This week’s readings provided an exciting slew of articles whose scope ran the technical communication gamut. We’ve been assigned a piece articulating the feminist lens apropos the position and environment of the technical communicator, an article discussing authorship among the profession of technical communication (replete with citations including exciting theorists like Stuart Hall and Michael Foucault) and, among another article, an essay allocating Robert B. Reich’s (dated?) workplace classifications to our beloved field.
(Basically, Reich is the unsung hip and hyper-technologically attuned hero of the political sphere. According to the impossibly sacrosanct and no-matter-what-accurate Information Giant Wikipedia, Reich maintains a Tumblr—a service near and dear to my heart— and in September 2011 “created an account on the Internet forum reddit and opened an ‘ask me anything’ thread.”)
We have in Johndan Johnson-Eilola’s “Relocating the Value of Work” the kind of doom and gloom academic essay charging its audience to rethink, reinvent, reengineer, and rearticulate (J-E’s rhetoric) its place in the world lest it wants to see itself wither in the face of an ever-evolving, information valued over industry world. If I remember correctly, this isn’t the only essay of its type we’ve seen this semester. J-E’s claim here goes something like: As it stands (or stood 1996), the technical communicator is widely conceived of as an add-on, enhancer, and/or secondary source that improves some document, or documents, in some way. Using Reich’s workplace classifications, technical communicators fit very well into Reich’s symbolic-analytic classification instead of the routine production or in-person. But if our profession doesn’t assert itself soon, it will forever be mired in the first two classifications (routine and in-person).
This essay has (1) helped me rethink (to use a tip of the hat term) the place of the technical communicator in both the industry and, say, as a freelancer or outside of a corporate capacity. (2) It also serves as a backlog of then-relevant reporting that we can critically reflect on sixteen years later.
Speaking on behalf of the under-utilized technical communicator, J-E writes, “We are blocked out of the formative stages—where we might make productive changes in the dynamics and the form of software in order to increase usability and efficiency—because we are not able to speak the discourse of software development” (189). I haven’t worked in the kind of capacity J-E concerns herself with here. Because of this, the knowledge that tech communicators are often neglected in the beginning or developing stages of a project kind of came as a surprise to me. I wonder if the tech communicator is neglected only during those kinds of projects that directly involve software, or if across the board the communicator is overlooked as an individual probably keenly aware of any given (rhetorical or communicative) situation.
The kind of dated quality of this piece is apparent when J-E writes, “As we shift the value of technical communication away from discrete technological products and toward contextualized communication, the social aspects of technological use are more amenable to critique and change.” Whenever I read the word ‘social’ when studying this kind of literature, my thoughts immediately meditate on Facebook. Especially so when J-E claims, “If technical communicators do not take action to change their current situation, they will find their work increasingly contingent, devalued, outsourced, and automated” (187). Again, as this claim pertains to Facebook, I consider the company’s user-feedback element. When Facebook changes its interface, complaints are abound. Not only do my friends complain, but I see those very complaints voiced by others on Facebook’s company profile. Because there is no need for an intermediary on Facebook’s behalf, and because this is a process occurring years after “Relocating” was written, does this mean that the technical communicator’s position as a symbolic-analyst has failed him (as J-E feared)? That perhaps there was some way to prevent this direct kind of communication?
Probably not, but I can’t help but consider the technical communicator’s position automated and J-E decrying this kind of development in 2012.