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Some thoughts after reading some of the messages about paradigms
in technical communication last week.
This morning I heard an NPR report about the new Pentium (sp?)
chip that's five times faster than the 486. Whoah! The reporter
concluded that computers using this chip would not need manuals;
the computer would do the learning for the user. A spooky
thought for manual writers.
Who knows what they will do, but I would guess nowhere if they
don't learn that the job of software documentation really has
shifted--as in a paradigm shift I don't know--from that of
instructing to that of integrating. Here's how I read today's
manuals and see support groups in modern corporations: the
writer has to make technology a part of the employee's work
goals, dedication and all those other empowering motivations.
If we look at the surge of software manuals during the 80's we'll
see the turning point or changing point of emphasis, as the
image of the computer shifted from wizard-like thinking machine to
value-adding information management tool. As computer use
shifted from operational to strategic, so documentation shifted
from instruction to integration. Task orientation, of course,
reflects the most important and "usable" innovation in this
trend. The shift to online documentation also reflects it.
Maybe the difusion of the Pentium chip will speed it along.