Re: Liability and Morality

Subject: Re: Liability and Morality
From: guilden <guilden -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Wed, 26 Jun 1996 20:16:00 EST

>In short, are we responsible to the world at large, or only to our
>employers? And if there is a middle ground, what's the degree one way or the

I believe this question of liability depends upon whether your perspective
is grounded in fact/non-fiction or truth/fiction. If a writer sees the act
of tech writing as documenting experience through the
senses--observation--then, ideally, she should be responsible for following
every thread to its Baconian end, and should be held responsible for
omission and inaccuracy WITHIN the respective discourse context. So if the
idiot who cut his toe to bone did so because you left out instructions not
to mow on the hillside, you are morally obligated (within the still
ubiquitous overhead context of western Judeo-Christian ethic) to take some
of the blame. Even more, the value of the blame should be the same whether
or not the foobar occured because of an omission OR because of an inaccuracy.

OTHO, if your game is truth--not fact--then you are responsible to no one
but your commissioner, for writing the screen-play he wants. You are
illuminating: you are not the source of the knowledge but the vehicle
through which it is brought to bear (this seems backwards, I know). And
IMHO, truth is the tech writer's game, not fact. Good documentation is
fiction, if it has the same effect as plugging a knowledge module directly
into a jack in the user's brain. The user should not have to wade through a
layer of fact (observation and experience) from the balcony of his penthouse
observatory: the writing tries to cut through a clumsy GUI, language, to
empower the user--not stuff more liner notes under an already teetering

The lack of truth/fiction in technical documentation is often much of the
problem, IMO, e.g. a bulleted list of program features is presented by
subject rather than practical, task-oriented EXAMPLES, clearly written,
dripping in analogy and metaphor, presented by ACTION. But then that's the
difficulty, isn't it? Anticipating the user's needs by VERB rather than by
designing a navigation aid is far more difficult to do. To anticipate
action means the writer must really, really, understand the product, must
live with it a little, not just buy it a few drinks, pleasure it, and take
it home. Even though standard western ethos suggests that "living with it"
makes you more responsible, I believe the converse runs a tighter orbit
around reality. The better (not more) you know, the less responsible you
are because you are less able to control the effects of what you pass on.

Ben Milstead

"Specialization is for insects."-L.Long

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