Tuesday, November 8


this is the price tag that came with the brand new bicycle wheel I bought the weekend before I moved to Texas. it was tied around the frame of the wheel with a little bit of white string. yes, I save random things like this. price tags often have a really cool blend of style and functionality that just seems interesting to me.

attached to the same bicycle wheel was this warning sticker, wrapped neatly around one of the spokes. back when my dad and littlest brother and I replaced the old bent wheel with this shiny new one, I cut off the sticker and tucked it into my pocket. two days later, I traveled with it and the little price tag (and the bike of course) all the way from the mountains through the desert, down to the windswept plains of west Texas.

I hardly have time here, as a graduate student, to ride that bike anywhere.
but I do somehow have time to contemplate the bits of technical communication that came with my bicycle's new wheel. in 5371 yesterday, we were talking about ethics. there is a lot to talk about where ethics and communication are concerned. despite the fact that stereotypical tech. writers create documents that don't often get read, technical communication really does make a difference sometimes. the example we keep reading about is the Challenger disaster in 1986, where a technical report somehow failed to convince the people involved that there might be a problem with the space shuttle. that's a pretty extreme example, and even in that case, there is no easy way to think about the ethics of it.

for most of class we just asked questions:

-what interests are we (should we be?) serving as technical writers?
-who decides what is ethical ("good") and what isn't?

-how might we fill in the gaps between what is/isn't legal, ethical, or valuable?

-how far do our ethical responsibilities as technical writers extend?
-how much risk of miscommunication (there will always be at least some risk) is acceptable?

I love questions.

about my little bike wheel warning sticker I can ask plenty more of them. when was the decision made to include these warnings? was it just because some lawyer told them it would be a good idea? who actually wrote out these paragraphs, and how many drafts did it take before they settled on this version? they can't really expect me to thoroughly inspect the front wheel every single time I go for a ride, can they? my new bike wheel didn't come with a manual--are they assuming I have one for my bike as a whole? what other assumptions are being made here? and has anyone ever really died from a mis-adjusted bike wheel?

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