Culture, Online Technology and Computer-Mediated Technical Documentation: Contributions from the field of Intercultural Communication

Culture, Online Technology and Computer-Mediated Technical Documentation: Contributions from the field of Intercultural Communication

Marc Hermeking (Ludwig-Maximilians University, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-833-0.ch006
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Abstract

The global diffusion of technology is increasingly accompanied by both computer-mediated and online communication. Several empirical examples for the influence of culture on the usage of online technology and computer-mediated technical documentation are illustrated with relevant theories from the field of intercultural communication (e.g., Edward T. Hall’s model of low-/high-context in particular). Recent developments and national differences in the global diffusion of mobile phones and the Internet are discussed as examples for culture-specific online communication preferences. Similar cultural influences on computer-mediated technical documentation and operational instructions are demonstrated by online manuals from Southeast Asia and by an aviation control system. Beyond the understanding of cultural communication preferences, consequences for construction and design of such technologies are also discussed.
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Introduction

As a precondition and as a result of the era of globalization, the world-wide diffusion of technology – both traditional, mechanical, offline technology and modern, computerized online technology – tends to increase enormously. This phenomenon interconnects people and cultures from all over the world, and, at first sight, this situation seems to indicate a culture-free character of technology. Most of all, this culture-free global image seems to hold true for information and communication technology (ICT) and all related forms of computer-mediated communication (CMC), both wired and wireless/mobile.

The latter, especially, gains an increasing share in nearly all kinds of technical products beyond formerly typical ICT products: Examples for such additional elements of our online environments are cars, trains, ships, airplanes, and even household appliances of the near future – the usage of which tends to be more and more accompanied by computer-mediated instructions and online technical documentation. Consequently, a lot of offline documentation, such as printed operation manuals, has already disappeared and continue to be substituted by human-machine interaction (human-computer interaction) in online environments around the world.

An increasing number of empirical studies, however, confirm the manifold and sometimes subtle, but nevertheless very critical influences of culture on technology in general (Hermeking, 2001; Hermeking, 2010) and on CMC (e.g., the Internet, websites) in particular (Hermeking, 2005; Singh, Zhao, & Hu, 2005; Hermeking 2007; An, 2007; Li & Zhao, 2009; Gevorgyan & Manucharova, 2009; Hauser, 2010). Such cultural influences on technology might not only apply to the perceived design and the visual surface of technical products. Rather, they might also apply to the different contexts and ways of using technologies –as well as the ways of communicating with and about technology. Cultural communication styles exert many, and sometimes utmost critical, impacts on such human-machine interactions.

This chapter provides some empirical examples for the influence of culture on the usage of online technology and on computer-mediated technical documentation. These connections will, in turn, be illustrated by examining relevant theories and models from the field of intercultural communication.

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