Digital Technology & the Future of Work

Room 42 is where practitioners and academics meet to share knowledge about breaking research. In this episode, Tim Amidon explains how emerging, digital technologies are transforming work and how practitioners, designers, and researchers can leverage UX and Techcomm research to design more accessible, equitable, inclusive, and just technologies.

Airdate: May 26, 2021

Season 1 Episode 23 | 42 min

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Transcript (Expand to View)

[00:00:12.700] – Liz Fraley

Good morning everyone and welcome to Room 42. I’m Liz Fraley from Single-Sourcing Solutions. I’m your moderator, this is Janice Summers, our interviewer,  and welcome to Tim Amidon, today’s guest in Room 42. Dr. Tim Amidon is an Associate Professor of Digital Rhetoric at Colorado State University. He holds appointments within the English department and the Colorado School of Public Health. His research surrounds the Inter-relationships between Technology, Agency Workplace Literacy, and he’s focused on interest on Rhetoric’s of Data, Risk Communication, Intellectual Property, Occupational Safety and Health. He’s been publishing journals like Communication Design Quarterly, the Journal of Business and Technical Communication Kairos, and has presented at conferences like the International Design, and I love the way this is, International Conference on Design and Usability an ACM SIGDOC. He is also served as a firefighter, EMT, technical rescuer, fire instructor, and fire officer in fire and emergency services organization for over 20 years, it’s fascinating. And today he’s here to help us start answering the question, How might Digital Technologies displace existing tools, practices and literacies and transform our conceptions of work? Welcome.

[00:01:32.290] – Tim Amidon

Well, thank you. It’s great to be here with y’all and thanks to the folks that have come to attend today as well. It’s great to be here. So where do you want to get started?

[00:01:44.410] – Janice Summaers

Well, I like to get started from the beginning back and way back questioning, because I think it’s important — I think it’s interesting for everybody, because when researchers get involved in something, there’s something, there’s a passion that’s driving you. And I think it’s good to hear your origin story because other people can be inspired by that as well, because we all have something in us. So share with us how you got involved in this.

[00:02:10.100] – Tim Amidon

Well thanks Janice. Well I mean, I think there’s probably two kind of really simple responses to that right. One is, at a certain point I realized that there was a connection between the stuff I was doing as a firefighter you know, I started volunteering when I was in high school and just continued doing that and taking on different degrees of responsibility within the department. I was in back east and then getting more involved in different other organizations where I was like teaching at the Rhode Island Fire Academy or other types of fire academies and passing on the knowledge that I’d learned from other folks, you know at a certain point I started to see the relationship and the connection between the work I was doing in the academy and thinking about literacy and writing and workplace, workplace writing, professional and technical communication and the work that folks are doing out in the world right, and in particular in this context where I was spending a lot of time outside of my academic world — academic life, thinking about like, how does this correspond to the theories of literacy and rhetorical practice that we read, right?

[00:03:28.380] – Tim Amidon

And so there was a lot that I came to see that wasn’t necessarily always talked about, right and so it was like how does this fit into the existing scholarship right. So I was thinking about how practices like reading smoke or how a crew coordinates in zero visibility. How they coordinate the work, or how do they interpret risk or how do they make a risk to determination? So there is ways where I saw connections to the field, but I also saw gaps or just ways that — what the ways that firefighters practice their craft and there are — that could contribute to our knowledge within TPC of how we have some conversations that we’re interested, whether it’s risk communication or multimodality and workplace literacy and kind of power differentials perhaps as well, you know something that plays out in this context. So that was kind of the more academic route of how I got there. And then the other route is my Dad did 20 something years in the Navy and then retired and went back to college. My mom went back to college too.

[00:04:42.000] – Tim Amidon

So there was three of us in college at the same time, which was pretty pretty wild stuff,  but he ended up getting a Ph.D. and going into technical and professional communication as well. He does a lot with top learning organizations and whatnot.

[00:04:56.310] – Liz Fraley


[00:04:56.310] – Tim Amidon

So yeah, so he jokes that, that became the family business, so to speak.

[00:05:02.380] – Janice Summers


[00:05:04.620] – Tim Amidon

So I don’t know, like I went to a couple of conferences with him and I was like, this is pretty cool right, I can see why this is pretty fun. So I got pretty into academia. I thought it was kind of cool, I met some neat people and those relationships really stuck with me. And I said, I really want to be part of this group of folks that are doing work in this field, so I stuck around and tried to learn as much as I could. Yeah.

[00:05:30.650] – Liz Fraley

It’s an interesting place to be. There’s not a lot of people who work in that sort of testing and doing research in that high pressure environment because it’s not easy to do.

[00:05:43.860] – Tim Amidon

Yeah, that research can be pretty tricky. And so that was one of the funner parts of my dissertation and work that I’ve still continued to do is try to think about how to bring or design research methods that allow us to kind of just trace or capture examples of the activity, the literate practice and the knowledge work that occurs in those kind of situated environments where there is risk. I mean, it’s easier at a distance, and a lot of the work that goes into that, the high stakes moment, the fire, the rescue, the accident, the emergency medical call, a lot of that’s done at a distance at the station right, and through practice, and through repetition and through kind of just cultivating a habit as if we were to pull in kind of a boarding theoretical concept, right and so a lot of the practice is just rooted in that kind of repetition in the culture of different departments and different organizations and how they operate, and not even flows down to the ways that crews, individual crews can operate, right and then you have somebody on the flex or overtime shift filling in.

[00:06:56.580] – Tim Amidon

So then that changes the dynamic because it’s a new person in that ecology, right so, you just kind of zooming out and saying like how do we do this? So I looked personally like when I started doing that work, I was like, hey, I want to study this stuff right, and I want to look at the ways that firefighters are communicating, constructing knowledge. And I knew kind of where to point the cameras, so to speak, but I didn’t really know how to point the camera, and so I turned to multimodal and visual ethnography. There’s a number of folks in those fields that have developed some digital research methods in order to kind of track and do digital ethnography. Sarah Pink’s work has been really influential to me, but there’s a number of other folks that have that I cited that I find really — doing really smart. Smart and innovative work in terms of laying that groundwork. And so that’s where I kind of turned and found a lot of that, and you know at the time there wasn’t a whole ton of folks doing that necessarily in writing studies, I know, you know there are some folks aside from me, they’re doing — I know like Brian McNeelly for instance, at U-Kentucky has been doing a lot of digital research methods for a while and there’s other folks as well. But I think he’s someone that I think I talked a little bit about some of the stuff with.

[00:08:21.090] – Tim Amidon

He’s doing some neat work too, so it’s exciting. I think he has a book coming out soon to perhaps on this it’s like methodologies for this kind of work, so it’s kind of exciting.

[00:08:34.530] – Liz Fraley

You’re always particularly interesting because you are a connector, you are always — you pay attention to what other people are doing and you always are like, hey, you ask that question well, you should look here, here, here, and here. That’s not something everybody does. But you’re like exceptionally good at that.

[00:08:54.510] – Tim Amidon

Well, thank you. Yeah, I think that’s kind of the fun of stuff is just learning what other people are doing and staying excited and seeing how it can influence or inform you know the work that you’re taking up on. There’s so many just neat folks out in technical and professional communication that we stand to learn from, you know I really like get a lot from my colleague Donnie Johnson Sackey and folks like Jennifer Sano-Franchini and you know just folks that are doing a lot of good work within the cultural rhetoric space and trying to push you know, how do we build more ethical and anti-racist stances towards techcomm Natasha Jones, Kristen Moore, my colleague and collaborator Michele Simmons. You know, there’s just some great folks in our field doing great work, Angela Haas, Laura Gonzales. You know it’s — I just look out and I’m like amazed at the people doing the work right, and so I try to read what they’re putting out as much as possible, because I think they’re leading us into how we respond to just structural problems within how we’ve kind of come to be as a field, right and so they’re providing answers and pathways for us to think through inequity and injustice within techcomm and how technical communicators in particular can work as sites for change and agents for change.

[00:10:25.680] – Janice Summers

Oh, yeah.

[00:10:26.790] – Tim Amidon

So it’s exciting to read that work and so I just I’m thankful to be a member of the field and I owe a lot to those folks because they helped me think about how to be a better member on the field and how to contribute in meaningful ways.

[00:10:44.260] – Liz Fraley

Well and you’re digging into this too right? Because you’re looking at technology and how it affects not just your tech worker, but everyone at different levels and different — and you’re looking at very specialized places where other people aren’t looking.

[00:10:59.530] – Tim Amidon

Yeah, I love that you put it that way because that’s something I think a lot about right, is that I think some people see my work and they’re like hey! Or I suspect that there’s times when people are like you, you said something that’s super specialized like firefighters literacies like or the technologies that firefighters are using and how those things are integrating within a set of existing literacy and ecology of existing literacy practices right, and so I’m really interested in when we bring this new tool into that ecology of practice, what does it do for the existing ecology right, so I think that’s one way to think about it and so I think people like you know obviously Clay Spinuzzi’s work has been really influential there and Jenny Edbauer Rice’s work in rhetorical colleges as well. And I think like also the folks that have done work with class, whether it’s like Dorothy Winsor or Julie Lindquist class in rhetoric, those are things that I think also have a bearing here, that they influence things at that kind of macro level. But then getting more specifically into the fire service in that lens, like there’s practices in existing technologies and there is cultural values that inform them or that kind of carry or tacitly attached to those practices.

[00:12:21.550] – Tim Amidon

So you know sometimes those traditions need to be upended or at least revisited right, but there’s also aspects of practice that can be really valuable. So if we’re not attending to what and how a new technology that’s introduced into that setting what it means for practice, I think that could be really problematic because we just don’t know what the effects are right, we’re not thinking about those in a measured way. And so that can lead to unintended consequences for practice right, and so you know there’s a lot of broader technological narratives about progress that folks have talked about. Stuart Selber has talked a little bit about that, and Angela Haas as well, and thinking about how those technological deterministic or technological determinism and the narrative surrounding technological determinism kind of lead toward this laudatory view of technologies are always going to be made better and that just we all know that isn’t the case as folks within  our profession right, we design these things, we help bring tools to communities, to practitioners, whether it’s a workplace or an end user in their private life right, and so I think for me, that’s where I like to think about it as that there’s broader implications for practice, you know we can look specifically at the fire service and say okay, how does this one ecology subject to a certain set of forces that we see in other colleges as well right now right, and so we share some of those same pressures.

[00:14:01.910] – Janice Summers


[00:14:02.350] – Tim Amidon

And so it’s teasing those out, and so I think some of that is in particular, I’m really interested in dispositions towards data and data ownership in particular, right. And so there’s been this kind of disposition where I don’t think we all understood what we were getting into. I think we understood at a certain level that there’s ways in which information is captured about us through our interactions within the web right, but I don’t think everyone is necessarily super aware or scented or granted consent to the kinds of tracking and surveillance practices that are really built part and parcel into so many of the interfaces that we’ve inherited right, and so I think that’s where we have some opportunities right now as technical communicators, is to step back and say how do we use whether it’s like User Experience research as a tool to start to redesign those spaces and develop policies and procedures and practices and orientations and even just completely new interfaces and policies that maybe lead towards a more equitable exchange of information within those. How do we bring more agency to the end-user and to the practitioner?

[00:15:23.830] – Tim Amidon

So it’s not just the designers of the tools capturing the data you know that have the command and control over the data. I see a kitty.

[00:15:34.570] – Janice Summers

She’s like really, she’s in rare form this morning. I keep blocking her because she was tapping me on this shoulder and now she moved over to this side and I keep blocking her.

[00:15:48.880] – Tim Amidon

She has a comment.

[00:15:49.870] – Janice Summers

It’s interesting, because we were talking about wearables, like for medical devices.

[00:15:55.123] – Tim Amidon


[00:16:03.940] – Janice Summers

Just in our room 42 sessions — yeah so on, yeah I think you’re right that the technical communicators can really help shed some light on that, because gathering all this data, what’s being done to the data and the people who are wearing this devices like these are — some of these are firefighters that are wearing medical devices that are tracking their information while they’re in the middle of fighting fires and rescuing lives, right?

[00:16:31.630] – Tim Amidon

Well, yeah, kind of. I don’t know that it’s — we’re there yet right, so this is a great example I think of how emerging technologies are changing work right now right, and so this is the kind of question that I’m really, really deeply interested in. I think some of those technologies exist right, and I think just to be really careful about it, I think there’s a differentiation that we have to draw between performance or physiological data and medical data right, and so legally speaking and technically speaking, there are some differences in terms of how those data come to mean in the world right, and so medical data has a kind of standing that differs from the kind of data that a Garmin would capture for instance right. So, you know a lot of the folks that I work with you know there’s some folks locally within Fort Collins, Captain Housley and Captain McCain, for instance, they’re doing a lot, they have this project that they’ve started up called firefighter craftsmanship, and they’re doing a lot with thinking about what is the relationship about performance and physical performance and how it shapes decision making, and those are the kind of questions I’m really interested in, is when we get to that point where red line has that start to impact our ability to perceive and interpret risk, because that’s where we start to see within some of the fatality research.

[00:18:08.100] – Tim Amidon

You know there’s information and literacy and communication breakdowns or those literacy and communication are central to events going in a direction that leads to folks getting injured or killed right, and so I think that’s where we have some opportunities to intercede. Those events are actually relatively minor in comparison to the more mundane things like cancer and behavioral health emergencies that are often talked about right, so that’s something worth kind of noting within this particular context that I want to be careful about that it isn’t you know that those are relatively actually we’ve done a pretty good job through training and education I think of moving the ball on firefighter fatality and injury right, within the line or within the field. But there are some other things where we have hard work to do that are more mundane and some of that is just like heart disease and heart risk in cardiologic strain and thinking about that. So when we think about the work that the McCain folks are doing and McCain and and Housley, the folks locally and within the community, and then there’s some other folks Denise Smith at Skidmore is a physiological researcher. Dr Denise Smith and her team over at Skidmore College have done a lot to lead.

[00:19:36.020] – Tim Amidon

How do we bring physiological monitoring into the fire service at a national level? You know her and her collaborators have really — they started to kind of move in this direction in a lot of ways. And so the team that I work with here, we’ve been fortunate to be able to participate in some conversations with Dr. Smith’s group and other folks at a national level, and we went to the National Fallen Firefighters Physiological Summit and one of the things we talked about was kind of this differentiation in data right, the difference between medical and physiological data. So they kind of — to return back to that original thing, there’s a lot of folks that are using off-the-shelf tools and saying, how can we get some data, you know and what does it mean? So I have friends that they do a training and they’re looking at their heart rate and they’re saying, okay you know, I was at 98% of my maximal heart rate or I was above my maximal heart rate for this much period of time in this evolution of practice that we’re going through.

[00:20:47.630] – Tim Amidon

And so they’re trying to train how long can they be at different percentages of physiological performance and still perform well like they’re doing math equations, they’re stopping and doing word problems or you know long-form division with multiple steps you know, to see how well that their cognitive performance. So they’re trying to train that body-mind relationship with these off-the-shelf tools right, and so it’s really cool to see that, but I think that’s where we start to get into this slippery slope of what does it mean to bring these tools into practice now? Because when we start to think about them in that they do even the physiological tools that are available, the physiological monitoring tools allow us to make inferences you know only a medical practitioner can actually render those but we know that when people see things, they — you know when they have access to that data, they make their own decisions right, and so it’s hard–

[00:21:51.780] – Janice Summers

— well they got some conclusions, some inferences.

[00:21:54.590] – Tim Amidon

Yeah, and they might not be trained or have the expertise to initially interpret that in a meaningful way, right and so that’s why —

[00:22:01.220] – Janice Summers

They might consult Dr. G.

[00:22:02.420] – Tim Amidon

Yeah, yeah, and so yeah that’s where I think we have to be really careful with this because we don’t want to appear looking at someone else’s data or looking over the shoulder and being like oh you know, so-and-so isn’t ready to go do the work, you know and so how do we negotiate the fact that there’s a difference within workplace in terms of what you know and how people are going to perform and still you know it’s certainly that we we need to have certain kinds of baselines of what’s going to be, I guess appropriate for practice within different organizations, right. And I think that, that can’t necessarily be a one standard for all departments. It can’t be one size fits all because organizations and communities have different needs and so we have to understand what those needs and expectations are and work within those. And so more of a contextual approach and I think that’s where like techcomm folks can really help to start to understand what is the expectation here within the organization, you know and how do we set up some parameters around this that could lead towards more agency and autonomy from the end-users?

[00:23:21.170] – Janice Summers

Because I think with people who are technical writers, when they’re trained they’re very critical, not in a bad way, they’ll think like you know, I might go happily lumping down now, or I’ll just wear my gown and test all these stuff to make these Dr. G conclusions. But they’re like wait what is the ethical ramifications and all of these other connecting factors? And I think they’re more apt to look at things from a very ethical perspective. And I think building that in the beginning before you go rumbling down some path, I think more people need to be talking about ethics and ethics are — they’re applied a little different in different places. You have to have cultural considerations.

[00:24:04.880] – Tim Amidon


[00:24:05.090] – Janice Summers

But I think you bring up a really good point that there needs to be that ethical conversation should be first instead of last.

[00:24:11.630] – Tim Amidon

Yeah, ethics and equity and justice. All of those things need to be centered in terms of the design paradigm, right in the processes and that’s where it’s like Christine and Natasha’s work and Donnie’s work has been really influential. Laura Gonzales work as well. You know those folks have really I think called on us in a certain way to attend to these things in really more careful ways, you know I think in terms of data as well, like the work that Estee Beck and Les Hutchinson Campos has done you know those folks are doing some really interesting work on data, and also Krista Kennedy as well and Krista has done some really neat work on wearables as well. So I think there’s so many folks keying into different parts of it, and so it’s how do we pull those different parts of the concept together to build a really smart and agile you know justice informed design paradigm right, and so I don’t know that any of this is really all that new right like participatory action research has been a thing for a long time.

[00:25:28.820] – Tim Amidon

And User Experience has been a thing, but it’s like how does that necessarily fit into a technical writing or a design paradigm right? And so organizations have to be willing to say, you know we’re going to invest in bringing people in that help us think about these questions and really center that in the design approach rather than thinking about this as something we saw after the fact.

[00:25:53.300] – Janice Summers


[00:25:54.320] – Tim Amidon

So with the folks that I see doing this right now, there isn’t necessarily a viable commercial platform right now that exists right, for folks in the fire service to just grab something and get all the data and really make super meaningful decisions about all the data points right. You know there’s folks that have done the research or that have used like ingestible physiological monitors to track a body or you know implantable, so there’s researchers doing this stuff in different context right, and my colleague at the Human Performance Clinical Research Laboratory here at Colorado State, Tiffany Lipsey, over in that lab they do all sorts of kind of really neat stuff, you know and they work a lot with firefighters in particular but there’s some other communities that they do work with as well with this you know from elite athletes to military folks as well. And so there’s a lot of stuff going on in this area but the fact of the matter is, we just don’t have good tools necessary for doing it at the kind of organizational level. We haven’t thought about it and I think that’s actually a good thing right now right. Because I think that gives us time to try to think about how to bring these kind of tools in that do provide access to these new kinds of data and information and start to build some paradigms that say, what are the ethical implications?

[00:27:26.330] – Tim Amidon

What are you know how do we do this and ensure for equity? How do we think about justice? Like, I think part of it — this is like a somewhat way of thinking about it in a certain sense, but a lot of times the ways careers have been defined within that industry in particular, is 25 years an hour or something in a lot of organizations you know after 25 years, you qualify for a pension which in a certain way makes sense but it’s also kind of arbitrary right, how does that lead towards a differential exposure to stress and the implications that has on a body, physical, psychological, emotional, cardiological, all the different kinds of stress that these folks are going to experience in their career.

[00:28:16.820] – Janice Summers

The 25 years, yeah.

[00:28:18.440] – Tim Amidon

Yeah, like it’s bringing these tools in does it allow us to capture exposure to stress in a different way and start to think about exposure in different ways and to think about a career, longevity or career point in a different way right, and so I think if we’re just using these as surveillance tools to be like you know we’ve got to get Joe on a plan to get them back to you know what our performance standard within this organization is. That is somewhat problematic right, I mean, and that’s an understatement but I think that’s where the initial view of how the Internet of Things can be used for most folks is hey, we can get new information and now we can plug it into this command and control top site paradigm where you know understanding is reserved for management you know and we just scoop that up and so Zubov’s like you know back in her earlier work was like hey, we have an opportunity with these new information communication technologies to change this paradigm. We can continue to recycle that kind of monopolistic command, managerial tailors frame, or we can start to say, how do we turn that information to the end-users, to the workers on the front line so to speak doing the work you know and start to say how do they, how can they engage in intellectualization and form new practices from the new information and data that they have access to?

[00:29:54.680] – Tim Amidon

How can they use their creativity and their knowledge as workers and their expertise as practitioners to start to think about how that data informs what they’re doing and so that’s why I get really excited about folks like I put a fire that are doing this or the folks in some organizations that I’m working with that are tracking workouts and starting to see like how does that data influence practice, right and hey, I know I did sleep good or I haven’t been eating — I didn’t have the best set of meals over the past week. So I want to get back my nutrition plan right?

[00:30:30.710] – Janice Summers


[00:30:30.710] – Tim Amidon

So you know it’s like, it’s not to say that everyone needs to live that life but giving people some more tools and more information so they can make decisions and see how it’s tracking with their individual bodies.

[00:30:45.140] – Janice Summers

Right, I mean it affects their choices. I have a FitBit and I live by it.

[00:30:52.670] – Tim Amidon


[00:30:52.670] – Janice Summers

It tracks how — do I sleep? How many times am I waking up? Like all of these different things but what can I do different? Maybe I don’t drink so much water just before I go to bed so I don’t have to get up in the middle of the night so I can get a better REM sleep like so for me it does because I have a tendency not get enough sleep. So I want to watch that and I can track that as an individual. But then if somebody else were tracking this as a company

[00:31:18.050] – Liz Fraley

For a different reason.

[00:31:19.730] – Janice Summers

A management team.

[00:31:21.140] – Tim Amidon


[00:31:23.010] – Janice Summers

Right, there will be a different — like this I have control of it, right.

[00:31:27.900] – Tim Amidon

Yeah, and I think like more globally, if we zoom out right. We look at this I think surveillance and privacy is something I think a lot about right, but you know that also assumes that we’re looking at this organization as it is already right. And I think there’s broader implications where we start to look at this and start to see how could these tools — and this is where I look at folks like Safiya Umoja Noble’s work with algorithms of repression or Chris Gilliard’s work on digital redlining, you know those kind of folks that are thinking about this stuff like how are these kind of tools particularly leveraged in purposeful ways to kind of you know re-instantiate structures of oppression and injustice and exclusion, right. And so that’s where I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done you know, at the more institutional and social level to rethink what our practices and how do they lead to homogenous cultures of work and individuals within certain settings.

[00:32:31.620] – Tim Amidon

And so I think that’s where the fire service in a particular way you know has a lot of work to do. Like so many organizations and institutions among us right now right. To rethink how do we move towards a more representative fire service that looks like the people in the communities that it serves, I think that doesn’t lead to the best outcomes and we’ve seen that certainly within policing, but there’s other contexts as well. So yeah, I think there’s so much work to be done there you know, and so that’s where these tools have something that we need to be very careful about.

[00:33:14.580] – Janice Summers


[00:33:15.250] – Tim Amidon

You know, and so I think that gets back to where Zubov’s like hey, we can use these tools in ways that could be good and could lead towards worker emancipation and empowerment where we can use these tools in ways that ultimately, adversely impacts the agency that their workers and end-users have right within the system. So I think that’s —

[00:33:39.020] – Janice Summers

— Its like, they were like stored

[00:33:40.370] – Tim Amidon

Yeah yeah, and I think that’s where there’s just so much work for us to be doing right now whether it means like revisiting terms of service or thinking about terms of service or even just saying like you know working with data scientists and engineers on tools to say does this app, does this wearable, does this platform Why do we need this data bro? Right, what are we going to be doing with this? And is that use of that circulatory use of that information in that data, you know the re-composition to borrow from the work of Jim Rudolfo and Daniel Davos. You know what is the rhetorical velocity of this data and what are the ethics of creating data and allowing for different kinds of rhetorical velocity and re-composition in the future? So I think that’s where there’s just so much potential within that concept in particular for thinking about design you know and I know that Bill and Jim are thinking a lot about that use of the information warfare and rhetorical ops in the work that they’ve recently done.

[00:34:42.650] – Tim Amidon

But you know, I think that’s where I start to think about it you know framing it through that you know the equity and inclusion and justice lens where we see how could this tool be used for instance just screen applicants and just exclude applicants that could be great firefighters, but don’t necessarily meet the standards on day one right. You know, because of whether it’s access to nutrition or access to open spaces where we know from a public health perspective that you know the access to natural spaces in places to exercise is inequitably distributed within our states and within our countries right.

[00:35:29.870] – Janice Summers

Right, on that I mean I think you know just from the staffing perspective and the HR perspective it’s a different slant when you’re looking from — looking to start from a perspective of inclusion or exclusion. And I think a lot of times, most of the time people are exclusive. And not inclusive right, because in inclusive, you’re going to factor in all of these other things and think well okay, a little bit to overcome, but not impossible right, they could be a really good firefighter. They don’t get on this level, but I want to include them rather than exclude just use everything to cut everybody out it’s a different perspective.

[00:36:16.210] – Tim Amidon

Yeah, yeah I think we’ve seen a lot of that to be honest within the fire service. So I think there’s a lot of work to do on that front and so that’s where–

[00:36:28.190] – Janice Summers

In exclusive perspective, that’s in all industries.

[00:36:32.590] – Tim Amidon

Yeah, it is I mean not always, I think there’s a number of places where we start to see organizations saying, what does it mean to build a really truly inclusive environment.

[00:36:47.990] – Janice Summers


[00:36:48.410] – Tim Amidon

And it truly — that’s the organization, right?

[00:36:50.750] – Janice Summers

I think there are, but I think that there’s a lot of work because it really does come down to — I mean, and that’s the social structure. That’s a social construct, because a lot of times, even just in volunteer organizations, people like me like who can I get to do this? And they’re not intentionally pushing themselves outside to include people they’re just trying to pull in people they know right?

[00:37:15.030] – Tim Amidon


[00:37:15.030] – Janice Summers

So I think that’s one of the psychological things we all need to kind of break.

[00:37:19.030] – Tim Amidon

Yeah, yeah, I think that’s really interesting too, cause that gets at I think this difference between the volunteer fire service which comprises 70% of the United States fire service right, which is, you know when we think about firefighters like that’s a big part of what makes up this institution within America right, and so a lot of the standards are built at the NFPA, the National Fire Protection Agency are built in ways that I think work more easily for departments that are career, that are well funded.

[00:38:03.150] – Tim Amidon

I think even career departments with budgetary limitations find themselves in certain situations where they, I would suspect kind of encounter the same challenges that volunteer organizations often are working through as well right. And so I think those standards can be exclusionary in a certain sense in that way too where it’s like okay, if we’re excluding 70% of the fire service from practice, you know do these standards — what’s the value of the standards right. And so is there a standard for the career folks, is there a standard for the volunteer folks? What does it mean to have a tension between two differentials within those standards?

[00:38:48.660] – Janice Summers


[00:38:48.660] – Tim Amidon

And so I think that’s where we start to see those kind of things where best practice can be best but there’s material constraints that impact our ability to necessarily get there right, and so–

[00:38:59.610] – Liz Fraley


[00:39:00.840] – Tim Amidon

You know there’s a pursuit of excellence in a lot of organizations or a desire to pursue greatness in a lot of organizations within the fire service that I think it is, they want to be exceptional organizations, they don’t want to just be good because of what’s at stake and they take the mission seriously. And I really, I respect that and I get where that comes from but it’s how do you kind of do that? How do you maintain greatness without being exclusionary? And also building pathways that could lead towards greater inclusion and greater justice within hiring practices and retention practices and just that could allow for new knowledge places and cultural commonplaces to maybe enter that organization and that industry. So I think there’s work to be done there, I think.

[00:40:00.570] – Janice Summers

Yeah, it’s an interesting — okay we’ve only got two minutes left to hang it, but it’s really — you know in the beginning you said oh it’s just the fire department but look at how impactful just that little microcosm is on a global scale, like what you’re talking about is applicable to every industry out there, not just firefighting. This is every industry, the difference is firefighting and any emergency situation, this is the difference between life and death. So there’s a sensitivity that comes to it. But a lot of the things that you’re talking about are so applicable to so many, so many people and so many industries, it has been such a delight, I wanted to get into talking to you about–

[00:40:48.780] – Liz Fraley

I know.

[00:40:48.780] – Janice Summers

So what’s up for the next year for you?

[00:40:52.320] – Tim Amidon


[00:40:54.540] – Liz Fraley

I have a question I’ve been sitting on.

[00:40:56.700] – Janice Summers

We’ll have that for the next time we have you back, because we’ve got you earmarked to come back again because we know what you’re working on for the next year.

[00:41:05.970] – Tim Amidon

Well, that’s great.

[00:41:06.990] – Janice Summers

Yeah, it has been such a delight, I don’t think I got through all of the questions that people provided, but that’s okay because they can reach out to you directly as well.

[00:41:15.900] – Tim Amidon

Yeah reach out. Thank you all for coming it was excellent to have this dialog and to talk a little bit about the things I’m thinking a lot about the folks that are influencing my thinking right now.

[00:41:30.510] – Janice Summers

It’s very inspiring and it’s very thought-provoking and I love these conversations because you’re digging deep, but it sparks something it does in me every time, so.

[00:41:42.930] – Tim Amidon

Well, thank you, that’s kind.

[00:41:44.820] – Janice Summers

That’s the whole point right, to get that fire started in everybody?

[00:41:51.720] – Tim Amidon

Yeah, get that fire started, catch a fire.

[00:41:54.630] – Janice Summers

Yeah, catch that fire and run with it.

[00:41:55.660] – Tim Amidon

Yeah, well thank you.

In this episode

Dr. Tim Amidon is an Associate Professor of Digital Rhetoric at Colorado State University, who holds appointments within the English Department and the Colorado School of Public Health. His research surrounds the interrelationships of technology, agency, and workplace literacy with focused interests in rhetorics of data, risk communication, intellectual property, and occupational safety and health. His scholarship has appeared in venues such as Communication Design Quarterly, The Journal of Business and Technical Communication, Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, Hybrid Pedagogy, as well as within proceedings of the International Conference on Design, Usability, and Usability (DUXU) and the Association of Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on the Design of Communication (SIGDOC). In addition to his work in the academy, Tim has served as a firefighter/EMT, technical rescuer, fire instructor, and/or fire officer in fire and emergency service organizations for over 20 years.

​What do the sophisticated array of digital technologies—from remote sensors and wearables to drones and data analytics platforms—taken up across industries mean for the future of work? How might these technologies displace the existing tools, practices, and literacies workers coordinate in order to construct knowledge and communicate within various industries? How might these technologies reveal affinities toward and limitations in blue- and white-collar conceptions of work?

In this episode of Room 42, we discuss the way emerging technologies are transforming work within the fire and emergency services industry, including insights from an ongoing project funded by the NSF to develop a wearable physiological monitor to improve firefighter safety outcomes. He will also consider how practitioners, designers, and researchers might leverage UX and TPC research to cultivate coalitions for the design and integration of more accessible, equitable, inclusive, and just technologies.




Twitter: @timothyamidon


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