Blog Archives

Another Semester Down! Happy Holidays!

I can’t believe I am making my final blog post of this semester!  I came into this semester not sure what to expect and I found that I was pleasantly surprised as I enjoyed the course content very much.  It lent itself nicely to my current job – selling Pearls on Facebook Live videos.  I felt an advantage as I read through the course materials and was able to remember much of the growth of technology over the last 20 years.

The final paper has been a challenge for me – mostly because I am not employed in the field of technical communications right now and I struggled to find a good topic that also interested me enough to write about for over 15 pages.  I finally landed on the topic of student preferences for printed texts vs e-texts and why we should, as online students, choose to adapt regardless of our preference.

Here is the abstract of my paper:

As technology has advanced over the last 20 years, college students have found a world of opportunity at their fingertips via online courses that can lead to varying college degrees and online certifications.  However, as students are entering, or returning to, college life through online courses, many are finding that the delivery of online course materials through Portable Document Formats (PDFs) and electronic textbooks (e-texts) does not fit their learning preference for printed textbooks.  This paper discusses how universities have been driven to the e-text alternative due to costs and convenience, shares my personal struggle with e-texts as an online graduate student, details challenges that some college students enrolled in online courses may face with electronic delivery of reading materials, and reports previous research that suggests a general, overall student preference for printed texts over e-texts. It also evaluates the need for students to build the skill of adaptability and suggests ways that online college students can adapt to using e-texts without sacrificing their preferred learning style.

As I framed this paper, I had all intentions of discussing the disdain I had for e-texts and recommending that colleges consider students’ preference when assigning a text.  Then I found this article:  The Definition of Adaptability in the Workplace.  It changed my entire way of thinking!  According to author Neil Kokemuller, “Adaptability is a sought-after job skill as employers increasingly rely on flexible job descriptions and rotate employees into different roles. Your ability to adapt to changing situations and expectations makes you more valuable to a current or prospective employer. It also makes you more equipped for a variety of career opportunities…Adaptable workers find more employment and promotion opportunities because many people lack these critical skills” (Kokemuller, 2016).

Why do students attend college if not in order to best prepare for their future?  College students can adapt to being assigned reading material from an e-text in online courses when that medium may not be their preference – and that will be GOOD for them!  It is imperative that we, as students, realize that technology is not going to stop advancing.  Our employers will not always cater to our preferences, so why should our universities?  Being adaptable is a great quality in an employee and in a student!

Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one that is most adaptable to change.

Thank you Dr. Pignetti for a wonderful course and for all of your help and feedback on my final paper.  Thank you classmates for your responses throughout the semester to my blog posts and for such great discussions!  Have a blessed and wonderful Holiday and I hope to see some of you in my next course for the MSTPC program in January (User Centered Research).

Rebecca

 

Digitization Here, There, and Everywhere

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

Reaching the Masses through Technology

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

Marketing Land

Image courtesy of Marketing Land

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

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

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

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

It Starts with Social Media

Inner Ear

Image courtesy of Inner Ear

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

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

Measuring Your Success

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

The Media Online

Image courtesy of The Media Online

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

Looking at Digital Literacy Through Different Lenses

Research Participant Lens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technical Writer Lens

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

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

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

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

Consumer Lens

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

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

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Image from Helpsocial.com

The Yin Yang of Technological Advancements

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

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

Message-in-a-bottle-party-invitation-idea-Add-a-handwritten-note

Source: candiecooper.com

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

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

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

More on Facebook Events

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

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

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

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

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Source: graphjam.com

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

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

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

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Source: Imagur.com

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

Content Management: Simply Complicated

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

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

Content Management 2

Image courtesy of Das Tor News

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

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

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

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

Content Management 1

Image courtesy of GetRedtie

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

Make Video an Essential Part of Design and Information Architecture

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

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

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

Video Placement Guidelines

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

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

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

Video Gallery or Library

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

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

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Video Creative Brief by Angie Myers

 

 

Technological Adaptation & Appreciation

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

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

 

Technological Adaptation

Technological Adaptation

Image courtesy of Technology & Leadership blog

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

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

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

 

Technological Appreciation

Technological Appreciation

Image courtesy of Smartereum

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

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

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

Change is Good!

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

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

Image Source: cartoonstock.com

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

Failure to Evolve with Changing Technology

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

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

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

A Whole New Way to Work

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

remote2

Image Source: teambonding.com

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

 

Being Your Authentic Self…Online?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

References:

Blogging: Balancing Accuracy and Authenticity

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

Informative Blog

Image courtesy of LEENTech Network Solutions

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

Compu-Heart

Image courtesy of Iconfinder

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

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

The Role of the Blogger

Rheingold discusses the role of the blogger and the power of participation in chapter three of “Net Smart: How to thrive online.” This chapter, along with our other readings, caused me to reflect on the role of a blogger and their ability to influence action through participation.

The Power of Connective Blogging and Being Human in Markets

Rheingold discusses how connective blogging creates communities where people can comment, think critically, and influence action by sharing like-minded information. In the Cluetrain Manifesto, Levine, Locke, Searls & Weinberger argue that “markets” (bloggers, etc.) are able to do this because they speak in a human voice. They also argue companies often fail at this because they try to convince others they are human with lip service.

Most companies blog about their product or service and expect consumers to engage with it. They fail because they do lip service – they contribute to a conversation in order for you to buy such product or service. While this works to a certain degree – it is not the most effective way to create and influence action because most readers know what these companies are doing. Companies can create discussion, cause others to think critically, and influence action by being human.

Being Human Means Being Educational

Source: The Modest Man’s Website

The Modest Man is a good example of a blogger being human. Brock, The Modest Man, focuses on helping short men “dress better and ultimately feel more confident.” People actively watch his online videos, leave comments on his blog, and seek him out for fashion advice. Brock is not only able to get users to actively engage with his blogs and videos, but he was able to influence a men’s clothing company to change their sizing options after posting a positive, but critical review of their service.

Brock was able to have this effect because he has a human voice – he doesn’t post YouTube videos and blogs because he is trying to influence his audience to buy a certain product or service. He is blogging because he genuinely wants to provide helpful, educational information for those who are interested. When your focus is being educational, versus trying to influence a user to buy a certain product, you are more likely to gain a user’s trust (which Brock has done). The information he provides is authentic, truthful, and human because he is honestly trying to help men dress better, regardless of the product or service.

Being Human Requires Being Authentic

Source: The Chicken Whisperer’s Website

The Modest Man is similar in many ways to the Chicken Whisperer. Joe Pulizzi, author of Content Marketing Inc., loves to use the Chicken Whisperer as an example of a blogger who has gathered a large audience by posting educational content about raising chickens. However, it’s not that he just posts educational content – he demonstrates authenticity through his content.

For instance – his website and branding is slightly boring looking, but it helps provide authenticity. There isn’t shout outs to other brands, he doesn’t look like a executive who is trying to take your money, and most of his call-to-actions link to content and not products. This looks like a blogging information source that someone could trust and share with other users. His blog is shared because users respect and trust the information he provides them.

Being Human Means Being Trustful

Source: Realtime API Website

As a content marketer who works for companies, I often have a disadvantage because my content will automatically be seen as biased if I post anything about that subject matter on our corporate blog. One way I’ve remedied this is by creating third party microsites to publish and share information about a subject matter unbiasedly. For instance – my coworker and I created a microsite called realtimeapi.io that helps users build realtime APIs. All information we publish on this website is helpful for anyone who wants to build a realtime API and doesn’t focus on a single company or product. Whenever I create websites like this, I disclose that I work for a certain companies so users can trust and be cautious of the content. But websites like this also allow me to discuss a certain topic (like Realtime APIs) more generically and be more educational, and not force users to only look at my company’s product or services.

I believe connective blogging requires having a human voice. A human voice requires being educational, authentic, and being trustful. Companies typically fail at these three things because they only want to focus on their product and come off as biased. I believe companies must learn from connective blogger’s transparency and educational content to be truly successful in content marketing.

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

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

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

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

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

texting and driving

Image from quickmeme.com

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

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

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

Fine Tuning my CRAP Detector

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

dr google

Image from me.me

Working to “Hit It Big”

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

 

 

 

Technically Speaking On Technical Writing

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

Technical Writing

Image courtesy of Campus Commerce

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

Robot Journalist

Image courtesy of Springer Link

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

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

Save Technical Writing

Image courtesy of OwlGuru.com

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

Out with the Old – But Wait a Minute!

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

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

tech-writing-dilbert-4

Image from dilbert.com (August 3, 1995)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

confusedcomputer

Image courtesy of 11point.com

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

Collaborative, Efficient, and Overwhelmed with Online Services

Five years ago, Toni Ferro and Mark Zachry wrote about the use of publicly available online services (PAOSs) among knowledge workers associated with the technology sector. In their article “Technical Communication Unbound: Knowledge Work, Social Media, and Emergent Communicative Practices” in the December issue of Technical Communication Quarterly, Ferro and Zachry reported that the majority of knowledge workers surveyed used PAOSs for at least part of their workweek. Knowledge workers used them an average of 25% of their week, and a small percentage used them 80-100% of the time.

As a digital media director, I am a knowledge worker associated with the technology sector, so I decided to take a look at my own work processes in 2018. For my job, graduate school, and in my personal life, I use most of the services, tools, and social media platforms that Ferro & Zachry discuss.

Screen Shot 2018-09-26 at 10.45.36 PM

Almost all of the PAOSs I use are well known, but there are a few that are unique to the type of work I do including Zencastr for recording podcasts online. Motion Array is a site with royalty-free music and effects for video editing. Interact is a service that helps me create online quizzes. If you include all of these tools, I am among the group of knowledge workers who use PAOSs 80-100% of the time.

My list of PAOSs does not include all of the applications I use for work. I use a MacBook Pro laptop with apps such as QuickTime to record websites and Preview to edit photos. I also use browsers such as Chrome, Safari, and Firefox with plug-ins for specific uses such as downloading video and full-page screen shots. I have an iPhone with apps such as Voice Memos to record audio tracks. Plus, I use other software and applications that are mostly subscription-based and provided by my employer: Adobe Premier Pro, Adobe Audition, Adobe Acrobat, and Microsoft Office 365 which includes PowerPoint, Excel, and Word. There are also apps for services in the physical world such as Uber and Southwest that I use for work and in my personal life.

In my current position, I produce videos and often need to share large video files. To do that, I use Dropbox and Google Drive. In the past, I used Hightail, which was once called YouSendIt. Every few years, one of the services I use will be sidelined by a new one. I find that it’s best to work with the ones that are most familiar to my clients. Occasionally, I’ll need to learn the features of a PAOS that is new to me such as Vimeo because my client prefers it over the video player I normally use, which is YouTube.

My clients expect me to be up to date on all sorts of PAOSs and new technologies. Often, they rely on me to train them as well. It’s all on-the-job training. If I need to learn a new PAOS or app, I Google it. I also watch video tutorials on another PAOS, Lynda.com, which I just found out is now part of LinkedIn. I enjoy learning the latest apps and services, and many of them help me work collaboratively and efficiently. The downside is that I never feel like an expert at any of them, and at times, it can be overwhelming trying to remember all of the various passwords and platforms. I find that browsers can be helpful by storing login information, and luckily, most services are user-friendly if not user-centered with a not-so-steep learning curve.

As Ferro & Zachry noted, Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich said in the 1990s that the U.S. economy was shifting from manufacturing products to generating ideas and from the production of goods to specialized knowledge. While I feel I have a valuable skillset, my skills are always changing and evolving. I rely on my ability to problem-solve, write, organize, and plan. I also have gone back to school to update my knowledge and learn the latest tools as a graduate student in technical and professional communication.

Technology: User’s Best Friend

Technological Friend

Image courtesy of Haiku Deck

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

 

I love you, technology

Digital Friends

Image courtesy of Faith and Technology

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

Technology most certainly meets the criteria of a true friend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My friend, the tool

My Friend, The Tool.jpg

Image courtesy of Webreality

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

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

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

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

Triangle

Always Open for Business

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

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

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

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

images

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).

 

 

Feeling Superconnected

Hello, fellow bloggers!

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

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

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

Ownership

Ownership

Image courtesy of Digital Resource

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

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

Security

Internet Security

Image courtesy of Router-Switch

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

people in the information space

Image courtesy of Mobile ID World

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

 

Why Google Needs Oversight

google on smartphone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogging: Past Experiences and Article Reflection

Past Experiences with Blogging

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

Barrel Man’s Brew Blog

Positivity and Professionalism

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

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

“What Blogging Has Become” by Robinson Meyer

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you!

Jeff

Content Management in Job Searches

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

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

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

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

Screenshot_003.png

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

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

How to Avoid Drowning in Information Overload

In Net Smart, Howard Rheingold recognizes the same trend as Sherry Turkle of the historically unprecedented amount of available information through the Internet. However, Rheingold confronts the challenge of the volume and velocity of digital media with much more optimism. He sees it as a huge opportunity, if people understand the right strategies for managing it.

In his Tedx Talk “Attention: The New Currency,” Sree Sreenivasan argues that getting and keeping attention is critical for success in this world of overwhelming volume. Sreenivasan says, “It isn’t just that our attention spans are getting smaller and shorter but that there’s so much more stuff coming at us and so much more stuff competing for our attention.”

Rheingold makes the case that one way to handle the volume is increased mindfulness about what is getting our attention. He argues that the issue isn’t that multitasking is rewiring our brains, but rather that we do it without even being aware of it. The Washington Post article “Is the Internet Giving Us All ADHD?” suggests that although rates of ADHD are steadily increasing and the Internet facilitates behavior often recognized as ADHD, there is no evidence for a causal link.  As the volume of information on the Internet continues to explode, we don’t need to fear possible brain damage, but rather be mindful about where we are putting our attention. Sreenivasan quotes Les Hinston, former publisher of the Wall Street Journal, as saying, “The scarcest resource of the 21st century is human attention.”

However, simply knowing where our attention is going is only the first step in managing information overload. In Chapter 2, Rheingold suggests a dashboard approach to “infotention.” Savvy users organize and manage content in a dashboard style so that they can easily access the most relevant and useful information. When you’ve decided how you want to prioritize your attention, the dashboard approach helps you organize the information that you’ve decided is worth your time.

A third strategy is relying on others as curators. Rheingold tells several cautionary tales about bogus websites and warns about the need for “crap detection.” However, being a “detective” and investigating the source for every website that you visit just makes the volume even more overwhelming. In my experience, leisure users rarely go through the trouble to research a site’s author and dig for source material. Instead, most users have the online news site that they always read, and they trust it — no further investigation necessary. I haven’t been able to find a comprehensive study, but I’m curious about the percentage of time that people spend online on just a handful of favorite sites. I’m guessing that for most people, the majority of their time online is on just a couple of sites that they have deemed as passing the crap detection test.

Beyond curating your own list of favorite sites, people turn to social curation. Just as Google uses the PageRank algorithm (Rheingold, pg. 83) to boost search results based on links from other sources, so we turn to the wisdom of the crowd to help us determine which information in the sea of possibilities should get our attention. I saw this article “Social Curation in Audience Communities” about how a Finnish newspaper deemed the participation of their readers in”liking” and sharing articles as one of the most critical factors to their success and how they used strategies to begin leveraging this social curation. The article includes the statistic that up to 75% of the online news consumed by American audiences is forwarded through email or social networking sites. You could argue that this is because of peer pressure, the desire to read what our friends are reading, or other social motivators, but I think it’s also a coping mechanism to handle the volume of information available. When there are too many options, one way to decide is to take the recommendation of others. I think it’s the same as asking your dinner date what you’re at a new restaurant and trying to pick from a huge menu.

Finally, Rheingold pushes us to go one step further: “Google itself is not the curator; we are. Every time a person references a link, they help to curate the Web.” (pg. 127). After we’ve waded through the huge amount of information and deemed what is reliable and attention-worthy, we can participate by becoming the curators. Theses 72 in the Cluetrain Mainfesto gets at this: “We like this new marketplace much better. In fact, we are creating it.” As a community of curators, we’re no longer just consumers of corporate rhetoric, but we are empowered to determine value for ourselves.

blog-info-overload-boat

Three sails to staying afloat in information overload. Drawing from Coloring Son

Actually, Rheingold’s principles for being a “filter blogger” bear a surprising resemblance to what we do as technical writers. We take on a huge amount of information and distill it for what is important. Although technical writing then moves to the next step of content creation, it begins with managing and curating available information. We daily practice the skills of culling information and can appreciate the wealth of opportunities offered by the Internet without being swept away.

References

Dewey, C. (2015, March 25). Is the Internet giving us all ADHD?. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2015/03/25/is-the-internet-giving-us-all-adhd/

Sreevnivasan, S. (2015, April 20). Attention: The new currency.” Tedx Broadway. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8I4WkhG_GRM

Villi, M. (2012). Social curation in audience communities: UDC (user-distributed content) in the networked media ecosystem. Journal of Audience and Reception Studies. 9.2. Retrieved from http://www.participations.org/Volume%209/Issue%202/33%20Villi.pdf

So long, and thanks for all the fish

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

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

 

My thoughts before and after this course

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

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

Abstract of my paper

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

Reflections on researching my paper

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

Final thoughts

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

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

 

 

Expertise versus Skill: The Dichotomy of a Technical Communicator

When I first began my journey to finding a master’s program that had to do with something around technical communication, I kept telling myself it was to gain more validity with my career and give me the necessary expertise that I needed.  Within my role, it has always been a struggle to claim my position as a real “job” and not just something that needs to be done, for example, drafting e-mails to the rest of the organization about a particular issue that occurred in relation to technology.

But this idea of a dichotomy came up for me in a recent article I had written for another assignment.  When does technical communication change from just being a skill to it being considered an expertise or career?  This is often something I have contemplated, but it seems to be coming up and more and more, even in Pigg’s article on distributed work.  As Pigg discussed the skills needed for technical communication, one of the problems she conjured was that “technical communicators’ expertise is threatened to be reduced to functional technological skill (p. 72).

I often ask myself what does technical communication really mean to me?  Of course, this is in the context of my own work environment and experiences that I have had, but I am beginning to wonder if that question is ever attainable?  As we think about the growth in technology, it wasn’t until about the last 40-50 years that modern day technology really began to shape our human culture.  With this sharp increase it will only began to increase at the same rapid pace.  So what is our role as technical communicators within these changes?  Can we even bare to handle all aspects?  As organizations continue to grow, consumers begin adapting new technologies, and distribution begins to happen in our everyday lives, the role of technical communication will become even more distributed.

evs1Source: http://asgard.vc/tag/acceleration-growth/

In looking at my current organization there are many areas where the skillset of a technical communicator is needed but often times it is covered by a technical, or even non-technical, subject matter expert.  For instance, our business analysts are often reaching out to members of our organization to gather requirements for technical projects.  The work they do surely involves some type of technical communication skill but it is not something they are necessarily trained in.

evs2

Source:  http://www.sharkbelief.com/skills-are-better-than-talent/

I saw this Bruce Lee quote and it really seemed to tie in nicely with my article this week.  As I thought about this idea of skillset versus expertise, I actually disagreed with Lee’s quote.  It has to take expertise to know 10,000 different kicks versus, being able to do one really well (which is a skill in and of itself).  Practice makes perfect, right?

In correlation with Pigg’s problem statement referenced earlier, I believe it is important that we distinguish between what skill and expertise mean for the field of technical communication.  Otherwise, I too fear, in alignment with the work Slattery conducted (Pigg, 2014), that all technical communication roles will be subjected to a skill rather than an expertise.

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.

Keen and Zittrain’s competing realities can co-exist, but is technology really the issue?

At the 2015 Aspen Ideas Festival, Andrew Keen and Jonathan Zittrain debate over whether the rise of technology is creating or replacing good jobs. Are there more quality opportunities for the average worker to find employment, or are workers being replaced by technology, leaving them with no option but to take on more menial work for lower pay while a few companies collect the profit? Zittrain argued the more optimistic point, while Keen could not find a silver lining.

I found the debate fascinating because, though Keen and Zittrain seemed to see two contrasting realities, it seems to me that both realities exist simultaneously. Through the use of emerging technology, some people are able to find new ways to earn money that better fit their lifestyles. At the same time, other people are losing their jobs to an automated process. In some areas, people have FREE access to resources that they would have previously paid money for, but the people who provided those services for a fee have lost their customers… but those services are also generating new and different jobs… but are the new jobs enough to replace those that were lost?

Before writing this post I decided that I needed to see some numbers. I looked at America’s most recent employment numbers, charts showing the rising and falling of industries, and reports on which industries are hiring college grads. Service-providing industries are rapidly growing (example, health care) while labor industries are shrinking (example, mining). As of this very moment in history, according to the couple reliable sources that I dug up in a short amount of time, job prospects are becoming more numerous, though in different industries than before.

Taking a step back, I realize that I am not an economist, and that this is a very complicated field of study. The reports I found don’t speak to quality of the jobs being created in comparison to the quality of the jobs being lost. Another factor that isn’t shown in the data I found is the amount of training needed for the new jobs. Are the jobs being added accessible to the unemployed?

Working at a technical college I hear a lot about the skills gap, where the unemployed population lacks the skill level to fill open positions. I also just learned of the term “grey collar worker” used to describe a highly educated individual who can only find lower skilled employment, like my younger sister who has a four-year degree in international relations, yet she has only found employment doing clerical office work. These two realities exist at once! There aren’t enough skilled workers to fill the open positions AND there aren’t enough open positions for the skilled workers! How can this be?!

Debators keep bringing up the labor market in the 1950s as an example of a time when the middle class flourished, people could find good moderately skilled careers that would allow them to provide for their families and send their kids to college. However, now that all of their kids have gone to college to get highly skilled training, some industries are hurting for skilled labor while others are saturated. Is this really solely a technology issue?

Bringing this back around to the debate between Keen and Zittrain, Keen argues that technology is taking the lower skilled jobs, leaving a large population unable to find quality work and Zittrain argues that there are emerging areas and systems of employment that might provide balance to this economic shift. My quick research does seem to show that employment is on the rise, though the industries who are hiring are shifting, backing up Zittrain’s point of view. After taking in all of this information, I am left with the following conclusions:

  • There is a problem in employment, but though technology definitely plays a role, it is only part of a much larger issue.
  • Our culture, as Keen points out, is shifting from an industrial economy to a digital economy at an unprecedented rate. This results in some industries being left in the dust while there are few constraints on the new guys (Google is brought up over and over), allowing them free reign to dominate the field, yielding profits to a lucky few.
  • Economic theory and public policy are straining to keep up with the changes in the market. Zittrain and Keen bring up Uber’s legal issues as an example. Are the drivers employees or contractors? What percentage of the profit can Uber collect? Does Uber have to provide benefits to it’s workers?
  • Meanwhile, there are either too many or too few skilled workers, depending on the industry.

The rapidly shifting job market in this new digital economy is leaving a lot of people playing catch up. Some are lucky enough to ride the wave, while others are struggling to stay afloat. Is technology the problem, or is the issue more deeply rooted in our society’s cultural expectations and policies that are still trying to catch up with rapid change? Keen’s arguments were all on point, but other than decrying the state of things, I didn’t see him offering any possible paths forward. The optimist, Zittrain, at least mentioned that we must face these issues head on, examine policy, change our expectations and move forward.

I look forward to hearing where my classmates stand on this issue. I know this is a huge issue where politics and values come into play, and I want to hear from other opinions. I am often surprised to find so much resistance from my classmates when I take a pro-technology stance. The way I see it, the momentum pushing our society towards a more digital age is a fact. We have the choice to meet it head on, embrace it and work out the kinks… or to dig in our heels and get passed over. Just the fact that the individuals taking this class are mostly professionals who are investing our time and money into graduate-level professional development means that we are all being affected by this economic shift, and we are moving forward! Tell me your thoughts!

Sources:

United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Industry employment and output projections to 2022, December 2013

Michigan State University, Collegiate Employment Research Institute, Recruiting Trends Report Briefs 2015-16

United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Employment Situation – September 2015, released October 2, 2015

More Sound Advice for Spending Time Online

Breathe

In the last blog entry, I wrote that I agreed with Sherry Turkle, the author of Alone Together, that a great way to spend more time with people was to avoid social media and texting during certain parts of the day. This is still a good idea so that people can actually face-to-face connect with others, and to have time to allow yourself to think, but in Howard Rheingold’s booked titled, Net Smart, he gives additional ways to take control over technology’s pull. I was amazed by how simple his advice is.

Just like Turlke, Rheingold says that people need to spend some time away from technology and learn how to meditate and to breathe. By focusing on your breathing, you are focusing your attention onto one thing. By learning how to focus your attention on a singular thing, you can re-teach your brain to focus on one thing and let the distractions drop away. By being able to focus on one thing while online, you will be able to focus on your intent – your exact reason for being online – so that you can solely work on that one thing that you need to get done, instead of being distracted by random emails, instant messages, Facebook, or other things lurking to steal your attention away.

Meditation

My husband would agree with Rheingold about meditation, but I never would have thought that one could apply it to thriving online. Thinking back to my husband and about him meditating, I realize that he is a lot more focused on various things than I am. He tells me that I get distracted too easily, and that I need to learn to be more disciplined, which I believe could come from meditation. After reading Rheingold’s chapter on “Attention,” I may have to tell my husband that I will join him on his next meditation journey.

Results are Power

Now, if what Rheingold says is true that meditation helps with focusing attention, which in turn helps with “crap detection” (using your focus to research things on line to see if they are actually credible or not) and “participation power” (participate online by creating content such as photos, videos, news stories; sharing content; or editing Wikipedia or other community-based informational websites), then many people who want to success may want to do this too. I believe that I have had a good start in both crap detection and participation already, as I often create photos, video clips, and share links to other photos, video clips, and news stories on my blog and Facebook page. Just as Rheingold suggests, when I find something on the internet to share, I look at the url of the website, check for the author, and etc. to see if the content is from a place that I can trust. I do this because if I provide crap to my readers, my readers may complain or stop following or unfriend me. I want to keep my authority role as a trusted content provider.

Conclusion

For the most part, I found Rheingold to be providing common sense information and very helpful tips, in regards to thriving online – how to use your intentional attention to focus on what actually matters, which is having some downtime from technology, and being able to detect the credibility of internet content. By being able to do both, I can be a great participator online by creating and sharing trustworthy content on social media websites. But the one thing that spoke out the most was meditating. My sweet husband; he has been telling me to meditate for years, but it took a book to finally do it. I will just tell him that I finally came to my senses.

Globalization Gone Wild: The Other Side of Outsourcing

sweatshop, IT

“Today, outsourcing is not just a trend; it is an integral part of how smart companies do business”, “…a company concentrates on its core business and relies on outsourcing partnerships to get the rest done”
~ Harvard Business Review

In the past 30 years, the rapid pace at which technology is evolving has drastically shifted the modern business climate and the world of technical communications. As a result of these emerging technologies, both the tools we use and the scope of our work as technical communicators has changed. Thus, the digital revolution has resulted in a “blurring of boundaries in our field and our work” due to major changes in economics, management and methodologies. To keep up with these significant advancements, many companies have been forced to shift their product base and find ways to restructure themselves.

Through re-engineering and an adoption of radical new changes many companies have found ways to cut costs. Major layoffs have occurred as a single person now can execute jobs that once took seven people to complete. Moreover, globalization has played an undeniable role in this change.

That is to say, globalization and “improved methods of communication make it economically possible and desirable to work with people from all over the world…”. Consequently, it is becoming increasingly common for companies to send their work to countries such as India, China, Korea, or Brazil. Asa result, outsourcing, is an important factor for companies to keep their competitive edge. According to 2011 outsourcing report“Over 94% of the Fortune 500 companies outsource at-least one of their major business functions”.  With that in mind, it should be no surprise that both the company I work for, as well our clients outsource jobs.

For instance, Wunderman, has offices around the world and takes advantage of its bandwidth by outsourcing jobs. Specifically, the Minneapolis branch utilizes its Buenos Aires office for much of its production work. While 6000 miles physically separate us, we communicate with each other through weekly conference calls, Skype and software called Brandshare to keep tabs on the project. However, there is a difference between the tasks that are delegated to Buenos Aires and the work that stay in house. The projects we send to our off shore resource is oftentimes grunt work and involves little creativity. In contrast, the higher-level work generally stays in house where we can have more control over the project. Overall, despite the language barriers that sometimes occur our Buenos Aires team has proven to be a valuable resource in saving Wunderman both time and money.

Likewise, on the client side, Best Buy outsources a sizable amount of its work as well. While I know outsourcing occurs in the majority of it’s departments, I am only familiar with what goes on in the marketing sector. The bulk of Best Buy’s creative work is outsourced not only to Wunderman, but also to several other creative agencies across the country. This allows them to distribute their workload evenly and hone in on each agency’s specialty. Other aspects related to the production of marketing materials such as coding, subject line testing, and analytical reports are outsourced as well. If that wasn’t enough, Best Buy also utilizes creative resources in India for some projects. Because of the time zone difference, this allows them to work around the clock and have the finished product on their desk the next morning.

While outsourcing certainly has its benefits such as producing jobs and reducing costs, there also are several downsides. It should be no surprise that when work is outsourced at an international level there are oftentimes disparities. While many companies play by the rules, others take advantage of these workers and skirt environmental and labor laws in the process. For instance, these individuals work hard, if not harder than their US counterparts for significantly less pay. According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average hourly wage for Chinese manufacturing workers is less than a tenth that of their average U.S. counterparts. Additionally, Factory workers in China are more than three times more likely to get killed at work. With these grim statistics in mind, it is clear these workers will do anything for a job.

One of my coworkers used to work for a different Fortune 500 company that would send her to India for weeks at a time. While this third party business in India was an important asset to company, the picture she painted of her time there was bleak. Each week, the company would bus in workers from neighboring cities up to three hours away to its headquarters in New Delhi. There, the workers typically would work 10-14 hour days without complaining. At the end of the day, instead of returning home, many would sleep at the company campus’s small apartment complex- only to repeat it all the next day. Consequently, families would only see each other on the weekends because it was easier and cheaper to do so. Unfortunately, this practice is common and is a reality that all too many are unaware of.

In sum, it is clear that technology is a driving force of the economy around the world. Our demands for newer, better, faster technology and ways of communicating clearly fuel this practice. As a result, we are reliant upon both these technologies and the foreign workers who produce these products to do our jobs. So, while outsourcing certainly has its benefits, perhaps there is more to consider than the business aspect of it. Maybe, we ought to consider the humanizing side as well.

Relationship Status of Technical Communication and Social Media – It’s Complicated

I have to agree with Elise Verzosa and Amy Hea regarding their paper on “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media,” when they say how most people feel that posting on social media websites can have disastrous results for one’s professional career, but in reality, social media websites can actually be helpful and build a person’s professional career in technical writing.

While it is true that there have been cases of people’s careers being ruined because of some inappropriate, personal postings such as scandalous photos or opinions, if a technical communicator uses social media for business goals and stays away from religion, politics, and things that one would not share with their grandmother, they can be successful. Stories of social media success can also be found on the internet, although they are not as popular to talk about as the scandalous stories are.

Naturally, the first social media place that most professionals start with is LinkedIn, as that social medial website’s target audience is professionals who want to network with other professionals and companies. While building a profile and adding samples of your work there is a great start, there are other websites to join as to display technical writing skills. These websites include Dice, Instructables, eHow, and Fiverr, just to name a few. With Dice and Fiverr, technical communicators can not only build their portfolio, but they can also build a client base too.

Fiverr, like Instructables and eHow, allows the technical communicator to see how much reach they have with their writing, as all three social media websites allow users to like, comment, and share the technical communicator’s website page. If the technical communicator’s work has value – users find it helpful, then the more likes and shares his or her page will receive.

Of course, the technical communicator’s writing should be professional written for these websites to show credibility and authority.   Because of the need for clear, professional writing, people who feared that social media eroded the “grammar, correctness, or lack of professionalism” will find that fear to be invalid (Hurley & Hea, 2013, p 60). A professionally written piece is likely to receive a greater audience through shares and likes than a poorly written one.

If it turns out that the technical communicator’s written work needs clarification or a rewrite, the technical communicator can participate in crowdsourcing. In crowdsourcing, the technical communicator can learn what needs to be corrected through comments left on their work’s page, or they can join that website’s community and ask others to read their work and to provide a critique of what was done well, and what needs more clarification. By asking for feedback, the technical communicator is engaging the community and learning from others. This also helps the technical communicator build skills of working in groups, and learning where they could possibly turn for answers when they need help.

Lastly, Hurley and Hea mentioned that the “most successful DIYers had a significant social medial presence across social media platforms,” and because of that, their work had more credibility, their work was shared more often, and they had a large following (p 66). While I believe that to be true to a point, one cannot rely only on plastering work on several social media websites. What Hurley and Hea fail to mention is that to build up that following, one must engage the community as well by responding to users’ comments, questions, and private messages quickly; create a call to action by asking questions or feedback; and by posting their message on several websites, but with each posting, writing something a bit different, otherwise, it would be deemed as spam, and the technical communicator could actually lose followers. If people liked or added a technical communicator to several of their social platforms, the users will want to see something different on each platform, otherwise, what is the point of adding/liking the technical communicator to each social media platform?

All in all, I agreed with what Verzosa and Hea’s “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media,” and found their myth busting of technical communications’ fear about posting on social media to be accurate. I enjoyed learning how Verzosa and Hea, as technical communicator instructors, taught technical communication students find value in their social media writings through reach, via Instructables.com and through crowdsourcing. My only issue was to clarify that posting across several social media platforms was not enough to build an audience. What is further needed is responding to users’ questions and comments in a timely manner, and when posting across several social media platforms that the posts be written differently, as not to be confused with spam. Verzosa and Hea’s paper is a great resource for those technical communicators new to social media and who are carrying the fear of building their professional technical communicator career online.

 

 

Source:

Elise Verzosa Hurley & Amy C. Kimme Hea (2014) The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media, Technical Communication Quarterly, 23:1, 55-68, DOI: 10.1080/10572252.2014.850854

Managing information overload

Trust me, there are plenty of days in which I use my access to the Internet very “stupidly.”

I watch funny cat videos, take a look at the most recent viral videos, read nonsense celebrity gossip, and “browser shop” for things I definitely can’t afford.  In reality, I really ought to check out my RSS feeds in Feedly and do some research on the ecommerce industry or read digital marketing tips for work.  I really ought to be reading the news to see what’s going on in the world.  I really should be using the Internet smarter, but some days I just don’t want to.

I think part of this may be due to the fact that I often feel overwhelmed at the amount of quality and interesting information that is available on the Internet.  I want to know everything and the fact that there are so many different ways for me to access “everything” at once is overwhelming to me.  I feel like I can’t keep up with all the information and so instead I take a few minutes or hours to ignore the world’s most powerful knowledge tool in exchange for entertainment and killing brain cells.

Rheingold’s book, Net Smart, is making me rethink my approach to the Internet.  I need to be more focused on what I am doing because I often get sucked into the depths of YouTube while I have an important deadline looming in the near future.  I am interested in many things and I can often get caught in a web of interesting and useful information just as quickly as I can get caught up in a windfall of Internet stupidity.  Rheingold offers some excellent pointers for effectively managing this endless amount of information.  Chapter 6 of his book, “How (Using) the Web (Mindfully) Can Make you Smarter,” brings all of his information management and “crap detection” tips and tricks together and explains how his methods can help you widen your own personal knowledge base.

Rheingold’s book has helped me to stop being so overhwlemed about how I approach the amount of information on the Internet and has taught me different ways I can manage and even filter the amount of information that I see every day.  By doing this I can use the Internet smarter and more effectively instead of being tempted by the cyber black holes of funny cat videos.

What does it take to be “digitally literate?”

Thus far in the course, we have read about individuals using the Web to find work, love, and entertainment.  Now, at last, we have read about the audience and the implications for a digital world.  I feel like what we learned in this week’s readings are somewhat no-brainers because we are becoming so incredibly familiar with technology and digital literacy, but nonetheless, the authors presented many excellent points.  However, when my eyes scanned the sentence that mentions, “audiences of digital documents may different from those of print documents,” I almost chuckled to myself (Blakeslee, 2010, p. 201).  Blakeslee also mentions that now, nearly all texts that technical communicators design is created for digital use, which means that even if a text is in print, likely, a digital version also exists.

When technical communicators create texts explicitly for use on the Web, they need to keep several factors in mind.  They need to know how readers will engage in the texts, the frequency readers will use the documents, the scenario in which readers will use the text, and the expectations readers have.  As a result, designing texts for the Web is a complicated process.  In digital texts, users have a greater opportunity to engage their readers.  For example, readers of an online text have the ability to leave comments on a text and provide a technical communicator with immediate feedback.

As a K-12 educator, I envision the increase for digital literacy within the next decade.  In the future, it will be nearly impossible to survive in the world without digital literacy skills.  The need to read and write digital texts will continue to grow as desktop computers, mobile phones, tablets, and laptops become obligatory in school and workplace settings.  So, what specific skills will readers need to be deemed “digitally literate?”

First, basic reading and writing skills are necessary to begin becoming digitally literate.  A reader must have the ability to read scholarly information of higher reading levels and to construct highly effective pieces of writing in a digital setting.  Next, familiarity with various technologies is also an important digital literacy skill.  A reader must be able to use the Web, word processors, and other programs to design and publish information.  Additionally, the ability to search and locate through various technological tools is vital to becoming digitally literate.  Readers need must be able to use computers, mobile phones, etc. to their advantage.  Readers must also be able to evaluate digital sources and determine their credibility.  As I mentioned last wph.i.am.rockville202.jpgeek, with so many “voices” on the Web, it is critical for a digitally literate reader to be able to decipher which texts he/she can trust.  Furthermore, digitally literate must be able to determine what not to read.  With information so readily available, readers usually do not have the time to read everything, so they must have the skill to determine relevance.

In my opinion, readers of digital texts need even more skills than do traditional readers.  For most of us now, the transition from traditional to digital is complicated.  However, since the children of today are born with a mobile phone in one hand and a laptop in the other, digital literacy skills will continue to develop and change, as new technologies develop in the future.

Too Much Technology Creates Communication Problems

According to Bernadette Longo, everyone has a voice, but we do not hear some voices in the digital world.  So who determines which voices we hear?  I thought this was a great conversation starter.  I consider the World Wide Web a place where anyone can say anything, although we do not always hear the people with the best voices, but instead the people with the most popular voices.  In our culture, people expect to be able to say whatever they would like freely.  People promote the ideas they like the most, which is why we hear the most popular voices.  Thus far, I have used the term “voice” to represent a person’s digital thoughts, opinions, and ideas.   However, perhaps a little ironic, I think our ability to use our “voice” to communicate with another digital has led to the decline in our ability to communicate with each other in the physical world.  I believe that too much technology has created a community of people who feel comfortable enough to hide behind their computers and use their voices, but uncomfortable or intimidated in real communication settings.  Is technology creating social barriers or social connections?

Dating.  Over the past 10 years, the stigma of online dating has worn off as people are warming up to the concept.  But has starting an online dating profile affected our ability to communicate with one another?  Perhaps.  Online dating may hinder our ability to notice social cues and judge someone’s body language.  Quoted in a CNN article, Blake Eastman, a body language expert said, “People have an easier time picking out an emoticon to display the emotion they are feeling rather than actually showing it on their face” (Strickland, 2013).  Also quoted in the same article, dating coach Adam LaDolce says that people are fearful of rejection and, as a result, look to hide behind the computer screen instead of seeking organic relationships.  In my opinion, online dating can be useful for people who may having trouble meeting a mate in their daily life, but I am definitely a proponent for emerging from a hermit crab shell, venturing out in public, and striking up a conversation with a real person.  I think so much of communication, body language for instance, happens when we are with another person, and that aspect of communication is impossible to achieve through online dating.

Job Recruiting.  Qualman mentions the increase in online job recruiting.  Previously, employers paid big bucks to a “middleman,” such as a headhunter or agency, to seek out potential employees.  However, online job recruiting has eliminated the need to hire or pay for such services.  Now, websites such as a LinkedIn, enable employers and employees to directly contact one another.  Unlike Facebook or a similar social network, LinkedIn is strictly professional and allows users to post resume-like information on their profiles.  Users can also directly look at job postings and reach the hiring contact with the company.  LinkedIn can be a great tool for all parties.  However, does online job recruiting affect real life communication?  I think it can have an impact.  Before, professional social networking websites became popular, people contacted potential employers through written and verbal communication.  Today, people still do.  However, I think literacy skills as a whole are declining, and now the quality of the information people transmit to potential employers had decreased.  Especially if people are using sites like LinkedIn as their sole form of communication.  Furthermore, the quantity of information has decreased.  As mentioned in a previous week’s readings, people now seek speedy, truncated answers and do not spend time writing well-developed, quality responses.

Although I think human-machine relationships deteriorate human communication skills, I do not think they are entirely bad.  I believe that online communication can greatly affect our ability to communicate in person.  If we constantly meet people online, we will eventually lose our ability to interact in person and social skills will become nonexistent.  People need to use their “voices” to help, not hinder, their personal relationships with one another so that they do not ruin their real “voices.”

References

Strickland, A. (2013, Feb 12). The lost art of offline dating. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/12/living/lost-art-offline-dating/

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.

Where are they now?

socialnomics coverSometimes, while I am reading through actual books (versus articles) in my classes, I wonder how fast the author has to write his book in order to go through the editing and publishing phases to get it out to the consumer before it becomes “old” information.  These days I would say they have to write with lightening speed because of how fast technology changes and how constantly new forms of social media seem to be introduced (and then disappear again).  In fact, I also often wonder if we are going to see a shift away  from paper books in classes specifically because of how fast information changes.  Don’t get me wrong, I still learn a lot even when the information is becoming dated, as it is in Socialnomics.  It almost becomes more of a history lesson – sometimes you can laugh at the information and other times it is scary how true some of their future predictions have become.  For this week I thought it would be fun to explore some of this older information and see what it looks like today.

Chapter four focussed heavily on Barack Obama’s use of social media for his elections, toting is as incredibly forward thinking: “Perhaps due to his widespread appeal to younger audiences, but more likely due to limited funding at the outset of his campaign, Obama embraced social media from the beginning – knowing he had a chance to dominate this medium over his democratic opponents” (Socialnomics, 2009, p. 62).  And this quote:  “If not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not be president or even the democratic nominee” as quoted in Socialnomics on pg. 65 by Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post. Eric Qualman was probably correct in this assumption, especially with regards to the younger followers being the ones who were using social media very heavily at the time.   Out of curiosity I looked to see where the “follower” counts have gone since this book was written.  Obama has gone from 3.1 million fans on Facebook (Socialnomics, 2009, p. 62) to 36 million today.  His Youtube channel has gone from over 20 million views, per Socialnomics (p. 63) to 291,711,299 views today.  While I did not see mention of how many Twitter followers Obama had at the time this book was written, he currently has 37,736,062 followers. Considering Twitter was a very new medium during his 2008 campaign, we can probably assume that there were far fewer followers back then.

What is interesting is that “Obama has pledged to involve Americans in his decision making, by giving them five days to comment online on any nonemergency legislation before he signs it” (Socialnomics, 2009, pg. 74) but yet I have searched numerous different Obama internet sites and have not found any such options.  I have also seen that many of his sites have not been updated with events or activities since 2008.  In particular, the Youtube channel has not had a recent video from Obama since the beginning of the year.  I think we were all excited to hear that a fresh young President was going to make such great changes – it made him seem more down to earth.  It is just unfortunate that his ideas have not taken off like he had said they would.  Maybe because he found out how time consuming social media can be and his job is a little bigger than he thought?  Haven’t we all been there done that?!

In either case, another topic that Qualman brings up is how Google can predict future trends by looking at its own search trends and advertising click-throughs.  This is still something that Google is promoting.  I found this fascinating and would love to learn more about it.  It still seems that the privacy concerns brought up in Socialnomics are still an issue today and this information is not readily available to the public.

Finally, according to Qualman, “One thing that is surely inevitable is the introduction of online voting” (Socialnomics, 2009, pg. 83).  Well, his prediction is still not reality almost 6 years later.  Not that it isn’t still a topic of debate among those who are interested, especially Internet security types, but it still seems quite a long ways off.  Even Canada is farther ahead than we are in this debate.  I, personally, would love to see this one come true!

Books may still be valuable tools but time will tell if their ability (or lack there of) to keep current, without costing the consumer an arm and a leg, will devalue them in the future.  Might we see a real digital version that can get updated on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis without buying a whole new book?  Wishful thinking on my part, I suppose!

My father, technical communication, hospitals, and my grandfather – What do they have in common?

As someone who is not currently working in the field of technical communication, I enjoyed the introduction of 21st Century Theory and Practice and the chapter by Saul Carliner.  I enjoyed reading about the changes of the field that I aspire to join in the near future.

The field of technical communication has evolved so much during the past 25 years, because technical communication is such a computer-driven field.  As I read through Chapter 1, I made a mental comparison of my father’s career path.  The chapter reminded me of my father’s job, which I wrote about in my technology literacy narrative during the first week of class.  A major influence on my technological upbringing, he started his job in 1986 with the job title of Data Processing Manager in one person department at a small school district in south central Kansas.  Now in 2013, his job title is Director of Information Technology and he manages over 15 full-time employees who report to him on a daily basis.  The reason his job changed, like technical communication, is because it had no choice.  You can’t keep going to middle school if you have been promoted to 9th grade.  The same is true for technology.  You can’t keep using an outdated system when everyone else moves to the more advanced system.  The only way technical communication could survive was to embrace every change it ever faced.

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GHX company logo from http://www.originbranding.com

To connect the chapter with the introduction of the book, the opening page states only some 2% of hospitals have made the transition to digital (p. 1).  I think it is unfair and unrealistic to think that gigantic operations, such as hospitals, can suddenly make the leap from paper to paperless in a matter of years.  They were never expected to become digital until recently, unlike technical communication, so they did not take the technology tip and transition gradually.  Hospitals have been doing business just like normal.  Don’t get me wrong, I definitely think hospitals becoming paperless will be benefit the hospitals, insurance companies, and patients, I just don’t see it happening in the immediate future.  According to Forbes in January 2013, only 1.8% of hospitals have an electronic record system in place.  Many hospitals, according the article, are not ready and are asking for more time, despite the amount of money they have received to assist in their transition from paper to paperless.  I worked at a very large hospital in the accounting department part-time while I was in college.  The reason I got the job, in fact, was to help transition their invoice system to a streamlined digital process.  The hospital was trying to use a new system, called GHX, and there were so many hiccups with the system that they extended my employment by an additional year.

I compare it to teaching my 80-year old grandfather to set up an email account and get a cellphone.  It took YEARS for my family to convince him to set up an email account and use a cellphone.  After he finally did, it took quite a while for him to be able to use his new technology correctly.  Asking people to change from one habit to another, especially when they have been doing things the same for a long time, is unrealistic and requires a great deal of time.

To conclude, I am not surprised that technical communication has made so many leaps in the digital age.  Such changes and adjustments are necessary for the continuation of the field.  I hope to learn more about the programs and software I will be using when I start working in a technical communication field, but who knows if they will even be the same by that time!

Week 12 | Ethics Versus Framed Value Systems

Digital technology is rapidly developing, and people are struggling to keep up with its rate of change and effect on society.  Katz and Rhodes have developed frames that define what levels people have adopted technology, but the authors are confusing ethics with value systems. The authors have failed to discuss the impact of digital communications in terms of what is ethical (good or bad), but instead discuss value systems in a range of frames that guide peoples’ behaviors (such as whether people adopt technology or not). Whether people adopt technology or not is not an ethical decision in itself. How people decide to use the technology deals with ethics.

Technology is not new. For instance, a fountain pen is technology, and it has been around for over a thousand years. Fountain pens replaced writing with quills. Fountain pens were replaced by typewriters, and typewriters were replaced by computers. A person cannot call a computer ethical or not ethical, just as they would not call a hammer ethical or unethical. Technology is not advancing itself. It is people behind it that are driving it. People who make a website may try to achieve certain results, like increase visitor traffic. A computer isn’t the means to this end, but the people behind it are.

The Katz and Rhodes article also misses the point of technology, which is to improve the quality life for humans. The introduction of digital technology has not changed ethics. Ethics is fundamentally the same. I agree with the authors that technology’s impact is greater than it was in the past (p. 231), but this does not necessarily change how we determine what is ethical. For example, if a student decides to cheat on an exam, is it any more or less ethical if the student cheats on the exam with a smartphone than with notes written on the palm of his hand? Both are ethically wrong. The only difference is one involves digital technology.

 

 

 

Don’t allow technology to complicate things!

I apologize for getting my post up so late! Apparently I was in la-la land this weekend and it completely slipped my mind.

In Chapter 4: Information Design, the sentence “…knowing not just how to do things with technology, but also why and when actions needs to take place” grabbed my attention right away. One piece of technology that the non-profit organization that I volunteer at has started using recently is QR codes.

Here is an example of a QR code:

 

For those of you who don’t know how these work, you’re able to create these QR codes online by using a QR Code generator, which allows you to link a web address to a QR code. From there, many companies add it to their marketing material because when they’re scanned by a smart phone (with the proper app), it brings you to that designated web site.

The organization I mentioned earlier thought this would be a great way to get the word out about their mission and proceeded to plaster these on promotional t-shirts. Great idea in theory, right? Unfortunately, for whatever reason, they couldn’t be scanned on these t-shirts and the failed to include a web address apart from the QR code that people could go to as an alternative.

This idea really drive the points Salvo and Rosinski make about information design. While companies often want their customers to view them as tech-savvy  and ahead of the curve, it’s really important to be thoughtful in how we approach a situation.

Front-end Strategy

You want the findability to be easy to navigate, so it’s important to work through front-end strategy (site maps, wire frames). I’m a huge fan of mapping out projects before digging into them and realizing you only have half the information you need. I think site maps are a fantastic way to get everyone involved on the same page.