RE: huh?

Subject: RE: huh?
From: "Jim Shaeffer" <jims -at- spsi -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 8 May 2003 15:34:42 -0400

I've embedded my multiple responses to Mark Baker's post
inside his original message, below.
Just let me say, I am not arguing in favor of ignorance. I am
presenting a different view of the future of high tech and the
role to be played by ignorance.

Jim Shaeffer (jims -at- spsi -dot- com)

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Mark Baker [mailto:mbaker -at- ca -dot- stilo -dot- com]
> Sent: Thursday, May 08, 2003 1:18 PM
> Subject: RE: huh?
> There is a persistent belief in the TW community that the
> average user is inexperienced and ignorant of the product
> they have bought.

I'd say it is to the point that workers are ignorant
of the products that have been foisted upon them by their
bosses. That's my target population for user help.

> I suppose this is a product of the late
> lamented tech boom when we were all suddenly buying
> and using our first word processor, our first spreadsheet,
> etc. But it is not the normal state of things. People
> mostly buy things of a type they are familiar with, whose
> functions and use they know well.

If "People mostly buy things of a type they are
familiar with, whose functions and use they know well." then
we have no need for any further documentation or technical
writing. What new job should we look for? (I exaggerate, of
course. Car manuals still come in handy at times.)

> The myth of the ignorant editor and the myth of the ignorant
> writer are both derived from the myth of the ignorant user.
> I'm not convinced it had merit even in the days when a high
> percentage of users were ignorant. But the period in which
> the ignorant user was the norm has certainly passed.

At the beginning of the technology adoption life cycle, every
high-tech product is new and every user is ignorant. (see the
book, _Crossing the Chasm_ by Moore.)

> Of course, the myth of the ignorant user is important to the
> TW community and you can expect them to continue to promote
> it vigorously. That myth keeps documentation volumes
> up, and high documentation volumes keep tech
> writers in jobs. However, myths are myths and they don't
> survive long in commodity markets where cost is king. We
> can expect documentation volumes to continue to fall
> and tech writers to continue to face employment pressure.

The "myth of the ignorant user" has some basis in fact because
it is the "ignorant user" who will turn to the documentation.
So, ignorance defines our target audience.

> Ordinary consumer products don't require high documentation
> volumes because users are experienced, and inexperienced
> users can rely on the help of a large population of experienced
> users to help them. The products of the high tech age
> have now become ordinary consumer products sold to
> knowledgeable consumers who don't need extensive docs, or any
> docs at all. The ignorant user is a thing of the past, and the
> ignorant writer/editor have no more excuse for their ignorance.

The description of "ordinary consumer products" matches the
end stage of the product adoption life cycle (see Moore). Every
new product starts the cycle over again and (if it flourishes)
comes to this end.

> The commoditization of consumer-oriented high tech means that
> any future growth in tech writer jobs is going to come in more
> specialized sectors where the ignorant writer/editor argument
> will be a complete non starter.

Also, I am optimistic that the "high tech age" is not over yet.
Search the web for bio-tech. We're going to need user manuals
(not just cookbooks) for our food in the near future.


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