I’m a keen reader of Jost Zetzsche’s monthly Tool Box Journal, a newsletter for translators about techie developments in the industry. Jost usually starts with a reflection on a translation-related topic. In August, he wrote a particularly incisive piece called Blazing Trails That Never End, about technically adept translators who reach a certain level of competence and then rest on their laurels, confident that there is no room for improvement.
Jost paints a caricature of such a translator:
“[…] the self-trained translator looks for technology solutions by searching the web, newsgroups, and translator portals and by going to conferences or talking to colleagues. They find a first set of technology that they settle on, though in the early years they continue to change or tweak it as they learn more about the industry. Once they’ve assembled a suite of tools that work for them, however, they feel well equipped and stop looking for improvements.”
He goes on to explain that many such translators achieve a high public profile by writing blogs and taking part in online discussions. This, together with their expertise, gives them power and far-reaching influence.
“When they persuasively describe the technology they use as one of the cornerstones of their success, they quickly realize that it earns them admiration and a leadership position among their peers.”
These blinkered translators resist new technology, fearing it may threaten their privileged position.
“They use their status to rail against the new technology […], their rallying cry becomes the rallying cry of many, with the result that the natural and ever-ongoing development of technology gets stuck.”
Guilty as charged
Naturally, I recognise myself in the above caricature. I write post after post about Studio features and, yes, I do get praise heaped on me when I solve people’s Studio problems. I’m also aware that the SDL marketing department is probably very grateful for every post I publish. But my feet are firmly on the ground. I know that many people understand the bowels of Studio far better than me and can do many more techie things with it than I can.
When I started this blog a few years ago I had no idea that it could have the potential to halt the natural and ever-ongoing development of technology. Wow. That’s a pretty big danger, as dangers go. So why on earth did I start blogging? For far more mundane and self-centred reasons. I blog because it makes me research areas (in technology and medicine) in far more detail than I would if I wasn’t sharing my findings. I enjoy the challenge of writing; it’s a change from translating. And posting a link to my blog saves time when newbies ask the same questions again and again on forums. (Doesn’t your heart sink too when you read on a forum: “Why don’t I get any matches from my translation memory?”)
Of course, Studio isn’t the proverbial golden hammer and it doesn’t solve every single problem a translator encounters. If you’re a regular reader of Signs & Symptoms of Translation, you might be under the impression there is little else to my life than translating a medical text in Studio. Actually, I love reading about new developments in translation technology and I enjoy trying out new programs and tools. I don’t always write about them, because I prefer to concentrate on subjects I have a good grip of. But at the end of the day, I admit that returning to Studio is like coming home after being away. So although I don’t rail against other tools and new technologies, I do hear what Jost is saying.
Do you subscribe to blogs that discuss topics that are relevant to you? I do. Likewise, I hope my blog readers find all or at least most of my articles interesting. I try to achieve this by keeping my blog focused. Maybe that’s not a good idea at the end of the day. Maybe I should broaden my blog topic range. Maybe I should be less blinkered and more ready to embrace changes in technology. Or maybe I should simply retreat into my translator’s cave and give up my blog before I do any more damage to the development of technology.
This blog post is inundated with me, myself and I. Let me turn this debate over to you, to hear what you think about the dangers of translators who blaze a trail and then risk technological stagnation. Please leave your comments below.
And thank you, Jost, for airing this thorny issue.