Thursday, August 12, 2004


Yesterday while my pal Suzanne and I sipped our brandy, her kids (6 and 9) put together her new vacuum cleaner. My kids (also 6 and 9) helped. No adult intervention was requested or required. At least as far as we know. We didn't try to turn on the completed product, but it looked fine. Later it occured to me (not on schedule with the name of this blog; see how i'm slipping?) to wonder if Suzanne will eventually take out the instructions and "user's guide" and become informed of any points that the vaccum cleaner manufacturer may believe will help her to get the most out of her machine. Or, rather, into it. Or what if there is some dire warning? Will she ever see it?

No one I know, I know, reads instructions. I know some very intelligent and educated people and they all just forge ahead. I'm strange in this respect because as a kid I developed a strong attachment to The Instructions. I want to go step by step through everything, whatever the thing is, and know at each point if I'm doing it Right and at the end if it's come out Right.

But anyway, what I'm like is irrelevant because I am a freak. The point is that the greater mass of humanity, also known as consumers, don't [doesn't? greater mass is a collective noun? and what would it mean if it were? humans don't -- at least that's straightforward] um, yeah, consumers don't read instructions. And yet manufacturers continue to produce products that require them. This is so glaringly obviously an enormous gaffe. It's not Right.

I have an idea for a survey that I could post somewhere to find out who, if anyone, reads what about their products. Do you read recipes? Do you substitute ingredients? Do you read assembly instructions for "some assembly required" furniture? Do you buy it if you know it requires assembly? Do you read the use instructions for your kitchen appliances? your cell phone? your PDA? your dvd player? your digital camera? Do you read software manuals? And then a buncha standard demographic-type questions.

I know that no one reads software manuals. I wrote them for 13 years. I think one person read one book that I wrote. It was probably the best one I ever did, luckily. The rest...probably 20 books, never made it out of the shrinkwrap. Many in fact didn't make it out of the warehouse.

Now I know that this unwillingness to unwrap computer documents derives from well based hopelessness. Them books is mostly very bad. Companies don't really want to spend the money to properly document their products and produce good books. They can't. The need the money so that they can print bad books and store them in their warehouses. And then I guess some of them get shredded and some go straight to the landfill. See how life is just one beautiful circle?

I did read all of my cell phone's use guide. And yet, somehow, when the battery died and I recharged it and then tried to turn the phone back on, I couldn't do it. I replaced the phone, thanks to the warranty, and then became suspicious when the new phone gave me the same trouble. Come to find out, the green button, the one I use to start a phone call, is not the "on" button. The red button, the one I use to end a call, and to turn off the phone, is the on button. I just had to sigh.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Does your husband read instructions or are you the lone instruction-reader in the family?