The way we communicate
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been mulling over the way we communicate. Every now and then, people say that we (people in general, our generation, the younger generation, the Internet denizens, …) are losing the ability to concentrate for more than a few nanoseconds at a time. We accuse ourselves of not reading anything, of losing energy and switching context too quickly. You’ve heard all this before.
But I think that’s wrong. Instead, we’re radically changing the way we gather and consume knowledge.
Asynchronous, extended and creative information gathering
We communicate asynchronously. We take information from a wide number of sources, and munge it together. And we do it creatively.
Our attention span is not shorter, but rather much more extended than before. We pick up thoughts, drop them, then pick them up again later, not minding too much if they’ve changed a bit in the meantime.
Also, we use the cloud for much of our communication. In our household, which is probably fairly typical, there are devices lying around all over the show. I pick up my mobile phone when I want personal access to my social sites. But if I’m in the living room and just want to read some blogs or search for some info, I will pick up the family iPad if it’s closer. When I want desktop apps and a bigger keyboard, I boot up my Windows PC. If an Apple Mac is lying around, I’ll open it up for quicker access to the web. (Macs boot up so much more quickly than Windows PCs.)
Our communication is more fluid than it’s ever been. And more technical.
The science of technical communication needs to take this into account.
We’re there already
Now I’m putting on my “technical communicator” hat. By accident or by design, many of us have slipped into multi-channel mode already. In illustration, here are some of the channels in which I answer customers’ questions and pass on hints and tips:
- Wiki-based documentation
- Community question-and-answer forum
- Corporate blog
- Personal blog
- Skype calls
- User group meetings
- Special-interest social sites
- A book
What do technical communicators need?
It’s tempting to say that we need a tool that helps us find, manage and present all these sources of information in a useful way.
Do we need a new tool, or do we need to learn how to use the channels that people are already using to communicate?
What do we have already that comes close? What would the ideal solution look like?
Perhaps what I’m looking for is there already. It’s called the Internet, with Google smoothed over the top. Perhaps what I’m looking for is the Semantic Web.
But I can’t help thinking that those are too vast and therefore not helpful. Do we need a tool that fits the needs of technical communication in particular? But tools get out of date so quickly, specialist tools in particular.
Do we need clever technical communicators who keep abreast of new technology, whether it’s developed for us or not, and constantly devise ways to use it to give our readers what they need?
Yes, that’s it. And that’s why we’ll never be without a job.
End of my rambling train of thought
What do you think of all that?