Technical Communication in an Information Society

Technical Communication in an Information Society

John DiMarco (St. John’s University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch585
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Gutenberg developed movable type and revolutionized communication. O’Hara (2001) makes identification that “from the fourteenth century on, the social system of science has depended on technical communication to describe, disseminate, criticize, use, and improve innovations and advances in science, medicine, and technology” (p.1). O’Hara’s reference provides a clear pathway to further discussion and interpretation on the rapidly changing tools, techniques, and roles that have caused the permutation of technical communication from an original tool of science and medicine in the 1400s to an academic discipline and a universally desired societal skill set for all who engage the information society. The purpose of this research is to identify the stature of technical communication in societies which engage heavily in information design, social technological product consumption, and publishing. This chapter addresses the past, present, and future issues, controversies, and roles that technical communication has had and will have on the information society.
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On the broadest level, technical communication techniques can be defined as technical writing, research, information management, digital document design, Web design, and foremost, persuasive, action-based communication (Sheehan, 2005). A simple definition of the information society is a society that relies on information products and serves to thrive and prosper (Webster, 2002). Investigation of the history of technical communication and the birth of the information society, revealed some interesting research questions. The connection between technical communication and the information society provides a pathway to gaining a deeper understanding of the role of technical communication within modern day society. To clarify the connections, I explored and answered two research questions. First, how do the tools, techniques, and roles of technical communication enable an information society to exist? Second, are there metaphors that may be translated into predictable analogies that can be uncovered that connect technical communication as a driving force in the information society? Answering these questions revealed commonality, pattern, and evolution within the tools, techniques, and roles of technical communication as they relate to the information society.

Historical Connections

The proliferation of technical communication into disciplinary maturity has occurred over the past sixty years and has yielded academic programs and a body of innovative research (Staples, 1999). Pringle and Williams (2005, p. 362) explain that “evidence exists, in fact, that traces technical and scientific writing back to ancient times where anonymous technical writers wrote on tablets in Babylon”. The rise of moveable type and the English renaissance enabled technical writing to emerge as a “by-product of print technology and literacy” (Pringle and Williams, 2005, p. 362). This historical plateau in technical communication gave rise to the 1800s and the rise of technical writing in England. Pringle and Williams (2005) explain that the first works were “books that provided instruction on performing work in a broad range of fields such as medicine, agriculture, navigation, and military science” (Ibid. 362). These pre-industrial revolution and pre-war events helped to structure and enable the foundations of technical communication, technical writing, and technology.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Technical Communication: (1)Techniques (technical writing, research, information management, digital document design, Web design) involving special knowledge of a mechanical or scientific subject for the purpose of sharing informational signs to make them common, to evoke shared experiences, and to persuade people to act. Technical communication can occur within the contexts of developer, producer, receiver, and user because of the dynamic, ubiquitous nature of technical communication tools, techniques, and roles. (2) An academic discipline focusing on technical writing, research, information management, digital document design, and Web design.

Communication: A transactional process that involves the exchange of information by sharing and evaluating informational signs which include verbal (auditory), non-verbal (visual), written, and mass (radio, television, print, and Web medias) message types.

Technical Writing: Writing medical or technology based materials which include: standardized procedure documents, definitions, descriptions, instructions, and training.

Everyday Technical Communication Skills: Technical communication skills (menu navigation, scrolling, visual communication) used to share informational signs to evoke shared experiences in the execution of everyday technological activities.

New Media: Media characterized by digital content, development, and delivery. New media includes digital video, computer animation, 3d Modeling, video games, motion graphics, kiosks, PDA, iPod, and Web sites.

Information Society: A society that relies on information products and serves to thrive and prosper.

Ubiquitous Technology/Ubiquitous Computing: Microprocessor based devices that people to use in everyday personal life. Examples of ubiquitous computing are IPods, cell phones, and automobile navigation systems.

Everyday Technical Communication Activities: Activities that require technical communication skills. (playing video games, operating cell phone, using a digital camera).

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