In Barbara’s Mirel’s preface to “Writing and Database Technology,” she writes, “Interactive data visualizations, data cubes, and enterprise resources management systems did not yet exist for easier data retrieval, analysis and, sharing” (381). This kind of disclaimer certainly dates, but does not necessarily make moot, Mirel’s claims when she says, “If data reports are to serve readers’ needs for recordkeeping and problem solving, the writers’ technological skills must serve their rhetorical aims and strategies” (383) and “When developing reports in an electronic medium, writers’ rhetorical intentions for arrangement are inseparable from their technical skills in implementing them” (289).
In no uncertain terms, Mirel’s claiming that one’s ability to discern and address a rhetorical situation in the workplace is a slave to one’s tech abilities. After discussing the pros/cons of a table or other means of visual data (eg., graphs), Mirel writes of the Detailed Charge Report, “Readers can redesign the row groupings to get this desired arrangement of they use the sort function…But, as noted earlier, few respondents understand the uses of technical capability” (389). I wonder sixteen years after being published, if this can still be reasonably claimed, if technology still reigns as master and there still exists such separation.
Because I’ve not had the joy of actually working-working and have not been instrumental in facilitating the process of data retrieval, discerning appropriate data, arranging, then making meaning of that data (at least to my knowledge), I can only speculate, but if the workable data is tabular and numerical, I suspect modern workspaces are easily prepared to deal with it– in my limited experience with workplace technology, most computers are equipped with Microsoft Excel which can be used to perform tasks that might resemble the composition and manipulation of Mirel’s Detailed Charge Report. Mirel writes that her subjects’ disappointment with the Detailed Charge Report was the result of “invention issues.” She writes, “The report does not select and display key data relevant to readers’ needs. For instance, it gives a fine-grained level of detail on exact monthly and year-to-date costs…But it does not include higher-level figures on variances between budgeted and actual costs…(387). Excel, I think, performs this kind of task without difficulty. Switching between sheets (on the bottom left: Sheet 1, Sheet 2) various groups of data can be shown with tables, graphs, charts embedded in the sheet itself. Because the rhetorical situation can affect the data after the technology produced it, data can easily be changed and the table will immediately adapt to whatever data has been changed or fed to it.
So yes, technology does still reign as rhetoric’s master (in this context), but it’s a nonstarter. The likelihood of a professional communicator incapable to perform the manipulation of data, the tabulation of that data, all with an eye on its readability and visual composition is, I think, slim. However, handling “pressing business problems” (382) still requires collaborative rhetorical strategies to ameliorate. And as an afterthought: Using Google’s cloud technology (using Spreadsheet through its Drive), I suspect, will and, probably has, made this easier.