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Joining Forces With the Universe
1997, May-Jun (November 20, 2008)
By Ceil Shuman

Every now and then, two or three seemingly unrelated events happen in our lives which come together and give us that big "Ah-ha" experience. That is what happened to me after attending the fabulous presentation that Dykki Settle gave at the March STC meeting, "Scanning the Web with CD-ROM Tools."

The presentation in itself was enough to inspire anyone. Dykki and his crew at Ventana Communications Group have come up with a fresh, creative solution to some obstacles that they needed to overcome in order to organize, present, and market their products. Of course, these solutions involved multimedia, a direction in which, like it or not, we are all going as technical communicators.

It was what happened after Dykki's presentation that gave me the big "hit" of realization.

I was speaking to Jeff Knox, a very interesting gentleman who works as a PC technician at Nortel, and I asked him why he attends our meetings. After all, he is not actually a technical communicator; at least, not in the usual sense of that phrase. He told me, "I come to these meetings because you are the only people out here who are talking about these new technologies. No one else is really presenting them."

Then I talked to Jay Joiner who works as a broadcast journalist for the North Carolina News Network. I asked him what brought him to the STC meeting that night, and he said, "Well, I'd really like to do some work in this field." As we talked, he expressed trepidation about joining our organization because he thought that, as a journalist, he didn't really belong.

I told him what Dr. Brad Mehlenbacher told us in February's meeting: that if his students inquired about the best way to prepare for a job as a technical communicator, he'd tell them to take some courses in radio, TV, and film, since we are all being catapulted into the logo-literate world of multimedia communication techniques. I found myself telling him, "Hey, stick around. We're all going to need you very soon. As someone who has to organize large amounts of information into a broadcasting format very quickly on a daily basis, you have a perspective and approach to the written and spoken word that we are going to need, as the demand for multimedia communication increases." That made Jay feel a lot better, but I was not just being friendly; I believe that, sooner than we think, we are going to need to surround ourselves with people who have his skill set.

As I stepped into the car, that's when it hit me. With the advent of technical communication devices that Dykki Settle and his people at Ventana are cranking out, we are going to have to familiarize ourselves with entirely different skill sets and mind sets than the ones that we are accustomed to using now when we work with the written word.

For example, my friend and STC member Candee Hellberg told me recently that her company is thinking of using a video clip on CD-ROM to show their customers how to operate their software interface, rather than relying solely on pages of online or hardcopy text and graphics.

What does this mean in terms of our future activities? Will we be writing scripts, rather than steps and overviews? Will we be focusing on the spoken word, rather than the written word? If this is so, then I've got a news flash: we are going to need all kinds of members in STC, including PC technicians like Jeff Knox and broadcast journalists like Jay Joiner, so that people who are already exercising their multimedia muscles can help us transfer our skills to this arena.

We have a Vision meeting coming up in May. I think that we should talk about this issue there. Perhaps we should reach out to the universe and pull in some of these people who are not actually technical communicators per se but who are currently using the skills that we will soon need to keep our jobs. We obviously are going to need their guidance in some way, and it appears that they are already coming around of their own accord, for reasons of their own. Who knows? Maybe they are showing up at our meetings because the lines that once separated our professions have already been severed, or at least blurred. If we put our heads together and brainstorm, we can think of many different kinds of professionals to invite into STC. This can only make us stronger, more flexible, and certainly more prepared for the challenges to come. End of article.

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