A healthy-sized document

The Obama administration scored a major victory with the passage of its health care bill, a massive 2,000+ page document . I wonder if every Senator and Congressman has actually read the entire thing; a Quick Start Guide would be useful.

This bill sounds great in theory: millions of Americans who were not previously insured now will be. Insurance companies can no longer exclude people with pre-existing conditions, which from the horror stories I’ve heard could include symptoms such as “breathing” and “blinking”. Time will tell, though, if this bill will actually save lives. However, a new television show offers an enlightening perspective.

Jamie Oliver is a English celebrity chef who advocates healthy eating. He’s exposed and improved the quality of meals served in the English school system. In his latest show, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, he visits Huntington, West Virginia, ranked as one of the the least healthy cities in the U.S. He is shocked to discover the high-sugar and high-fat processed junk being fed to schoolchildren twice each day.

Two scenes from this show will be forever etched in my memory. One is an experiment with some of the schoolchildren that goes horribly wrong. Jamie brings several young children into his kitchen-storefront. He takes out a chicken and shows them the good cuts of meat from it – the breasts, the thighs, and so on. What remains is the disgusting garbage leftover – the bones, cartilage and fat. He places these horrid leftovers into a blender, liquifies them, and adds artificial flavours and fillers, makes them into patties and deep fries them, to demonstrate how chicken nuggets are actually made.

At this point, Jamie asks the children if they would like to eat these nuggets, fully expecting that none of them will. To his shock, the children ask to eat them! Why? Because they are hungry.

In an even more disturbing segment, Jamie visits a classroom. He discovers that the children cannot identify basic vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes and cauliflower. They can identify ketchup, french fries and hamburgers but have no idea as to where these items come from. In a later follow-up visit, the children have learned to identify the vegetables, but I’ve no doubt that this ignorance is common throughout the country.

Returning to the health care bill – the problem is that this bill does not directly address what is really killing and maiming Americans by the millions: poor diet, lack of exercise, and mental health issues including addictions such as smoking and drinking. This bill treats the symptoms of poor health, not the major causes or reasons.

It’s important to be aware of symptoms vs. underlying reasons in our profession. It’s a common perception that the purpose of technical communication is to instruct users on how to use a product or service. Although this is true, it is not the true reason, for we can always ask: Why do companies care if their clients can use the product? They care because if users can’t use the product, they will either return it or call tech support, both of which drain profits. However, even that is not the true reason.

For the true reason, we need to understand that all belief systems have definitions of good and evil. In the free-market capitalist system, the definitions are:

  • good – anything that increases profits
  • evil – anything that decreases profits

Now we have the real reason, and not the “symptom” behind the need for technical communication. It’s not to tell users how to use products, or to lower support costs, even though both these things are important. It is to maximize profits.

This is also the true reason because we cannot effectively ask “Why do companies need to maximize profits?” They just do.

Remember this in an interview. Technical communicators already are a disadvantaged minority, because we are a cost centre and not a revenue generator. Therefore, in a interview, you must show how you increased profits by decreasing costs.

Be good; don’t be evil.

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