Villegas Views: Festival of (Tech Comm) Lights

by Danielle Villegas on 17 December 2013

I live in a highly multi-cultural neighborhood. As the year goes by, one can see home decorations going up that celebrate a variety of holidays. I know that the winter holidays are coming when I see the first Diwali lights going up around late October to November. The first time I saw them, I thought, “Why are those homes putting Christmas lights up so early?” Over the years, I’ve learned to welcome Diwali lights, menorahs, and kinaras on display alongside Christmas lights and Christmas trees.

While Diwali, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas happen during the winter—and I’m sure there are other cultural and religious holidays as well—I realized that most of these holidays during this time of year are festivals of light. Light is the predominant theme in these celebrations, rejoicing the light either emerging from or entering the darkness of winter.

What does this have to do with technical communication? It occurred to me that since most cultures have this common celebration of light during this time of year, what else do so many cultures have in common? How does one, especially a technical communicator, help to bridge those gaps between cultural and language differences? The concept that is trending these days in technical communication is personalization of content—but it’s not only that. More specifically, it’s localization. This doesn’t mean that content is only translated from one language to another. It’s also keeping in mind what is understood culturally as well. Americans often forget that the world is not dominated by the English language or forget that exported American culture has not permeated the rest of world society. Heck, even within the English language, there are contextual differences between Canada, Great Britain, the United States, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and India—the most predominant English-speaking countries! It’s looking beyond the word-for-word translation of content to include the contextual translation of content.

How do we bridge that gap?

As I see it, technical communicators are actually the ones leading the way. Our goal, as we create, manipulate, and manage content, is to provide information that suits everyone, not just to those who speak the same language as the author who wrote the information. As has been said in many tech comm forums, even if you aren’t translating your own content, someone out there on the World Wide Web is, so messages need to be clear, concise, and cogent. In a sense, technical communicators have become global ambassadors of information, not only providing clear content and providing translation services, but also ensuring that the information is disseminated properly as well, both contextually and culturally. We have to find the common ground so that all users of our content get what they need and everyone can share those resources confidently and happily.

Just as many cultures and religions have some sort of “festival of lights” in common, we content creators, content managers, and content engineers can help produce a strong foundation for finding a common ground among all cultures through information. STC is not an American association; it is a global association. Every time we meet online or in-person with each other, we share ideas—just like diplomats—to enrich our world through information and understanding. We are many lights that come together and shine, and each moment that we shine together is a festival of lights.

Wishing you peace on earth through technical communication this holiday season!

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