Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?

I read a review of the Adobe Dreamweaver software and came to this passage:

“The fun of producing a simple website in Dreamweaver is gone. The upgrades have not made it easier, they have made it much more demanding, and the never particularly good online help has become even worse. On the other hand, it is much more powerful. In effect, it has moved from an application most people can use to an application designed strictly for professionals.”

At first, I felt pretty sorry for myself as a technical communicator. As I have mentioned, I have limited experience in HTML, and my experiences with XML, CSS and other such alphabet soup boils down to tinkering I did on the web nearly 12 years ago to frustrating WYSIWYG editors to Dave’s class last semester, in which we learned to read the signposts but not converse fluently in the language. It’s not fair, I whined, that technology is changing things in my field so rapidly, leaving me behind even as I try to keep up with it all. As far as HTML, XML and CSS go, I’m still firmly in the “most people” category, and far from the “strictly for professionals” wing of the party.

So, how will this impact me? I’ve got to keep learning. Learning to tag in these languages is an important thing. Learning to work with people who know how to tag, in order to ensure that quality writing – my specialty – comes through in whatever form the future demands is more important.

Oddly enough, I’m taking some inspiration from a biography of Walt Disney by Leonard Mosley. In his book, Mosely details how, in 1933, Disney announced to his animators that many of the shortcuts thy relied on to produce their cartoons were going to be outlawed, and that teams of new animators were going to be brought in to the studio to learn techniques that would make Disney’s characters less rubber-limbed and jerky, turning them into characters viewers could believe were real. “To an increasingly apprehensive audience,” Mosley writes, “Walt warned that much of the expertise they had acquired at the studios over the years was now unnecessary, out of date, and would have to be unlearned.” Many animators were afraid they were going to lose their jobs because they didn’t have the skills he was looking for. But some of them adapted. They attended classes Disney set up for the new animators. In those classes, Disney then challenged the way things had been done, demanding, for example, that the models his animators were sketching move about and, indeed, sometimes leave the room after going through a range of fluid movements, hoping his artists could reproduce the movements from memory – thus getting away from the static drawing that made his earlier cartoons jerky.

We’re not the first to have new challenges and new technology impact our jobs. Like some of Disney’s animators, we can learn this new stuff too. But we’ll have to be willing to consider that some of the old ways we’re used to doing things are outdated.

That being said, the question arose somewhere this week on what will happen to quality writing as it moves into this new paradigm. The answer to that is that for the good writers who learn to adapt, the quality writing will follow. Disney – nor many of his earlier animators – didn’t give up the ghost when the new edict came out. They carried their desire to create quality cartoons through the new techniques and ended up with quality cartoons built a different way.

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