RE: Baseline Skillset for Technical Writers?

Subject: RE: Baseline Skillset for Technical Writers?
From: Kevin McLauchlan <KMcLauchlan -at- chrysalis-its -dot- com>
To: "'TECHWR-L digest'" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>, "'Rock, Megan'" <Megan -dot- Rock -at- fanucrobotics -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 21 Dec 1999 10:54:03 -0500

Megan R. said:

> It's still
> unusual for me
> to find other women my age (I'm almost 24) who have pursued
> computers and
> technology as a hobbie or a career. I think it won't be
> until the current
> generation of elementary-age children reaches adulthood that we'll see
> significantly more women in technical careers. It'll be
> second nature for
> them to know how to use a computer AND to know how it works
> and how to fix
> it if it breaks. But I wouldn't make any guarantees about
> their writing
> skills!

I got out the special glass-cleaner and buffed
up the ole crystal ball for this one...
I disagree about the computer skills. Your kind
will continue to be a rare exception, though
perhaps not QUITE so rare. The reason is the
trend toward computers becoming appliances.

As certain kinds of computer get smaller, "simpler"
and perhaps more modular (like laptops/notepads
with all the plug-in and swapable drives, batteries,
etc., and everything Plug'n'Play) people will need
to know less and less about their inner workings in
order to snap out a broken part and shove in a
replacement. It'll be like replacing a battery today.

For that matter, a lot of computers will become
tiny little monoliths, purposely NOT upgradeable
or part-swappable -- a function tied to their
rapidly decreasing cost and the need to appeal to
an ever wider commodity market. The little computer
appliances will become so cheap that the only
people who would do ANY kind of internal poking
would be the same people who'd pry into a $13
hair dryer. Most people would say "Why bother?",
toss the dead one, and pick up a new one at

I predict that within 15 years, the proportion
of women who are trouble-shooting/repairing
computers will be roughly comparable to the
number who are Maytag repair/m/e/n/ er... persons
and industrial welders. That is, not many.
They'll be the same ones who today or fifteen
years ago would have chosen "non-traditional"
hobbies and careers.

There'll be tons of 'em in software, though.

Whups! The crystal ball went cloudy just as
I was about to see the weekend's lottery
numbers. :-)

But, before it died, I'm sure I saw a continuing
decline of the written word and the associated
skills. They'll go the way of the learned
ability to do arithmetic in one's head, marginalized
by the ubiquitous equivalent of pocket calculators.
On the other hand, I predict a resurgence in
bard-like skills, though the technological
enhancements will tend to be aural and iconic
rather than written language. Picture the
future bard composing at the interface of a
system more analogous to today's MIDI keyboard
and sound mixer, than to a writing/typing terminal.
Of course, it'll all be virtual, projected onto her
retinas, but that's incidental to the concept.
Consumers will consume aurally and visually, but
via packed icons rather than by written words.

In one sense, it's not necessarily bad, just
different from what we've been accustomed to.
The significant break is that, while you and
I *could* (oh, the pain) go back to writing
with typewriters or pen (quill?) and paper
(parchment?), the people who, in future,
depend for their craft on electronic audio
and iconic memory-and-creativity aids...
might be quite helpless away from their
functioning tech.

Yeah, I know I wouldn't do too well in the
woods with a stone knife and no idea what
a flint deposit looks like... :-)
But, y'all get my point.

The underlying talents that make a writer,
today, will simply express themselves as
somewhat different skills. In the generic
areas of technical curiosity, the ability to
organize and present thoughts, and the grasp
of pleasing combinations and juxtapositions,
future communicators will be much like we are.

Now, who wants the soap-box?

Kevin McLauchlan
kmclauchlan -at- chrysalis-its -dot- com

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