Tagged: technology

10. On Technical Difficulties Removed from Workplace Writing

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.

Change in the House of Technology

It seems like most weeks’ readings inspire at least one mention of Kent’s ideas from a student in this class. I am afraid that I will have to be that student for this week. So, basically, definitions of terms like technical writing, technical communication, and technology are not set in stone; they can change over time. Changes come about through a discussion of those ideas, like technical writing, technical communication, and technology, and when a consensus is reached about definitions for those ideas (or at least a majority opinion comes to rule the definition roost), those consensus definitions become more commonplace in the social and cultural world.

A few of this week’s readings bring up how certain groups with power, groups with hegemony, define what technology is (Haas) – or they define how texts, be they electronic or in print, can be owned (Howard). In the case of ownership and copyright, the “privilege” of copyright law (Howard 402) is bestowed upon the United States public by its Constitution and governing bodies. The Haas and Selfe & Selfe readings show how a certain group’s agenda sets the tone, through certain rhetorical strategies, for how technical communication and technology itself should be defined. What is cool about the Haas and Selfe & Selfe readings is that some academics are working diligently to redefine certain ideas to better serve underprivileged groups.

Now, a few weeks ago our class discussed scientific methods, particularly ethnographic studies, and I asked a question about how much success some groups, like feminists, who have tried to redefine science’s agenda to better serve the underprivileged, have found during their attempts at changing consensus – or at least forming a different consensus that could serve as a binary to the one in power. I asked that not because I didn’t think the feminists had much to say in their arguments (I pretty much agreed whole-heartedly), but because I was worried whether creating a binary opinion about science and its methods would really change much in a field like science, which was established quite some time ago as a power in the Western world, or technical writing, which oftentimes seems to serve a business agenda (this was discussed in our class’s last face-to-face meeting when many of us wondered how beneficial the “symbolic-analytic” work ideal for technical communicators really is). Can we change any definitions for fields that have long, structured histories?

Thankfully, we were asked to read Bernhardt’s “The Shape of Text to Come: The Texture of Print on Screens”, and, after reading that work, I think that applying cultural theory and criticisms to fields like digital rhetoric and computer technologies will prove very fruitful. Part of the reason it will prove more fruitful is because electronic texts do not seem as well established as ideas like science. For example, electronic texts have changed dynamically (in at least one way) from how Bernhardt described them, mainly through the ways we use them:

Screen-based text differs from paper text in many ways…. We use text on screens under different conditions and for different purposes than we do paper texts.… A real virtue of paper text is its detachment from the physical world. We can read [paper text] on planes or in the car; we can put books in our backpacks or leave them at home. (411)

Bernhardt’s claim here doesn’t stand true anymore, as we have laptops, webbooks, Kindles, and tablets on which we may read electronic text on planes or in the car; we can put those new technologies in our backpacks or leave them at home.

Are digital texts, then, young enough that arguments about them can actually have a lasting effect?