Techwriting: Cultivating the Art of Communication

From Papyrus to 3D Printing

Luke Richey

Socrates Communicating with Athenian Populace

Oral Origins

Communication, in all its diverse forms, has evolved within the several past millennia, unquestionably becoming a deep-rooted tradition of human culture. Conceived in the caves of the Stone Age and mushrooming in the past century and a half, communication continues to spread across mediums and geographic lines. Now, instead of paintings draped across rocky ceilings and relying on spoken word, the phenomenon bounds towards circuits, processors and digital airspace.

On the steps of the Athenian marketplace, Socrates preached the importance of communication and open dialogue. As Socrates distrusted the cemented nature of written word, he appreciated face-to-face contact to facilitate complete discussion. Modern online message boards, comment sections and other response mechanisms factor in some of Socrates’s concerns. However, even in today’s interactive climate, some of Socrates’s worries still seep through, as can be seen from the rampant spread of disinformation and untruths on the Web. It is up to us, as professionals in the communication field, to ethically disseminate and temper our words in the public sphere.

Dawn of the Digital

Communication has changed immensely since the times of the Ancient Greeks. Unglued from the papyrus, language has flourished in the new technological age. Words are no longer set in stone; they occupy wires, inhabit links and spread at a breakneck pace. Language and communication are headquartered in YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, online sites spanning from Amazon to GoDaddy, as well as print. Not only has communication broken the mold within formal language, language has emerged into mediums such as video, CDs, iPods, iPhones and computer processors. Technology has quite literally re-written the linguistic landscape.

Following the onset of the First and Second Industrial Revolutions, steam power and railways burst onto the bourgeoning communication infrastructure. With these additions, information, products, ideas and people began to crisscross the U.S. and beyond. This explosion in technological advancement paved the way for further innovations to take root. Not even a century after the Second Industrial Revolution rumbled and roared, the first television set flickered on in San Francisco in 1927. By the mid-1980s, Steve Jobs had unveiled Apple’s first mass-produced personal computer, the Macintosh. Microsoft soon followed suit with its own technological marvel in 1985, Microsoft Windows, an extension of its MS-DOS product.

Toward the Technical

Fast-forward to modern day and new technologies pop up on a daily basis. New innovations and creations in communication dot the physical and digital globe. In the realm of technical communication, more commonly dubbed professional writing, new software and hardware gadgets have propelled the profession to new heights.

With the release of new eye tracking software, through companies such as Tobii, SMI BeGaze and others, professional writing has garnered ground in fields like marketing, advertising and even behavioral neuroscience. Software additions like this aid in web design and development and diversify the discipline towards more unconventional avenues for success. In present day’s fast-paced job climate, writers no longer just write. They design, code and tinker.

Devices like 3D printers, spawned in the early 80s and popularized in the mid-to-late 90s makerspace traditions, open up doors for professional writers to test their technical chops in a revolutionary setting – the lab. Hands-on labor may be a beneficial way for writers to visualize and then transcribe their work onto the page, prepping themselves for technical manuals and other document denominations. Besieged by new mediums, technical communicators must broaden their professional arsenal to compete and succeed in the job market as well as comprehend contemporary challenges inherent in the digital realm.

Tinkering with modernized gizmos, gadgets and software renews age-old issues dating back to Socrates for communicators. Vexed by sophistry and other forms of deceptive discourse, Socrates doggedly fought for truth, eventually incurring the wrath of the Athenian aristocracy for his beliefs. That fight still occurs to this day – at an arguably much more magnified rate. Information is the basis for effective communication and professionals from all creative disciplines should safeguard it from unreliable sources or desires. Responsible communication promotes open dialogue, advances discussion and promulgates reliable and practical discourse. From that vein, the art of communication will always thrive.

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