The recent surprise election of Donald Trump as president of the United States has occasioned a lot of writing that I can sum up like this: Suddenly the world is very different than I thought it was. How do I (or we) deal with that?
One particularly poignant article came from technical communication blogger Danielle Villegas — TechCommGeekMom. Danielle pondered what the election results, and the conditions leading up to them, mean for technical communicators. Are we seeing the end of the trend toward globalization? How easy will it be to find work if you live in a rural area, away from a city?
Toward the end of her article, Danielle issued a call to action:
The proclivity of technical communicators, from my observations, is that they have big hearts. They have strong ideas, they are organized, and they know how to take action. They are generally open-minded, they think “outside the box” for solutions, and they understand the importance of reaching out and embracing the world because the proliferation of the internet has warranted it. We can make a difference in how we approach our work, both domestically and internationally, to set an example of best practices of being decent human beings trying to help each other progress and survive in this world.
How can technical communicators show the way, or “set an example,” in the way Danielle describes? How can we use our “big hearts” to bring progress, and perhaps bring reconciliation, to the fractured world in which we live?
Here’s my stab at an answer. I hope all of you will chime in with your comments.
Let’s start by recognizing who we are.
The presidential election, and the Brexit vote in the U.K. that preceded it, brought into the open a clash that’s been building for some time. It’s a clash between two worldviews:
- A manufacturing-based economy, in which a man (almost always a man) has steady work and can provide a good life for his family. This view often focuses on tightly-knit, homogeneous communities like small towns or workers who do the same kind of job.
- An economy in which technology, not manufacturing, dominates — in which people are connected in a worldwide community (and market) that reaches across boundaries of gender, sexual orientation, race, and nationality. This view is inclusive: we all thrive when (and only when) every one of us thrives.
In my interactions with fellow technical communicators I’ve observed that most of us (though not all of us) tend toward the second worldview. That’s not surprising, because:
- As a profession we’ve benefited from globalization. It’s opened new markets and new audiences for the content we produce.
- We’ve also benefited from the post-industrial, technology-driven economy. Many of us work in computing or in service-oriented industries. Even those who work in traditional manufacturing companies use technology to create content and present it to customers.
- We’re a diverse group. For example, the last time I looked, STC was about 60 percent female — a remarkable figure for a technology-driven profession.
That, by and large, is who we are. Now let this sink in: whatever your worldview, there are a lot of people who don’t share it.
Showing the way
So, returning to the original question, how can technical communicators bring about progress? How can we do it in a way that bridges the gap between our worldview and the other worldview?
Here are some ideas.
We can listen. We’re good listeners. We listen to our customers so that we can give them information they can use. We listen to subject-matter experts and others so that the content we create is accurate and faithful to the company’s strategy. We can listen to people whose opinions are different from ours — for listening is the first step toward establishing useful dialog.
We can champion the truth. It’s alarming how much propaganda and “fake news” has been accepted as truth or at least has subtly influenced people’s opinions. As technical communicators we’re committed to accuracy. We know there is such a thing as absolute truth, and we resist attempts to distort or pervert that truth — whether it’s the Marketing department asking us to make a misleading claim, or whether it’s something far more insidious.
We can, as Danielle says, be decent human beings. We can conduct our professional lives with integrity, with common courtesy, and with respect toward all the people we work with. That kind of behavior brings people together. The other kind of behavior divides us.
What do you think? How can you bring about positive change in a world that might be very different from what you thought it was?