We have met the future, and it is us

A lot of bloggers, including yours truly, have spilled a lot of ink (electrons?) pondering the question, What does the future hold for technical communication?

Sarah Maddox, one of the most insightful technical communicators you’ll ever
meet, recently turned the question on its head.


Image source: Sarah Maddox (ffeathers.wordpress.com)

At her keynote address at the tcworld India conference last month, Sarah asserted that the future is technical communication — and then made a strong case for why that’s so.

The summary of Sarah’s talk, and her accompanying slides, are two of the best things you’ll read all week.

Here’s a paraphrase of what she said.

A weird and wonderful world

Technology is moving fast, and it’s often confusing. Blink, and you’ve missed something.

At the same time, people love technology. We’re eager to apply it in our daily lives and learn to use it in new ways. In fact, we have a relationship with our technology. (I can’t count the number of emails I’ve received with the tagline “sent from my beloved iPhone” at the end.)

People absorb information differently. Increasingly we learn about the technology through the technology, sometimes becoming immersed in the technology.

“In our weird and wonderful world,” Sarah writes, “even inanimate things communicate with each other….Some people are doing things that seem way out there. Until they become the norm.”

Think about it. The things technical writers do — communicating about technology, communicating through technology — are a perfect fit for this weird and wonderful world.

Our mission

A while back I took a stab at crafting a mission statement for technical writers. That article, like this one, was prompted by something Sarah wrote. (It seems that. Sarah and I tend to think along the same lines. She just thinks a lot farther ahead than I do.)

At the end of her tcworld India keynote, Sarah unveiled a new, two-part mission statement. Here it is:

  • Make complex goals achievable within our audience’s context
  • Deliver what the audience needs for the intended purpose, in the language that they understand, anywhere, anytime, anyhow.

I like this: It puts the emphasis where it belongs: on our audience and their goals. But then technology comes into play, for it’s the vehicle with which we deliver the right information in the right way — anywhere, anytime, anyhow.

I think Sarah is saying that we need continuously to hone the technical part of our job title, while not neglecting the communicator part.

I think she’s right. What do you think?

6 thoughts on “We have met the future, and it is us

  1. ferswriteshoe

    I’ve always liked Kathy Pringle and Sean William’s “mission statement” for technical communication, from 2005 (full citation below) as techcomm has always reflected a tradition of being user advocates concerned with accommodating technology to the user:
    “We approach technology from a human perspective and believe that technology should adapt to people, not the other way around. We design our communication products accordingly, using whatever media, software, technology, or tool is most appropriate to achieve this end. People, we would argue, are the ultimate end, not the technology. Not only is this a value set in technical communication, it’s also the way we work. We use tools not as an end but as a means to help people.” (The future is the past: Has technical communication arrived as a profession? Technical Communication, 52, 2005, p. 369)

  2. Pingback: Living and learning: 2016 | Leading Technical Communication

Tell me what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s