Re: Information Anxiety

Subject: Re: Information Anxiety
From: Sandra Charker <scharker -at- MASTERPACK -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Thu, 18 Dec 1997 22:04:43 +1100

In response to the multi-talented Geoff Hart, Beth Agnew wrote:

>I submit that Geoff is responding, as are many of us, to the demand for
>broader skills in information development and knowledge management.
It's a
>function of the times in which we live. The anxiety will diminish as we
>become more accustomed to being generalists, rather than specialists.
As we
>are validated in these roles, we'll feel more able to handle the
>multi-dimensional nature of our profession. We're becoming Renaissance
>communicators in the truest sense of the word.

Yabbut... Renaissance communicators had finished learning to use their
communication tools by around age 10, and their communications were a
by-product of their pursuit of knowledge and addressed to people on the
same entrancing chase. That sounds like luxurious leisure to me.

Particularly in the software industry, most of our effort goes into
extracting knowledge from the people who caught it, so we can
communicate it to other people who need it, but mostly wish they didn't,
to achieve goals that we don't necessarily know, let alone understand.
We do this with tools that are themselves constantly changing in ways
that affect how both we and our readers think, and while we grapple with
the changes to our own paradigms we're also coping with the effects of
tool and paradigm shifts on our SMEs (changing from procedural to OO
programming is at least as much of a boggle as changing from book to
database publishing). I'm still having fun, but I sure am looking
forward to a holiday.

Seems to me a lot depends on how you define the 'dimensions', or
aspects, of our profession. A few years ago I started to worry that I
couldn't work seriously in online software documentation as a sole
writer (contract or salaried) because I either couldn't learn or
couldn't keep up with three aspects that I identified as new: organising
and structuring information (non-hierarchically), using technologies for
developing, managing and publishing information, and presenting

I took a salaried job (not this job) so I could, to use Beth's words,
"overcome [my] weak areas by leveraging the knowledge of others". Which
I mostly did by spending a lot of extra time pursuing knowledge in these
3 aspects, which I now see as classifications of information development
functions that each contain sets of 'artisan' skills supported by an
ever increasing range of technologies and tools.

That was valuable and fun, but even as a member of a writing team I
could only do it because the information I had to communicate was not
difficult. Content is also an aspect of our profession, and when that's
new or volatile or complex it also takes up time and energy. I think I'm
right in saying that Stuart and Geoff have both had some years to build
up solid knowledge of their subject matter and their SMEs, and I suggest
that's one reason they've both been able to keep expanding their
'artisan' skills (in addition to their natural brilliance of course).

I know a few people who cope with all this stuff as sole contractors,
but I think most of us will need to 'leverage the knowledge of others'
through organisations that are stable enough for people to get to know
each other and to build some group knowledge in at least two of the five
aspects of the profession. Doesn't matter if the stability is all in the
communication aspects, as in specialist technical writing companies, or
in a combination of the communication and content aspects, as in many
software companies, but stability in something more than the furniture
we must have in order to keep stretching.

Sandra Charker
Rightside up in stormy steamy Sydney

mailto:scharker -at- masterpack -dot- com -dot- au, or

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