to as well as their new friends. I began searching for and befriending these old friends and acquaintances to personally reconnect, and to snoop on their personal lives.

This completely evolved when Facebook became popular and people were constantly updating their statuses. I strategically designed my page to present myself in the most impressive fashion possible in sort of a pathetic attempt for people who hadn’t seen me in a while to think my life was better than theirs. I spent hours capturing the perfect pictures, and spent days piecing together clever statuses that supported the image I was promoting.

During the Facebook status update phase, I would scroll through my newsfeed looking for my “friends’” dirty laundry. I’d see couples getting married at 18 and 19 and get so jealous of the beautiful ceremonies and diamond rings. I’d later giggle and text my friends when they changed their relationship statuses to “It’s Complicated” and post long status updates about their marital issues.

Before privacy was a big deal, I even found my favorite C list actor and followed his move from Hawaii to California, his engagement to 3 porn stars, first marriage/divorce, and (more recently) second wife and 2 children. I even told him happy birthday on his real birthday and had a brief conversation with him. I also Facebook stalked his first wife where I learned about his male stripping career, and mistress he met on the job (who he’s married to now).

When my parent’s generation joined Facebook, I began to learn much more than I wanted about their personal lives and personalities. I saw my aunt’s ex-boyfriends, drunken pictures at “Old School” cookouts, and had them reporting my Facebook activity to my grandmother. For this reason, I stopped using Facebook as much and moved on to Instagram and Snapchat.

I mostly use Instagram and Snapchat to showcase how “awesome” my life is as terrible as that sounds. I only post videos and images that make me look interesting, attractive and outgoing while I search for the opposite on my friend’s/acquaintance’s pages. I use these sites to snoop and judge their lives for gossip with mutual friends. We justify our nosiness with “If they didn’t want anybody to know/see, they shouldn’t have posted it”.

As terrible as this is, social media has structured my life and personality. It has made me a nosey, judgmental, and vain person who looks to exploit other’s faults for my own validation. I can relate this to the Enquirer and tabloids of the early 2000’s harassment of  Brittany Spears. I also realize that I am not the only one, most people in my age group use these sites for the same reasons.

I recently remember reading that paparazzi make much less for celebrity photos because social media is a direct channel into their lives the same as everyone else. They make snooping and judging so convenient, effortless and common that people don’t even get paid for it the way they did before.

So to answer my question… Yes. Social media has structured my life, personality, and morals similarly to the rest of its long-term users. I am not proud of the habits I’ve developed, but realizing and accepting them is the only way to change. For the first time ever, I understand my grandmother’s condemnation of social media as a trashy “gossip column” that I shouldn’t be on.

Trying my best to not spoil the broth!

As a professional in the world of technical communication, I often wonder what my role really means for the organization.  When people ask me what I do, I often pause and respond with some generic phrase like, “I decipher geek speak for non-technical people”.  But, at times I am in the business of marketing our department to the rest of the organization.  At other times, I am compiling “How To Instructions” (when I can get away with it).  But I often wonder at what point in time does one cross the line between technical communicator, to support help, or even to technical subject matter experts (SMEs).   And this idealism off too many cooks in the kitchen seems to ring true from a technical communication standpoint.

cartoon

I am always asking questions and trying to drive out more information from technical SMEs.  In return I am cornered with negative responses and many people not understanding why I’m asking the questions I am asking.  Or, my favorite, telling me that no one actually needs to know that (because technical professionals are so good at putting into human terms what they really need to say.  But for me this is where Dicks (2010), identifies that technical communication is developing and changing in a number of different ways (p. 58).

I personally believe it is this change, this evolution that may be causing angst for many newer generation technical communicators. Many organizations have to spread out responsibilities and for some organizations; technical communication is a fairly new commodity (especially if they are not delivering some type of technological solution to the consumer world).  In the case at my organization, internal technical communication is fairly new and while our primary product is food related, technology is still at the core of our business functions.

I particularly find the following graphic interesting as well when it comes to this concept around both the change that technical communication is unfolding within organizations today and the correlation with “too many cooks in the kitchen”.

inforgraphic-learnmax

This graphic is based on products by LearnMax (2015), a company who specializes in technology training.  But for me it is the categories that truly resonate with the different areas of technical communication that I see quite often.

As technical communicators we need to have a baseline knowledge of what we are writing/communicating about.  Unfortunately we cannot always trust the SMEs to know what we need and why we need.  It’s this type of information that I believe drives technical communication.  Dicks (2010) further states, “reshaping [our] status will involve learning technologies and methodologies such as single sourcing and information, content, and knowledge management, and then optimizing information development of multiple formats and media” (pg. 55).

  • This statement not only aligns with the knowledge management aspect, but also with regard to the training aspect.
  • Optimizing our information for multiple formats hones in on this idea of enterprise mobile and writing for mobile device – not just shrinking our information to fit on mobile devices
  • We are also there for the customer – whether it is for an internal customer or an external customer.

Ultimately this all aligns with content development, as shown in the graphic above.  It should be our goal to customize our content not only for formats and media – but for our audience.  Dicks (2010) calls out the value of our role in the following four categories: “cost reduction, cost avoidance, revenue enhancement, intangible contributions” (p. 61).  But I bring us back to my original example in my own situation – of too many cooks in the kitchen and refining the role of technical communication within organizations.

For example, the Information Technology Help Desk was at one point responsible for preparing our department intranet pages.  The content, design, and layout was all brutal.  In an effort to formalize this channel as a communication tool, I focused heavily on design and updating the pages so they seemed more accessible and inviting to staff.  Unfortunately, I would say that this idea / change in ownership of job duties has been a constant struggle.  At one point this group never wanted to give anything up, and yet at time if it’s not perfect it is used as an excuse to pass the buck off onto someone else.

So while we can theoretically lay out for management on how technical communication can provide value to the organization, how do we show value to our colleagues who might be more concerned that we are stepping on their toes?

References

Dicks, S. (2010).  Digital Literacy for Technical Communication.   In R. Spilka (Ed.), The Effects of Digital Literacy on the Nature of Technical Communication Work, (pp. 51-81).  New York: Taylor & Francis.

How Inconsiderate!

snapchat-ghost

After reading “Social Network Sites: Definition, History and Scholarship” by Danah M. Boyd and Nicole B. Ellison, I couldn’t believe their definition of what a “social network site” actually was. I am taking into consideration this article is a seven year old opinion, (which is a bit fascinating because seven years isn’t incredibly long) and the concept of “social network/networking sites” is constantly evolving.

According to the article:

We define social network sites as web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system.

The authors also were sure to distinguish social “network” from social “networking” sites by pin-pointing, “Networking emphasizes relationship initiation, often between strangers”. Although social “network” sites allow users to meet strangers, the majority of users use “network” sites to maintain previously established relationships.

I personally understand, and agree with this distinction.

The article went on to elaborate that the “backbone” of SNSs are visible profiles that display a list of friends who are also registered users. Also, that after joining a SNSs, users are required to fill out personal information fields (age, sex location), and are encouraged to upload a profile photo. The authors emphasized that the public display of friends is a “crucial component” of SNSs, as well as public and private messaging.

However, aside from Instagram, Snapchat is my second most beloved social network site. For backup, Wikipedia also agrees that Snapchat is a social network/networking site (Not that it holds any credibility according to Andrew Keen, or perhaps the “credibility” is opportune in this situation). We can use our discretion and apply it to the “network” category in relation to this article, as Snapchat is DEFINITELY not a service designed to connect strangers.

For those who are unfamiliar, Snapchat is a self-destructive social media application that allows users to post time sensitive text and images. Users don’t have visible profiles, about me sections, or profile images. Snapchat does not publicly allow users to view each others “friends” or followers, allows no public comments among followers, features no profile images/avatars, and lists no personal information about users.

The concept behind Snapchat’s design was to create a more private photo/information sharing environment, and to relieve the pressures of capturing the perfect Kodak moment for static online images and videos. The fact that images will be deleted allows users to be less self conscious and more human, and this is honestly what draws me to the app.

There are many similar SNSs to Snapchat like Wickr, Clipchat, and Slingshot. The Self-destructive photo-sharing app is a movement, and will definitely evolve in the near future. For the record, Snapchat is incredibly successful and in May of last year users were sending 700 million photos and videos every day, and Snapchat stories were being viewed 500 million times per day. Snapchat is apparently worth between $10 to $20 billion dollars and is gaining new members every day.

This major player in SNSs does not apply to Boyd and Ellison’s article, and I’m expecting to see many other sites follow in their footsteps. The traditional Facebook, and semi-traditional Instagram have very significant purposes in user’s lives, but privacy is an issue as well as the pressure to be perfect. Snapchat eliminates both of those pressures, while delivering an even more intimate SNS experience.

Boyd, D., & Ellison, N. (2008). Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13, 210-230.

“Making it small”: Creating a valuable space on the Web

In the full text of the debate on Web 2.0 between Andrew Keen and David Weinberger, the two argue whether Web 2.0 is more like Disney or Kafka. While I agree that the Web is a chaotic place full of garbage, I find there is value to it for those who can distinguish between the valuable and insightful from the inane and redundant. The Web can be a giant time-suck if don’t know where to go and have created no “walls” to keep out the distractions and the chorus of competing voices. But I think most, if not all, users are able to do so by creating communities.

I think of it this way: when I left the small town of my youth for a large urban university, many people said, unhelpfully, “don’t get lost in the crowd!” But many people said something else: “You will make the university small for yourself.” This last comment was the more prescient. I moved into a dorm (one community), found a job (another community), joined the campus newspaper staff (another community) and had friends in other communities, and so on. I never found it unmanageable; in fact, I “made it small” by joining the groups that were most meaningful to me and that suited my purposes at the university at that time.

I think of the Web the same way: you “make it small” by doing several different things. First, you join the communities that are most meaningful to you. For myself, I value Facebook and LinkedIn. I have my network of “friends” on Facebook with whom I interact every day. This network consists mostly of new friends, old friends, friends from high school, coworkers and friends of friends. I limit views of my profile to friends, and I feel “safe” in this network, even though I know “safety” and “privacy” are illusory on the Web. But I know this, and I am careful what I post and comment on.

It’s the same with LinkedIn, although in a different realm. Some of the people whom I’ve “invited to become part of my network” or accepted their invitations are also Facebook friends, but most are current and former colleagues and people I’ve networked with over the years. There are even a few people in there whom I don’t know, and I don’t even know how we connected in the first place. I use LinkedIn very differently than I do Facebook in that I use it largely to generate business for my freelance work by networking with people who might want to hire me.

I also am the social media chair of the local chapter of the American Medical Writers Association, so I approve or decline membership in our group and occasionally post about an upcoming event or other topic. I’ve never posted anything else, and I’m much more guarded about doing so than on Facebook. Not because I feel unsafe but because the audience is professional, and I feel I’d have to have something uniquely insightful to post before I’d attempt to do so.

So, much of your ability to make the most out of an online community is understanding its audience and reach. Likewise, savvy people know that online-only “friends” or “contacts” on social networking sites control every aspect of how they appear to you (and vice versa). In other words, the man or woman “behind the curtain” may in fact be almost unrecognizable and unfamiliar in person. Thus, I think most adults know to exercise caution when dealing with people whom you have never met in person.

And I think we are, as a whole, becoming more and more savvy about the relationships and communities we participate in online, as well as more and more cautious about what lurks “out there.” In the last decade, we have amassed many a cautionary tale. But, as in “real life,” we can choose whom to be friends with and whom to listen to and communicate with. Our job is to “make the Web small” by effectively managing our exposure to different types of information from different sources and to understand that they are not all equal. If we can do that, the Web is an invaluable resource and a fantastic source of knowledge. In other words, yes, there are plenty of cockroaches, but you might not see them if you keep the light on.

Test blog #2: Social media a viable tool for dissemination of technical information – Van Beusekom

Elise Verzosa and Amy Hea’s article pointed out that social media often has negative connotations for students concerned that using it will undermine their academic lives and careers. These students are fearful that their university, employer or future employer will see their postings, and it will have ramifications for them, because once posts are up, they tend to take on a life of their own (eg, Anthony Weiner’s photo)..

Of course, their concerns are legitimate when it comes to posting photos and blurbs about their late-night escapades or hateful rants. But people who think that not posting photos of themselves or any information on social media will preserve their privacy have got it all wrong. Today, privacy is an illusion. I don’t have to go on Facebook to find out how old you are, where you live, where you work, where you go to school, who your neighbors are or how high your real estate taxes are. It’s all out there–and much more–for anyone to see.

But posting technical communication on social media is no threat, and I can’t understand why anyone would think otherwise. In fact, I see its usefulness every day on LinkedIn, where fellow professionals post how-tos, advice and other information to enhance both other people’s careers and their own. By making themselves an expert, they are positioning themselves to be seen as a trustworthy, authoritative source. Often, I find myself wondering how to do something (eg, how to remove chewing gum from upholstery) or why something is the way it is (why does my cat go outside only to turn around and want to be let back in 20 times a day?). I’m looking for practical advice (eg, how to get promoted) and personal stories from people who’ve been there (eg, how I got promoted). I’m getting married next year, so I’ve Googled things like “good processional music” and “Minneapolis catering” dozens of times lately.

I’ve also posted some promotional how-to articles on e-how for friends’ businesses (eg, a “how to clean and preserve your deck” article for a local deck-washing business). Of course, I often respond to other people’s how-to questions on different forums (eg, how do I display cupcakes at my wedding? “Try an acrylic cupcake tower.) I once posted a photo of my flower towers, a project I found on homedepot.com and did at home; a friend saw the photos and asked me how I made it, so I ended up posting step-by-step instructions. Anyone can do this, which brings me to the next point.

The caveat in using technical communication via social media is that it’s hard to be sure if the poster is a legitimate expert and not just someone out to make $25 for posting an article on e-how (I’m not sure what they pay now, but they used to pay per article). I find that it’s best to always verify the facts some other way, by checking out similar posts on other social media forums or Googling it. Not that I’m against using Wikipedia; I find a lot of useful stuff there, but I verify it elsewhere. I’m also always skeptical about the information found on sponsored sites.

It can be hard to get the information you need online because the Internet is so congested. I find Pinterest to be one of the top offenders when I’m searching for something in particular, because many people post photos or images of things on Pinterest without saying where they found them, so it’s a couple of wasted clicks when I could have possibly found a solid lead elsewhere. Plus, so often, they’re so old and out of date, they’ve outlived their usefulness.

Another way to be relatively sure of the soundness of the information is to use only trusted sites; I find academic institutions and well-known organizations to be pretty trustworthy. And I tend to rely on information from people with credentials versus without. For example, I am 100% confident I can trust a post on mayoclinic.com written by a doctor (although, chances are, someone else wrote it for him). On the other hand, I wouldn’t go on just any discussion board and take the medical advice of someone whose daughter’s husband’s second cousin once had the same symptoms.

All in all, I find that, as long as I take the time to drill down to the level of information I need and the trustworthiness I desire, I’m able to find what I need. And by posting valuable information to help others, I return the favor.

Special Agent Pigg

I had a tough time reading Pigg’s “Coordinating Constant Invention: Social media’s role in distributed work.”  Although I found the majority of her article to be convoluted and lacking conciseness, it was her observation of participants in a coffeehouse that I couldn’t look past.  I questioned everything from her description of the coffeehouse to the participants she used and how she chose them.  I will go through her process and ask the questions I had when reading Pigg’s article.

http://www.amsterdam-advisor.com

1-Pigg picked an independent coffeehouse, on major avenue, which links the university and government districts-

Q1-Where is this establishment?  Certainly people in Minnesota would have different habits from people in California which would have different habits from people in New York.  What season was it?  Again, this would dictate behaviors and which clientele frequented and stayed at this establishment. Why an independent coffeehouse?  Isn’t Starbucks the most prestigious coffeehouse?  Was the study looking for anti-establishments types that avoided chain restaurants?

http://www.tvtropes.org

2-Pigg observed for 6 weeks, 5 days a week, at varying times of the day-

Q2-Where these observation times random?  Did she do it in her spare time?  If she observed before work, after work, and sometimes on lunch or breaks, she would fail to see a true representation of people frequenting the coffeehouse.  Was there a systematic approach to observing the patrons?  Did she creep around and spy on people?  Did she sit in a corner?  Was she in the same spot every day or different spots at different times?  What happened when someone confronted the creepy lady that kept staring at people all the time?  Surely this would have altered people’s behavior.  The necessary explanation by Pigg to keep people from asking for her removal from the building would have changed their behavior.

Parature.com

3-Pigg selected four patrons that would be ideal case study participants-

Q3-How many did she select initially?  Did she select four and all four were willing to be part of the study?  Did she select ten and only four gave consent?  Were these people professional writers getting paid for their work?  Were they black, white, Asian, affluent, poor, single, or did they have kids?  Did they have an option to go to an office and chose to go to the coffeehouse instead?

http://www.safetysign.com

4-Pigg videotaped the participants to see the interaction between the bodies and technologies-

Q4-Have you ever been in a coffeehouse and had to fart, pick your nose, scratch your wherever places, or just sit and space out for 15 minutes?  If you were being recorded, would you participate in any of the activities mentioned above?  Regarding the camera pointing at the computer/phone screen.  Would you visit a naughty site, sext a significant other, look at a racy email, post an inappropriate picture, or carry on an extremely personal Instant Messenger conversation knowing that it was all being recorded and you had signed your rights away?  Would you go out for five cigarettes an hour or spit your Copenhagen into a cup knowing you were being recorded?  It’s absurd to think that the recordings were a 100% truthful representations of the participant’s day.

These are just four small pieces that bothered me.  They may seem trivial and petty, but I think an honest answer to any of them could have far reaching implications for the study.  The lack of scientific methods in this study brings its credibility into question.  The basic point that I got from this article was that Pigg maintains that workers, technical writers in particular, are moving more towards non-conventional freelance roles.  In doing so, they use social media to create the conventional “office space” around them.  By using social media, they can essentially carry their office with them no matter where they choose to rest their laptop that day.  They use social media to replace the office chit chat, the exchange of ideas and suggestions, and the personal interaction that they all go without due to the writer’s ever changing locations.  I agree with her conclusions, but I don’t believe the study helped me get there.

 

We don’t need more content. We need content that does more.

more content more problems

We have laptops, tablets, smartphones, e-readers, and new devices keep emerging. We are connected, and we use our devices to go online. Mobile devices and Web 2.0 technologies are here to stay. Hurley and Hea mention that this phenomenon has “allowed for more user interaction, especially opportunities for user-generated content.”

Social media cannot be controlled, it can only be prepared for. Because we have so many devices, we have an enormous amount of social media content, and the content is everywhere: LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Klout, Tumblr. For a technical communicator to be successful with social media, the authors state that he/she must “engage with” (be proactive), “rather than merely respond to” (be reactive).

Last year, I attended the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival in Austin, and I noticed a common theme in social media: the importance of content strategy. We don’t need more content; we have plenty of it. We need content that does more. This is exactly what Hurley and Hea mean when they claim that social media use in professional contexts results in “the potential to promote active engagement, encourage people to work in groups, provide opportunities for feedback from a wide audience, and connect people to others who are knowledgeable in a host of areas.”

Similar to the principles of good writing, a good content strategy for social media is about having clarity, purpose, and focus. The first step in getting there is to perform a content audit.

WHAT

Once we perform a content audit, we can create a social media strategy. The strategy can also include calls to action (back to our website/app/product/experience) that enable us to engage with our users and to get feedback. Participating in social media isn’t enough, we must have a plan in place as to how we are going to use it.

An important thing to remember about social media is that it’s not about being a superhero nor a mastermind. Ideas can come from anyone, and the more participation, the better the result. Hurley and Hea summarize it best by saying that technical communicators can “become an effective peer … one who provides the right information at the right place and at the right time.”

The Digital Scarlet Letter

Blogging is difficult. It is difficult to come up with an idea and to then execute it. Blogging also takes a lot of time. My personal experience with blogging was uneventful. I found myself writing, rewriting, editing, and then never posting. I doubted whether anything I wrote was unique. What would people think of me? Would they judge me? And then how would I get followers? And God forbid, what if someone stopped reading my blog? I was so weary. Because of this, I never blogged. Instead of blogging, I like to Pin things on Pinterest (3.7k pins to date) – recipes, fashion, inspirational sayings in beautiful typefaces, and anything Kate Moss.

I don’t have a personal blog, but I do like to look at other people’s blogs, especially entertainment blogs. My guilty pleasure is celebrity gossip and the snarkier the better. When I’m bored, I go straight to TMZ or Jezebel. I’ll read basically anything that makes fun of celebrities. And depending on the post, I’ll skip it entirely and head right to the comments. I’ve never posted any comments myself, but the petty, sarcastic comments make me smirk. Rumor has it that TMZ will start letting readers post audio comments.

Out of touch celebrity lifestyle blogs

I find celebrity lifestyle blogs hilarious. Gwyneth Paltrow has gotten a lot of criticism over her blog that she launched in 2009 named goop. The main areas are: Make, Go, Get, Do, Be, and See. In her “Make” section, she dishes up recipes completely devoid of diary, meat, sugar, anything processed, and so on. She’s also been accused of posting meals that would cost more than $300 to make. You can also shop on her blog for $1,500 shoes and $800 earrings.

Blake Lively launched her lifestyle blog, Preserve, over the summer. The reviews of her letter from the editor crack me up. Being a celebrity married to Ryan Reynolds isn’t enough, as Blake is “hungry for experience.” You can also buy a $7 bottle of ketchup on her blog.

I am hungry, though… not just for enchiladas.

I’m hungry for experience.

The Digital Scarlet Letter

We are now in the era of the Digital Scarlet Letter. What this means is that information published is not revocable. So the stupid things that are posted online will be there forever. Hurley and Hea mention the growing concern of “reputation management” and that “it’s a great leap for students to think of social media as real texts worthy of their composing talents and time.” Have celebrity misgivings a la Anthony Weiner and Alec Baldwin tainted the idea of using social media in a legitimate, meaningful way? Maybe, but it’s not stopping anytime soon. Now that social media is so common, the latest trend is to do something extreme for attention. Samantha Goudie stumbled onto the football field, blew a .341 on her breathalyzer test, was arrested, and tweeted “yolo” from jail. Before she deleted her Twitter account, she had more than 20,000 followers.

Last year public relations specialist Justine Sacco was fired over her racist Tweet.

Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just Kidding. I’m white!

Justine Sacco

And if a post goes viral, is ignorance, joking, or sarcasm an excuse to get off the hook? Is an apology enough?

Cultural Differences in Communication

This week’s readings provide some great insight into how technical communication (and communication in general) can have very different characteristics across cultures. Prior to reading Barry Thatcher’s chapter in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, I hadn’t really thought about this as an issue; I had assumed that intuitive ways of providing instruction and organizing information didn’t vary among cultures. Thatcher’s example of his environmental project with the U.S. and Mexico border illustrates that this was not a valid assumption (although I don’t feel quite so bad because Thatcher admittedly made the same incorrect assumption while teaching technical communication at an Ecuadorian University).

Thatcher presents a framework upon which we can identify the areas of communication that are evident in all cultures: I/Other, Norms/Rules, and Public/Private. He summarizes how different cultures deal with these areas differently, and the implication is that different treatment of these areas requires the use of appropriate communication methods. To communicate effectively within a culture, we need to understand these three areas within the culture and adjust our communication methods accordingly. Even so, Thatcher believes that it is possible and desirable to adapt digital communications to be relevant cross-culturally.

Kenichi Ishii’s article, “Implications of Mobility: The Uses of Personal Communication Media in Everyday Life,” provides another perspective on cultural differences in communication. Ishii makes various points about mobile media in Japan that differ from my understanding of mobile media in the United States. I am wondering whether the differences are because things have changed since 2006 when the article was published, because of cultural differences in how people use mobile media in Japan versus the United States, or a mixture of both.

Ishii (2006) uses the term “mobile mail” to describe both SMS and email messages “via mobile phones because in Japan, SMS and e-mail have almost converged into one service (mail) and users usually cannot clearly distinguish between these two services” (p. 346-347). In my experience, this is very different from in the U.S. Here, SMS messages (text messages) are primarily used as short form communication between two  or more well-acquainted mobile phone users, and they travel from one mobile phone number to another. Emails tend to be slightly more formal, email addresses are significantly less private than mobile phone numbers, email messages travel from one email address to another (even if the email is viewed on a mobile phone), and emails can be much longer than text messages.

References to the portable radio, Walkman, and pager also made me wonder whether Japan is at a different point in adoption of mobile technologies or whether the article is simply out of date. In the U.S., portable radios and the Walkman (a portable CD player) have largely been replaced by MP3 players (like the iPod) or by mobile phones that can play music. Pagers have also lost ground to mobile phones. In understanding an article about the implications of mobility on everyday life in Japan, it would be helpful to know whether the differences I noticed are a result of a 7 year old article or cultural differences between Japan and the United States.

I found it very interesting that in Japan users make the most calls using their mobile phones from home, second most from work, and fewest when they are out and about. I wonder if this is true for the United States too. Despite the fact that I have landlines both at home and at work, this is probably true for me as well. I think this is mostly because my mobile phone also acts as a PDA, and I can access my entire phone book in one place and simply press a button to call rather than having to look up and dial a phone number on a landline phone.

Ishii (2006) posits that Japanese youth use text messages as a way to feel connected while avoiding conflict and demanding relationships (p. 349). This is definitely a parallel phenomenon to the U.S. trend Sherry Turkle references in Alone Together. While both Japanese and U.S. youth apparently replace face to face communication with mobile communication at least to some extent, Ishii does point out a study in which about 50% more U.S. adolescents than Japanese  adolescents felt that they could initiate a conversation with someone they don’t know. In any case, it seems that understanding cultural differences in communication will help technical communicators to communicate effectively both within different cultures and across cultures.

 

Beyond methodology: Looking at the cultural foundations of technology use

I have long known the great necessity for technical communicators to understand their audience. Blakeslee’s ideas that we need to focus in on a specific audience is hardly news. I even had an understanding that communication has to be adapted across cultural lines so that people from different cultures can easily understand. In order to communicate with a broader audience, you may have to adapt your methods. When I think of adapting communication for a cross-cultural audience, I think of IKEA assembly instructions. They are an excellent example, because they rely fully on pictures and remove the necessity for translation in order to be used in different countries. Apparently some people think that IKEA instructions are difficult to follow, but I think that those people would likely be even more confused by written instructions in Swedish.

However, while I know that communications methods have to be adapted in order to communicate across cultural lines, I never really put any thought into the idea that the very way that technology is used can vary between cultures. I liked the way Baron explained the phenomena in Always On by comparing how we use technology to how people in China and India eat rice differently and how English and German people drive differently, not because of how the item is intrinsically different, but because the culture is different (pp.130-131).

It is the deeper issue, the foundation, that will matter. If we don’t understand how a culture uses a technology, any communication with members of that culture is going to fail to some degree if we don’t question the assumptions that are guiding our decisions. In Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, Thatcher gives the example of the differences in website construction between collective and individualistic cultures. While it makes sense that there would be differences in content, it is really interesting that the standards for an effective website are different to the point that the entire site may not be put together as a cohesive whole, but that different departments would be completely unique.

I do wonder though, how much variation there may be within a culture. For example, Thatcher showed examples of how the same information would be formatted differently for two different cultures. I actually thought that the American version of the letter was too abrupt, and preferred the version intended for the Mexican audience as it seemed more gracious.

Or even considering cell phone usage, I feel like everyone I know uses their phones differently. I know people whose whole lives are contained in their phone and they use it for everything. I know people who only have a landline, and people who are avid texters. I know people who are phone talkers and phone avoiders (that is me). And that is just among some of my closest friends. How do you define a culture’s use of technology when it can vary so severely from person to person? And how can you communicate effectively with a culture, if there is such variability in technology usage? Are basic cultural trends good enough to base a communication strategy off of?

Cross Cultural Communication Requires More Than Simple Translation

This week's readings remind up that effective intercultural communication requires more than simple translation. http://www.sqa.org.uk/sqa/35857.html

This week’s readings remind up that effective intercultural communication requires more than simple translation.
http://www.sqa.org.uk/sqa/35857.html

Probably the most interesting reading for me this week was “Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures” by Barry Thatcher, though I found all of them pretty interesting. One of the reasons I found Thatcher’s piece so interesting is that at my school we’ve been trying to increase our international student enrollment, and I’ve always wondered (on the periphery of my brain) how our website must appear to people of other cultures and countries.  For example, we have a partner school in Wuhan China, the South Central University for Nationalities, where we recruit students to enroll in our Master of Science in Education with Emphasis in English.  I decided to go to their website to see if and how it might differ from ours―and so much of what Thatcher explained held true!

For example, there were no pictures of people on the SCUN site, and not nearly the sheer number of pictures that we have on our website so this is an example that in studies “more diffuse websites had relatively few pictures” and perhaps the concept that the public space of a website is “not the appropriate medium for something as private as a picture” (of a person) (p.187). Also, there are a few pictures of major icons, historical buildings, a panda, and a few nice views of the campus, so this is an example of research that on Chinese Web sites “drew complexly on icons of Chinese heritage to display the significance of the collective whole (p. 187). Also, take a look at the “Accommodations” page:

It’s a clinical picture of the accommodations, with no indication of people.  Compare it to the main Residence Hall page of my school’s website, where all of the pictures focus on students:

So, in thinking about our own website, we could not probably repurpose it for meeting the needs of our primary recruiting demographic (18.1 year olds who are largely from Wisconsin), but I wonder if we might create an alternative version for international students. In fact, SCUN has such a version.  Both of their websites are in English, but one is clearly meant for Western, native speaking English people and the other would be for a more localized audience. It seems the best way we might do this, according to Ann Blakesdale in “Addressing Audiences in A Digital Age,” is to get “a full, accurate―and contextualized―understanding of their audiences.  One way to acquire this, which was addressed by all writers from my cases, is to interact directly with members of our audiences” (220).  So, I think developing a site and asking our current international students to interact with it would be a great project for us to recruit more students and serve their needs more successfully.

Keitai Culture

Japanese cell phone culture came up in more than one reading this week: in “Going Mobile,” and “Always on,” by Naomi Baron (135, 233) and “Implications of Mobility,” by Kenichi Ishii ( p. 348).  Baron says that the government was pretty effective in “transforming outdoor use of keitai from talking to overwhelming texting instruments” (233), mostly because of collective governance .  This results from the need to negotiate appropriate activities in public space.

However, no culture mentioned this week has been terribly effective in separating the boundaries of home and the outside world (symbolized by the tradition of removing shoes before entering the house in Japan and India, Baron, p. 230) when it comes to mobile devices.

Land Lines?

There was a lot of data to absorb this week, and I’m afraid I got distracted on numerous occasions, stopping to look things up (I suppose this is a good thing!), but nothing disconcerted me so much as the statistic in “Always On” that 51% of American teenagers preferred land line phones.  That just astounded me because I work with so many young people every day, 99% of whom seem to have cell phones, and I hardly ever hear of anyone interacting on a land line.  I thought maybe it was a function of the fact that the article was published in 2008, so I did some research and found this PEW study from cnet. com (http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57400439-93/teens-prefer-texting-over-phone-calls-e-mail/ ) that says that the number has indeed gone down.

This PEW study confirmed the trends we saw in this week's reading.

This PEW study confirmed the trends we saw in this week’s reading.

In this study, the number has gone from 30% in 2009 to 14% in 2012, so that seems more in line with what my daily experience tells me.  Fourteen percent still seems high, but I am dealing with a pretty homogenous demographic, so my experience is most certainly skewed.

Examining Our Assumptions

The discussion of intercultural communication this week came shortly after I was in a workshop for intercultural communication in which we were asked to reflect on some of the assumptions we make in our communications with our international students, faculty, and staff on a whole host of issues. The presenters showed this video, which I had seen before, but I still got a good laugh and good reflection out of it, so I thought I’d share: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajq8eag4Mvc

Is our digital culture a positive or a negative?

Our culture really has become a digital one.  Some of the reading this week reminded me of Turkle’s reading.  People do value human connections, but are electronics really satisfying that need?  It seems we feel valued when we’re a part of a community, but how is that really fulfilling our need to connect with each other?

Image

http://blackcoffeetwosugars.blogspot.com/

I remember before this digital culture having to look in the newspaper to try to find a job to apply to instead of going on Monster.com or LinkedIn.  I do think that LinkedIn can be a great tool to find a job.  The recommendations on LinkedIn are very helpful to a potential employer.  You have to be careful what you post on LinkedIn, even if your profile is private you might be connected with your current boss.  It’s important to take advantage of the confidentiality tools LinkedIn offers, as well as be smart about what you post.

I agree with this article that states either you use LinkedIn right, meaning you have a full profile and are active in groups, or you don’t use it at all.  Just having a LinkedIn and not using it doesn’t help you.

http://jobsearch.about.com/b/2013/10/05/dont-waste-your-time-on-linkedin.htm

As part of the digital culture comes the Glass House generation.  I thought this name was interesting considering it’s very true.  It’s very easy to find information about people with online profiles.  A coworker of mine told me that the restriction for 13 – 17 year olds to keep their profile private has been lifted this week.  I can’t say that I agree with this.  I think if they can choose to post publicly that can open them up for danger of strangers knowing where they’re going.  But maybe it’s a good thing and can help cut down things like underage drinking because they’ll be more visibility to them.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/facebook-teens-can-now-post-publicly-but-posts-are-friends-only-by-default/2013/10/16/57d5051c-3682-11e3-be86-6aeaa439845b_story.html

Apps like the Find My Friends app also provides more visibility into where people are.  Two friends of mine are engaged and they use this app to check up on where each other is.  I remember one day one of my friends told me she was at the doctor and her fiancé seemed to be gambling at a casino and went without telling her he was going.  It seems like these apps are set up for people with trust issues.  I remember growing up when my dad wasn’t home from work at the “normal time” we just looked out  the window and waited.  We couldn’t call his cell phone to ask where he was and when he’d be home.

Image

https://itunes.apple.com/US/app/find-my-friends/id466122094?mt=8

I liked the part of the reading that covered the way search engines make money.  As I’ve said before, I worked for an order management software that hosted websites.  Clients asked us all the time about how to get their site higher in search engines and would pay us to do special work on their site to increase their rankings.  The software also allowed people to use what we called source codes.  This would allow a user to create different codes for the different places they advertise to see what the most productive ads are.  For example, if they have an ad on Google, they can enter the URL of the ad and assign a code to it.  Whenever a shopper would come to their site from that URL, that code would be placed on their profile.  Reports could be run to see how many of those clicks resulted in orders, and what the order size was.

The types of tracking and information we can uncover can have some positives, such as businesses knowing where to put more of their advertising dollars.  But we need to be aware of the negatives, like keeping children safe as well.  I guess we’ll see where some of these changes get us in the near future.

Technology or Bust?

The chapter “Information Design” in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication echoes a sentiment I’ve been having throughout this class. Salvo and Rosinski make the following point that especially resonates with me: “Use, familiarity, and comfort within these newer information spaces are therefore generational, and technical communicators must now consider how to bridge these generational boundaries that are likely to express themselves as technological preferences” (2010, p.105).

This bridge of generational boundaries is one that I don’t think has been adequately addressed in our readings until now. I think the tone of many of our previous readings has been that technical communicators must change they way they communicate or face the possibility of becoming irrelevant. I found in this frequently repeated theme an implied argument that technical communicators are resistant to new technologies, but their users are not; thus, technical communicators must adapt their communication methods to them to keep up to par with their users.

While I believe that this scenario is the case for some technical communicators, I have encountered the opposite problem in my current job. Savlo and Rosinski argue that technological preferences are generational. I see evidence of this daily; my users, consumers of the documentation I write, are more of my parents’ generation than mine and are more used to and accepting of print communication than digital. In fact, in some cases I have encountered resistance to digital communication, despite the fact that print communication is still equally as available and accessible.

Don’t get me wrong- there are some users (mostly the ones closer to my generation) who do actually want to experience digital communication and even recognize its benefits. For example, my digital communication platform, Doc-to-Help, allows me to link words I’ve used to glossary terms, group key concepts together, offer direct links to related topics, and provide the user with the ability to search for a term or topic. If my users could get comfortable with this digital communication platform, I have no doubt that it would serve them better than a 50 page printed user manual.

In addition, as our product is a SaaS (software as a service) application which is accessed via a computer, an internet connection, and a browser, it should be safe to assume that our users, since they are able to access our applications, do not have the technological obstacles (lack of access to these tools) that Salvo and Rosinski point out could potentially inhibit their accessing online documentation.

Nevertheless, Salvo and Rosinski are right that we as technical communicators do need to do our best to bridge the generational gap and appeal to everyone. I am still trying to figure out the best way to continue making print documentation available for those who really need it but at the same time encouraging my user base to shift to the digital platform as it is faster, less resource intensive, and offers unique functionality.

The aiim white paper, “Systems of Engagement and the future of Enterprise IT,” brought up a very interesting point about how accessibility of technology has changed. Whereas traditionally new technology has been available first to businesses and larger institutions and then has trickled down to smaller organizations and eventually individuals, we are now seeing the opposite trend where technological trends seem to take hold at the individual level and grow until they reach larger organizations.

The aiim paper predicts, though, that businesses will have to speed up their responses to technological innovation and undergo a transformation which will further facilitate collaboration or risk becoming “roadkill” (p. 4). This new way of doing business is described as “Systems of Engagement” rather than its predecessor “Systems of Record” (p. 5).

I can already see this transformation happening in my company. We are a small company, but one of my coworkers works across the country in a different time zone, some of our consultants work in a different time zone as well, and some of our customers are in still different time zones plus have different work hours than us. These growing communication constraints require that we find new and effective ways to engage with each other such as video conferencing and hopefully increasingly better mobile devices and cheaper and more accessible bandwidth as the paper predicts.

Thinking Critically: All that Twitters is Not Technological Gold

After last week’s immersion in Sherry Turkle’s cautionary tale (Alone, together), it’s kind of hard to return to the full-out celebration of all that is Twitter and technological glitter in Qualman’s Socialnomics. I thought I’d bridge the gap by first considering Dave Carlon’s discussion of “Shaped and Shaping Tools” in Digital Literacy (edited by Rachel Spilka).

Time and Space “Fixity”

The subtitle of Carlson’s piece is “The Rhetorical Nature of Technical Communication Technologies,” and in it he calls for technical communicators to “be critical,” to be rhetorically savvy in their use of new technological tools (p. 87). To study the rhetoric of technology, he offers four broad categories of scholarship: rhetorical analysis; technology transfer and diffusion; genre theory; and activity theory.

In his consideration of rhetorical analysis, he discusses the fact that Twitter “opens up both temporal and spatial fixity” because Twitter is not bound by either time or space (93). Early on in the chapter, he makes the point that Twitter can be “endlessly resorted and reorganized” because we have countless interfaces and points of entry.  I wasn’t entirely sure what that last idea meant, so I did some surfing and found this “Twitter Storm” piece by Tom Phillips on Buzz Feed http://www.buzzfeed.com/tomphillips/the-29-stages-of-a-twitterstorm).

http://www.buzzfeed.com/tomphillips/the-29-stages-of-a-twitterstorm

Tom Phillips gives a nice, humorous rundown about how Twitter can be “endlessly resorted and reorganized,” as Carlson suggests.
Source: http://www.buzzfeed.com/tomphillips/the-29-stages-of-a-twitterstorm

I think it perfectly makes Carlson’s point about multiple interfaces and points of entry. You can enter the conversation at any point and, especially if you are someone  with a following, start the conversation all over again.

Even laggards, thankfully, can enter the conversation at any time!

But, just entering the conversation doesn’t make us critical thinkers with regard to technology, a point Carlson makes, Turkle makes, and even Qualman makes.

Genres as Regularizing Structures: PowerPoint and Prezi

For example, Carlson asks us as technical communicators to think more deeply about how technologies shape us and how we are shapers of technology. Consider his discussion of genre theory. He cites the work of Carolyn Miller (“Genre as social action”) that genres such as memos, reports, and manuals are not simply formats but rather they are “regularizing structures … that shape the work of members of organizations” (97). As example, Carlson cites the work of Yates and Orlikowski’s examination of PowerPoint “arguing that genres create expectations of purpose, content, participants, form, time, and place” (97) and become regularizing structures within organizations.

I’ve seen so many bad PowerPoint presentations (and I’ll bet you have, too), that I readily tried Prezi a few weeks ago simply on the barest glimpse of hope that, if it catches on, people might add a little zip to what otherwise turn out to be humongous snooze fests where we watch someone read from a screen.

Prezi, like PowerPoint is not simply a format, but rather it is a "regularizing structure." Source: http://prezi.com/your/

Prezi, like PowerPoint is not simply a format, but rather it is a “regularizing structure.”
Source: http://prezi.com/your/

Prezi does present a shift in perspective as Klint Finley from Tech Crunch points out: “For those not familiar, Prezi uses a map-like metaphor for creating presentations instead of a slideshow metaphor. This makes it possible to create non-linear presentations, or presentations that use spatial metaphors for organizing ideas, like mind maps.”  (techcrunch.com/2012/10/30/powerpoint-killer-prezi-launches-new-interface/.)

In my experience Prezi does offer a different way of organizing information, which might present a new rhetorical paradigm for presentations, but I actually think either platform could be used effectively.  If you’re not familiar with Prezi, you should visit their website (http://prezi.com/your/) and try it out.  I, a renowned technological “laggard,” taught myself in a couple of hours, so you know it must be pretty intuitive.

Cheerleading for cheerleading camp

The concept of “laggardness” brings me to Qulaman, who is always fun to read because, for one thing, he doesn’t laden himself with too much in the way of academic support.  But those are the two querulous impulses I always have when I read Socialnomics―timeliness and evidence.

In the first case, I always have an impulse to check out where the anecdotal evidence stands today. For example, Qualman spends a few pages (161-165) discussing Hulu’s success with delivering high-quality traditional television and movies and for employing an innovative advertising model. Yet, today’s news would suggest that what was true when this book was published is no longer true today.  You can read here about the company’s latest challenges: “5 ways new CEO Mike Hopkins Can Save Hulu” from Mike Wallenstein at Variety (http://variety.com/2013/digital/news/5-ways-new-ceo-mike-hopkins-can-save-hulu-1200735150/).

Hulu

A new CEO is being brought in to “save” Hulu, which suggests that it hasn’t sustained the success that Qualman wrote about in 2009.
Source: (http://variety.com/2013/digital/news/5-ways-new-ceo-mike-hopkins-can-save-hulu-1200735150/).

That doesn’t make what Qualman published in 2009 any less true, only outdated, and perhaps what makes it outdated could have bearing on the business strategies and choices Qualman extols.  Wallerstein’s advice to Hulu: 1. Get the owners rowing in the same direction 2. Pick―and stick with―a strategy. 3. Time to bid big against Netflix 4. If you’re going to do original programming, do it right. 5. Stop the bleeding.

The other problem, as others have pointed out on this forum, is that Qualman seems to rely a lot on anecdotal evidence.  His mother’s friend Betsy’s cheerleading camp (pp. 175-178) was probably pretty meaningful to Betsy, Qualman’s mother, and Qualman himself, but I didn’t find it either particularly informative or easy to follow.  What’s missing in Qualman’s analysis is that he can’t seem to direct us to broad conclusions based on quantifiable, reliable data. He can tell stories about this or that success or failure, but he’s not convincing in a broad, academically supportable sense.

Yet, I find him enormously persuasive much of the time, especially when he discusses  “finding the right balance between launching every possible idea through the door and ensuring they are not missing out on a great opportunity” (181). He actually lauds TripAdvisor for taking a “deep breath” and re-thinking their strategy with “Where I’ve Been” (p. 106). He also advises companies to “Take time to decide where you will be,” which is sort of the missing element in this 140-character, non-fixity world.

To “think critically,” as Dave Carlson encourages us, does take at least a little bit of time, the most valuable and rare commodity in this twittery, glittery world.

“Facebook and social media actually makes you more productive”(1)

funny-facebookHmmm.  That was a very provocative statement to make to those of us always looking for an excuse to be on social media of one sort or another!  It is also probably the first time I have ever heard the words “social media” and “productive” in the same sentence.  In either case, while the author may be stretching it, it does not hurt to look at how social media can make you more productive.  The grocery store example on pages 4-5 of Socailnomics might be a little on the over exaggerated side but there have definitely been times when I have put out a request for help on Facebook and have gotten quick and great responses – especially when looking for help when something goes wrong with my house, car, computer, etc.  Referrals from friends for services are some of the best out there, especially when you know and respect the person the information is coming from.  While shopping for a prom dress for my daughter last year, she would have me take pictures of her in it.  Then she would sit there and goof around on her phone, or so I thought.  Little did I know that all her friends were on Twitter commenting on which dress she should pick.  I guess a mom’s opinion just doesn’t count anymore!  Needless to say, the responses were within a minute of posting so it really did not take any time at all for her to make her decision – a HUGE time saver for me!

I also loved the comment “We no longer search for the news – it finds us” (Qualman, 2009, p. 9).  This is how I look at Twitter these days.  I am following companies or news sources that I find interesting.  As long as I have my feed open, I will get the news as soon as it is posted.  If the post sounds interesting, I will click on the link to read the full story.  While some might find it distracting, I have learned to filter out what I really don’t want to look at, or I can tune it out altogether when I am focusing on other things.  At the same time, when I am able to glance at it, I can easily pick the stories I want to read more about and ignore the rest.  When I search through regular websites, I most definitely spend a lot more time trying to find the news I really want to read.  I will take the hand picked twitter feeds any day.

Funny-facebook-Quotes-1

If there is anything we can learn from our readings this week it is that the world has been and always will be a changing, dynamic place.  I am eternally grateful for any and all forms of technology that have come along in recent years.  If a company, or a career/technical field cannot keep up with the changes, then evolution has done its job. Survival of the fittest at its best!

(1)  Qualman, E. (2009). Socialnomics. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, NJ.

Technology changes…I guess I should too…

It is an interesting thing to read a book which upholds your job as being technologically backward. I currently work as a Health Information Specialist at a large local hospital, so I laughed a bit when I read the introduction in Spilka’a Digital Literacy for Technical Communication. I have watched as my department has struggled to move forward technologically, moving from a mostly paper-based system to a mostly electronic system. Consequently, I understand better than most what it is like to adapt to new technology on a professional and corporate level.  I have gotten to see a complete overhaul of our technology over just a couple of years. So it makes it interesting to consider how drastically technology has affected and changed technical communication over the years.

Even though I do like technology and social media, I have largely seen it as a waste of time. But, when I consider the improvement that technology has made in my job, I can start to agree more with Qualman’s position in Socialnomics that technology (specifically social media) makes us more efficient. While I believe that social media can absolutely be a great waste of time, it can also benefit us. There are certainly things that social media can streamline. For example, this summer when I needed to move, I just asked for volunteers on facebook and ten people volunteered, many of whom were not people that I would have thought that I could ask for help.  Had it been necessary for me to email people or ask personally, I would have probably had one or two people to help.

I have never experienced social media being quite as marvelously helpful as Qualman portrayed it, but perhaps that would come if I gave in and fully assimilated into the culture by getting a smart phone and actually tried to engage. Instead, I just add a fourth option to Qualman’s list of things to do in a checkout line…I carry a book everywhere and can usually rock out a chapter or two before I get to the cashier. It is a kindle now, so at least I can pretend that I am not that old fashioned. However, while I have never experienced the connectivity that Qualman demonstrates, apparently social media has been helping me in ways I never even knew.

I never knew that social media informed search engines so much. Nor have I considered how it has changed people’s search habits. It never occurred to me to look up a facebook page before going to a company’s website. But I think that is symptomatic of the same urge that has me reading in the checkout lane. I want the most information I can get at one time and generally the website will have what I need.

However, I think that Qualman is right that information finds us these days. I may not go searching for an article to read, but I will often read what pops up in my newsfeed as being recommended by a good friend. So, even if my habits are a little old-fashioned, it is funny to think that I, like the healthcare industry, am being propelled forward technologically, even if it is slightly against my will.

My own social network footprint

I have been using Social Media “forever”, or so it seems, so my curiosity got the better of me.  How long have I actually been using different forms of Social Media?

Baron, N. (2008) goes in depth into AOL and it’s instant messaging service, AIM, this is one area I skipped over entirely.  I am not really sure why except I think the  comment from Boyd, D. M., & Ellison, N. B. (2007) “While people were already flocking to the Internet, most did not have extended networks of friends who were online” (p. 214) fits me to a tee.  I was definitely one of the earlier adopters of anything Internet related among my group of friends.  Many of them found chatting to be more intrusive than productive.  My kids were also still pretty young when AIM and other IM services first came out so I did not have much of it going on in my household at all.

I do remember signing up for My Space as one of my first attempts at entering social media, so, down in my archives of password and user names I dug up my My Space account info to see if it was still active.  Sure enough, it is. But since My Space has changed and transformed so much since I last visited it, any history of things I have done on there is long gone (although, I am pretty sure I did absolutely nothing on it anyway).

www.facebook.com

Facebook, which I joined on October 22, 2007, is the one I participate in the most and have the largest circle of friends also participating.  I definitely go through phases of more or less activity but I absolutely love keeping up with old friends.  I also am “friends” with my kids and while I don’t comment on their pages (or I will get the “don’t be creepy” lecture), I have pulled off and saved so many images I never would have seen without Facebook.  I also like to see what they are doing every now and then.  Interestingly, all three of them use it far less than I do.  This is also about the only site I do any sort of active chatting on, again, primarily because I have the largest circle of friends on this site.

www.twitter.comTwitter has been a friend and a nemesis for me!  I posted my first tweet in March of 2009 but I probably hawked the site for at least a year before I understood it well enough to participate.  At that time I was in real estate and was trying to find a way to make connections with people I wouldn’t normally connect with. For this reason, I would have to disagree with Boyd, D. M., & Ellison, N. B. (2007):  “While networking is possible on these sites, it is not the primary practice on many of them, nor is it what differentiates them from other forms of computer-mediated communication (CMC)” (p. 211).  Twitter is one of the Social Media sties that I think is used for actually networking quite a bit (LinkedIn would be the most active networking site). With it’s more “open” concept of followers instead of friends, you can interact with anyone you want to , not just those that allow you to.  Where I struggle with Twitter is you really need to be a prolific poster and SME if you want to actually meet and engage with new people.  It was too much of a time suck to make it work for me!  I still use Twitter as a sort of real-time news site.  My daughter uses Twitter more than Facebook and I love that I can snoop without her even knowing!

Linkedin_Shiny_Icon.svg_Finally, I am also on LinkedIn (ok – I really need to change that profile picture – it is a little outdated!).  Until recently, I really did not go on LinkedIn very much but I am currently networking and doing research for a new career so I am on it almost every night.  I do not use this as a social medial platform but rather strictly as a job hunt and networking site.  I also have found the “Interests” and “Channels” options which allow you to read posts from other experts.  I find this extremely useful in my job hunt.

 

 

While I thought some of the readings were a little outdated, I do think there was some valuable information to be had about habits of those who use social media.  At the very least it gives a great historical background to some of the beginnings of social media.  Probably my favorite part was reading about Bill Tilly and how this 83 yr old not only uses social media, but uses it to improve his way of life by looking back on his posts and changing his habits.  I think we can all use a little but of Bill Tilly in us! (Qualman, 2009, p. 51)

References:
Baron, N. (2008).  Always On, Language in an Online and Mobile World. New York, Oxford University.

Boyd, D. M., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 11.

Qualman, E. (2009). Socialnomics: How social media transforms the way we live and do business. Hoboken, N.J., John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

 

Disconnect?

About one year ago I discontinued my monthly cell phone contract with AT&T. I now have a Tracfone that costs  $30 per month in prepaid minutes (significantly less than my former contract). I can access the internet from my prepaid phone, but I don’t, because it is a small flip phone and the screen is too small to be useful for browsing the web. Everyone I know owns a smart phone with a touch screen, cool apps, and a large enough display to make internet use worth while. This obvious trend is verified by chapter 8 in Erik Qualman’s book, Socialnomics. Within this chapter is a brief section titled: Mobile Me that indicates that people are becoming more and more dependent on their mobile devices at an alarmingly fast rate.

Having used my basic and inexpensive flip phone for the past year, I have found that neither my social life nor my professional life changed much. My friends sometimes give me a hard time because of my “old” technology, but ultimately I am not less happy as a result of having a basic phone. However, I am saving a lot of money every month. One aspect of new mobile devices that I am not comfortable with is the GPS tracking Qualman describes: “This works on the GPS in the phone to locate your friends and tell you exactly where they are,” (216). I have absolutely no desire for anyone to be able to track me. If I want someone to know where I am, I will tell that person where I am going, and I expect that person to trust me. I can see how this type of technology may be helpful in certain emergency situations; however, I would rather retain my privacy.

Sometimes I feel that I may be too anti-technology (despite the fact that I use what technology is necessary for my academic and career success). At the same time, I feel that we, as a society, need to be cautious of a citizenry that is completely dependent on technology. For instance, Qualman mentions that fewer real-time interviews are being conducted by journalists because of technology (215-216). The result of this trend may lead to lost opportunities to truly get at the heart of an important news story. Part of the art of journalism is being able to ask on the spot questions based on interviewee responses and body language—to find out the whole story. Imagine how happy politicians would be if they never had to answer a real-time face to face question.

Maybe Henry David Thoreau had it right in his expirement and book Walden. Such an expirement would be  more drastic, and perhaps more meaningful given today’s real vs. virtual worlds.

Obama’s Blackberry

I had almost forgotten that there was a controversy about whether or not President Obama could keep his Blackberry until Qualman mentioned it.  According to Qualman the reason they were going to take it away was that all his messages would become part of the public record, “The reason for the discussion about whether Obama would need to relinquish his BlackBerry did not center on overuse. Rather, it revolved around the fact that his text messaging, tweets, status updates, and e-mails would be part of the public record” (p. 77).

But that isn’t the whole truth I think.  This is a little off subject, but Research In Motion (RIM), the maker of the BlackBerry, has a proprietary email service that runs on servers located in Canada.  Every single BlackBerry message flows through these servers.  That’s why when they go down it takes down the service of every single BlackBerry.  As I remember it, the bigger concern was the security issues around having the private messages of the President of the United States being sent to servers in another country and the fear that some hacker would be able to tap into it.

I don’t think that people were afraid that he’d text a mistress (cough, cough, Tiger Woods).  I think everyone believes that he is savvy enough to use a BlackBerry (or other device) intelligently, but it wasn’t as simple as Qualman made it sound.  Even with GPS turned off on your phone, the cellular provider can still determine roughly where you are based on which cell sites your device is connected to–a potentially bad thing for the President of the United States.

Ok, rant over.  Other than that, I think that Qualman made a lot of valid points about how social media really propelled Obama into the White House.  The way he was able to connect in a personal and direct way with voters energized people in a way that robo-calls and junk mail can’t.  Also, I think he is the first President to really understand and leverage the power of the internet to gather analytical data about what people are thinking about at a specific moment in time.  Why conduct polls to find out what people are saying they think, when you can go to the internet and see what they are ACTUALLY thinking and doing by analyzing search phrases and page hits?

Qualman used the flu to illustrate his point, “Comparing the CDC data to Google’s data showed that Google’s insight was roughly two weeks ahead of the CDC” (p. 71).  If Google can get a two week jump on the CDC, then how much of a jump did the Obama campaign have on McCain?

Symbolic-Analytic Work

About four or five years ago I remember having a cup of coffee with a lady I used to work with.  She had a PhD in English and was working in our group as a Writer/Editor.  We were discussing the current state of Technical Communication and where we thought things were headed.  She had spent her entire career in academia and had recently joined our company.  We had already started to go through a lot of layoffs and she wanted my thoughts on which jobs were the safest.

I told her that I thought she would be safer if she moved away from editing and took on more writing.  I told her that I thought management would start to cut anything that was not directly related to pushing manuals out the door.  She burst into tears.  She loved the English language and I think it kind of broke her heart that editors would be seen as non-essential.

She left our group and within a year we had no editors–we still don’t.  And now even the writing is going away to places like India or Poland.  I think that the group I’m a part of has shrunk by about 75% since 2000.  Two weeks ago the guy that hired me 15 years ago and the writer that mentored me both left the company.  Whatever TC was when I started, it is no more.  As Stanley Dicks explains:

Writing or editing will continue to be important activities for many technical communicators.  However, they are increasingly being viewed as commodity activities that business considers questionable in adding value and that are candidates for being outsourced or offshored.  (p. 54)

According to Dicks we need to find ways to do more “symbolic-analytic work” that has more strategic value to the companies we work for (p. 53).  This could be the old standby of doing more with less, but I think that most companies have gone about as far as they can with that.  If it can be outsourced, it pretty much has been

So what’s left then?  Where I work, there are still some people that write manuals, but they probably also lead a team of people in India that write most of the content.  These writers may also develop e-learning and flash-based tutorials.  I think that just about everyone else is dedicated to figuring out how we can use new tools and technologies to communicate to customers more effectively (and, of course, more cheaply).

That means figuring out how to make single-sourcing and content reuse work using DITA and a CMS.   For more than a year now I have been leading a team within our organization to move from a book/course based model to a topic-based model.  This includes things like:

  • Change management – How do you get people to buy-in to making such a huge change?
  • Development process – What happens to the process when we stop assigning book/course and start assigning topics or lessons?
  • Graphics – If people are reusing graphic content, how do we make sure it has a consistent visual language?
  • Metadata – How do we tag the content that goes into the CMS so people can find it, manage it, and reuse it?
  • Templates and Usage – What kinds of authoring templates and guidelines need to be created to ensure that content authoring is consistent?
  • Curriculum – What training needs to be created to bring people up-to-speed on this new way of working and all the new tools?
  • Content Structure – How do we organize all this information within a CMS so that it makes sense?
  • Pilot Project – What projects do we want to put choose for the initial testing of these new tools and processes and how do we use the findings to adjust our approach?

All of this is stuff that is strategic and that can’t be outsourced.  Doing this right could mean huge improvements for the customer as well as huge efficiency gains for the company.  Before this, I used to write books and my life was predictable, but I was so bored.  This is really scary and stressful, but it is exciting and meaningful in a way that my old job wasn’t.

I think that is what Dicks was getting at with his article.  Even though technical communication has gotten a lot smaller as a profession, for those that remain the work is going to be more challenging and more meaningful.  The club is a lot more exclusive than it used to be, but the upside is that TC will get more respect as we add more value.

The Final Paper is Only the Beginning!

Emerging Media Topic

Because these are my first final papers as a Graduate Student, I am a bit anxious.  Luckily, I have been able to nail down a good paper topic that I feel comfortable researching and presenting.  I will be doing my paper about:

Are iPads Suitable Substitutes for Manuals, Textbooks and Other Paper Documents in the Business and Educational World?

This topic will allow me to present information relating to how people in education and business have fared in the past utilizing paper documentation as well as present how iPads can make life easier.

I know people who like to redecorate. One of the ways they find inspiration is to use one picture, pillow, rug or piece of furniture and then design the room around this piece.  A similar opportunity afforded itself to me.  As I was researching a similar topic for another course, I came across an article by the Air Force:

Fontaine, S., & Blake Johnson, N. (2011, September 19). Table takeover. Air Force Times, pp. 18-20.

In this article from the Air Force’s own publication a realistic review of the role of the iPad is presented. In early phases of testing, there is a very optimistic outlook for the iPad tablet as it is charged with being able to reduce costs and weight on flights. While the Air Force and other branches of our armed forces are beginning to utilize the iPad because of the need for added mobility, there are also concerns regarding security. These concerns are also identified.

 

Looking to the Future

While working on this one project is important, the process overall has been enlightening in many ways. The past two weeks have been spent in contemplation of what my (3) final projects will be about.  What started out as separate thought processes has coalesced into a realization that all that I do while here at UW Stout is of value farther down the line. 

As I was perusing topics on graduate studies on the internet, I stumbled across an article at the Dartmouth Writing Program website relating to Writing a Thesis. The information presented, though quite simple, is also very powerful. It de-mystified the process for me and urged me to begin “thinking” about how I want to finish.

To this end, I am designing a data base to house information relating to my time at UW Stout – more particularly to organize and add notations to articles, books, chapters, magazines and other print media (both on the internet and hard copy).  I really think that by doing a lot of reading, making a few notes here and there and being able to search and re-read, I can save an enormous amount of wasted time later on and have a much better understanding of my choices when the time comes.

Once I have a workable version, I would be happy to share it with anyone else that would like to use this as a tool.

What Will You Share Online?

Privacy has and I venture always will be a hot topic when dealing with the internet. If you are a Facebook fan, do you recall a recent post being circulated that indicated to look at the address bar while in Facebook? You were to determine whether your present location prefix was http or https.  The (s) at the end of http in the URL indicates the information shared is being done so via secure settings.  But, how many people really look for this and/or that telltale closed padlock that could also exist on the lower right of their browser?

Amazon.com is more trusted than a bank

I want to share with you an actual conversation that occurred in my Chiropractor’s office the other day.  I had my IPad out as usual while waiting and this usually creates a few questions. The conversation moved on to internet access and how people use the internet. The receptionist, who is approximately 60 years of age, made the statement that she doesn’t understand how anyone could use internet banking. To do financial transactions online is just too risky.  I asked her if she ever purchased anything online, and she responded that she did. She even added that the sites she goes to she “knows” are safe.  I asked her how she knows and she responded “I trust the companies”.

As we continued talking, I told her that I felt that the bank was much safer to deal with online because of a variety of issues:

  • The banks are regulated and are mandated to make sure through multiple different strategies that our transactions are safe
  • The banks already use the internet to do transactions themselves whether we partake or not
  •  Banks have a larger stake in our safety than does any other random vendor online

What creates trust on the internet?

The interesting issue here is that even armed with this knowledge, she was not convinced that her bank was at least as safe as Amazon.  I wonder if this has to do with the advertising and global presence of companies like this as opposed to the businesslike demeanor of her local bank.  Or maybe it is the locality that used to instill trust, but now when it is coupled with the World Wide Web, presents an image of distrust – or, at least incompetence with new technology.

So now I begin to wonder.  I know many people who blurt out on Facebook personal information, when they will be out of town and the like, but are oblivious to the securities on the site. I also know many of these same people who will not utilize their bank’s online features because they are unsafe.  They have been using Facebook for 3 years but have been with their bank for 20.  What is up with this?  In addition, they will click randomly on links that cause malicious events on their computer (could even be installing keyloggers) then trot on down to Amazon.com or TigerDirect to make a purchase.

 I am not saying that these websites are not secure – I use them myself. I just do not understand the rational as to what is secure and what is not. And once again, I have posted more questions than answers!!

 In weeks past, we have discussed many elements of social interaction on the internet and one of these may, indeed be an indicator as to why people trust on the internet the way they do.  Facebook comes up again as a huge meeting place for people on the internet. People trust people.  When a person visits a social site each day or even each week and see others in their group trusting online businesses, they are much more likely to trust them also. In addition, just the presence of these businesses as advertisements on the social networking page can add to that trust factor.  Does the local bank advertise online? Probably not.

Image References:

http://www.unitedfcs.com/assets/images/secure_messaging_new.jpg

http://www.unitedfcs.com/assets/images/online_banking(2).jpg

Technical Communication for Emerging Media – Global Edition

Both the readings by Spilka and Ishii were eye-opening to me and went quite far to validate the fact that we see the world through our own eyes.  Up until this time, I had been considering emerging media in general as an American artifact, when there is no question this has to be taken as a global event.

This is not to say that each country or culture has an obscure view of media relations. In fact, there are many similarities. Ishii’s references to Japanese youth when she says “there has been a trend for young people to create their own unique subcultures in which they communicate predominately through SMS…” (Ishii, p 346) is a compelling likeness to what has been happening in the United States during the same timeframe.  What is different, as she indicated through research findings, is that Japanese young people are more introverted and this leads to a greater tendency to use text messages over face-to-face conversations or even telephone.

These global differences continue on in Spilka’s writings. These references to the ways that other countries conduct business hit very close to home for me.  I work for a company, Energy Control Systems, which has both a National and International presence. The international side includes a few salespeople in countries such as Asia, South America, Central America, Mexico, South Africa and others.  Their main product is Sinetamer, a line of surge suppression equipment that is quite useful in these countries. The main impetus to our overseas sales; however, is the owner of our company.  I always thought that he traveled 75% of the time because he liked it. Now I realize that there is more to it than that.  Without his ability to meet face-to-face with contacts in these countries, we would have a lot less international business.  I now have a much better picture of not only what my company does, but of my own responsibilities when I have opportunities to sell overseas.

It seems that culture is a much bigger issue today, than language is.  When I was just out of High School, the biggest issues for college admittance was having so many credits of a foreign language. Today, most colleges no longer have these requirements. It makes me think that culture is, indeed, a more prevalent issue.  It is interesting how my thoughts keep coming back to culture.

 

Social Media and Aps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20111108-200132.jpg

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

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

alone together etiquette

Ever since I read Alone Together last Spring, my husband and I use Turkle’s book title to describe moments like these, especially when we’re out to eat and I’m tweeting or texting someone.

A friend of mine posted this image on Facebook with the caption, “For my bosses at work.” He works at a management consulting firm, not on a laptop campus like I do, but this led me to wonder about a committee meeting I was at a few weeks ago.

Instead of printing out documents or carrying my laptop with me, I only brought my iPhone and accessed the documents from it. While there were plenty of people at the meeting with laptops and iPads, I felt self-concious after a few minutes because I wondered if people thought I was texting or checking Facebook. For this reason, I made consistent eye contact with whomever was speaking and also kept my iPhone screen visible to anyone near me so they knew I was only looking at meeting-related documents.

Who knows, perhaps no one even noticed, but as the youngest and newest person on this committee, I had to wonder what people might be thinking. What would you have thought about a person reading from his/her phone? Do you work in places where the laptop or Ipad might be more accepted at a meeting than an iPhone or Blackberry? Or does it even matter since we know what Smartphones are capable of these days?