In “What are the Boundaries, Artifacts, and Identities of Technical Communication,” Richard and Cynthia Selfe attempt to explain the make-up of technical communication. This is no small task because as they explain, technical communication is an ever-changing field that is relatively new. In the first part of this chapter they go through and explain what technical communication has been so far. They do this through exemplifying the field in these three approaches: historical (looking at trends in the field, key figures, etc.), research (what is happening in the field currently and what is text saying), and skills (how is this field being put into use). This is a good attempt at putting into words a very obscure and illusive field.

The authors go on to introduce one final way of defining the field of technical communication. They use a medium called “text clouds.” Behind text clouds lies the idea of bringing forth important information by bolding key words and making them larger in size. Text clouds can give important insight into small, individual parts of technical communication that would otherwise be extremely difficult to define. Sites such as Wordle form these key words into an artistic looking cloud figure.

In order to apply the idea of text clouds and their importance I looked to one of my favorite pieces of text of all time: The Old Man and the Sea by Earnest Hemingway. This is a tale of an old man, Santiago, who’s fruitless fishing streak is broken by the catch of a lifetime. He battles a monstrous marlin in the Gulf Stream using only his hands and a piece of cord. After he finally defeated the impossibly large fish, it is devoured by sharks on the way back to shore. He put so much time into killing this fish and now he has nothing to show for it. In this tale there are so many themes and motifs that are hidden beneath wonderful literary devices. This is one of my favorite pieces of literature because I can relate to it so well. Can I relate to it because I know what it’s like to fight an enormous fish with my bare hands? No. I can relate to it because when reading beneath the salty surface the reader is able to see themes of hardship, solitude, worth, and life. I did not start out loving pieces of literature such as The Old Man and the Sea. I was taught to read and analyze these pieces of literature for broader application in everyday life.

Text Cloud of "The Old Man and the Sea"

Let’s extrapolate one of the ideas in the novel. So essentially, death is a big theme in this novel. It is ironic that Santiago (the Old Man) is trying to make his living by killing a large fish while trying to avoid death. The death of the fish on the return to shore is also symbolic in that investing in things that are physical will ultimately fade away. It made me look at my life and consider what I was investing myself in. Things like this can be brought to light more easily, especially for someone who hasn’t read this text, using a text cloud. It could be a cool idea for book publishers to use text clouds on the covers of books to entice new readers.

This short novel, The Old Man and the Sea, and technical communication have something very important in common; they are misunderstood! If the Selfe’s can use text clouds to further explain the field of technical communication, then I felt that text clouds could be used to explain and shorten large sums of text in almost any field!

The Old Man and the Sea