Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.

Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.
Image by Cameron Lyall, GNU license Wikimedia

01 July 2011

Places have people.

We have been throwing the word “place” about a lot lately? We are in a new place. We have been looking at technology around, on, in, and through places. This is a place-based summer course. We recently visited the Falkirk wheel, which was my favorite place-based technology and overall my favorite place to visit. It is a remarkable, ahead-of-its-time, technological marvel. The posts in this blog will surely examine and illustrate the greatness of this innovation.

But, I want to re-examine this word “place.” As a visitor, Lafayette citizen, and technology lover: I love this wheel. But how much do I know about the place it’s in, the people who live in Falkirk, and the details (down to the tech documents) of its creation and upkeep? Not much, really. Thinking about scholarship I have read, particularly Michele Simmons, I wonder how appropriate, how beneficial, how efficient, this wheel is for the surrounding community. As technical communicators, we are not merely selling a product. We are not merely explaining how to use a technology. I believe as a technical communicator we need to consider the needs, the voices, of all stakeholders. And, hold the phone: I don’t mean this in the sense that it will strengthen your argument against the opposition. I think you need to hear from everyone, even if you disagree with their position, because it is smart and it is ethical. The wheel is an awesome megaproject, and our course readings suggest that with megaprojects come mega-risks. For the purpose of the class, I hope we can ask how well the community was considered, how the ENTIRE community is benefiting from the wheel (if you need a boat to use it, is it really addressing the transportation needs of the entire community?), etc. I ask this so that we can make technology better, user-based, and successful. Not because I’m scared of the wheel and its global takeover.

If we are talking about place, we cannot just consider how the technology makes use of its place. The Falkirk obviously takes advantage of the space it has. Remember, this place comes with inhabitants. Inhabitants that live with this wheel and are effected by this wheel each day. Further, we need to ask if this is environmentally ethical (such as, did this megaproject consider what Aldo Leopold considers the "land ethic").

I'm rambling, but I'm trying to start discussion here. I am not shaming the project, I am trying to put forth more research questions. I am trying to get us thinking about our roles as technical communicators. I feel my role as a technical communicator is to facilitate discussion between stakeholders. I'm not necessarily here to talk, but listen. I'd like to here what you think your role is.


Jon W. said...

Awesome. Rick would be proud to see you pulling out Leopold like this. Involving stakeholders, at least considering, like you said, the inhabitants of the place you're observing, is an incredible way of looking at place.

Patti said...

(So I've been adding stars and stuff to your blogs on my Google Reader, and just realized that you probably never would see them. Oops!)

I really like the way you've questioned how megaprojects impact an entire community. It's something I have trouble grasping, big-picture-wise, sometimes--it's often easier to focus on the impact on one person, or a block of people. Thanks for the discussion!

E. Reynoso said...

I'm working with the same issues in my thesis (you're the second person to mention Michele Simmons, so now I know I've got to check out her books). Risk communication tackles this subject and dictates that the entity (in my case the federal govt.) needs to involve the community (South Texas) as an equal partner, but the problem is that the State is necessarily at an advantage within the power dynamic. As patti said, articulating this at a broader level is key.