Thanks again, Capitalism!

Each chapter in this week’s readings reminds us of the complex contexts in which we live and work while contributing to our understandings of the responsibilities and ethics of the never transparent role of technical communicators. The articulation lens that Slack, Miller, and Doak argue for and apply to technical communication, which constructs the role of technical communicator as one of (re)articulating meaning in relationship to power. Dilger’s discussion of usability draws on Nielson (2000) and Donoghue (2002) while building an argument for a cultural studies for technical communication to assist communicators with dilemma like the tension that exists between trying to simultaneously build trust with and anticipating needs of users. Moses and Katz explore the underlying, purposive-relational ideology of email as a cultural practice that blurs the boundaries of work and play, replacing traditional values and creating a culture of people who feel more and more dependent on technology. (Thanks again, Capitalism!)

Both Dilger and Moses-Katz discuss the reality of the Internet as a commodity, “a commercial product ultimately grounded in capitalistic goals” (p.75), and it seems to the perfect example of Donoghue’s ideas on extreme usability: The ease, comfort, expedience, and simplicity of sites like Google allow for “natural”, friction-free experiences in users accessing knowledge and other commodities. Such ease leaves us at least a little lazier and wondering if we really wanted what we bought in the first place! Technologies like email may seem to remove barriers and burdens like embodiment, but Moses and Katz show how the same dominant forces and hierarchies remain in tact. One example of this that came to mind while reading Chapter 3 is ECU email addresses.

While one’s email address may not seem to reveal more than a name and affiliation (and possibly a location), ECU has created a system for assigning email addresses that reflects the institution’s hierarchy at least to a certain degree. (Of course, just the affiliation may reflect many cultural values, but I have decided not to go into those.) The most obvious example is the discernment between faculty and student’s addresses because the word student is spelled out in student email addresses (flinchbaughk97@students.ecu.edu) while faculty don’t (flinchbaughk@ecu.edu). Much more is revealed in many faculty and student email addresses. For example, because of my student email address, you can tell that the first year I was enrolled at ECU was 1997. This means that I have been in school at ECU a LONG time, which could indicate various negative and/or positive things. One could assume that I have either been a really good student (because I have returned to school) or a really bad student (because I never graduated from school).

The absence of certain elements in faculty also conveys certain information. Because ECU started to insert the year one started employment at ECU around 2014-2015, you can tell that I have worked at ECU for at least three or four years, which could indicate that I am a good employee (because I have maintained employment for several years) or an employee who lacks motivation (because I have not professionalized enough to move on to a new or better position or university). Also, because I only have a K after my last name, you can assume that Flinchbaugh is not a common last name at our university. The university uses last and first names to assign email addresses on a first come basis. If your last name-first letter combination has already been used by someone else, they use the first two letters of your name (smithjo@ecu.edu). Therefore, those people with very common last names may have the first several letters of their name (smithjohnathan@ecu.edu).

While I think this is a different approach to “life as a project” (p. 77) than what the authors had in mind, it does reveal more than one may assume.

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