Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Owner's Manual and other fantasies

Have you ever actually tried to use an owner's manual? When my wife wrecked our car a little over a year ago, we needed a replacement. Since she had walked away from a totally destroyed vehicle, we bought the latest version of the same car, figuring that if either of us has a similar experience in the future we stood a good chance of surviving it again. But much had changed in the 11 years since we had bought the old car. Things had gone high-tech, feet-first into the digital age. Much of it is very good, at least in theory. For example, one may carry on a telephone conversation without taking one's hands off the wheel or eyes off the road. That comes in handy when driving through states where talking on a cell phone while driving is illegal; just let them try to show probable cause. But first, you have to set up the phone, and that is where the owner's manual comes in.

We initially got my wife's phone set up at the dealership (my phone at the time was too old to talk to the car). It took the owner, two salesmen, and a mechanic an hour to complete. I'm not sure, but there may have been a side trip to a Japanese shrine en route to the solution. When I got my new phone I consulted the owner's manual. First, the index is a meager collection of terms having only broad, general relation to real-world needs. Choosing the one entry that seemed to be vaguely related to cars and cell phones, I turned to page 363 for the first step in what proved to be a scavenger hunt, where each answer was a clue leading you to the next clue. The clues were scattered at random throughout the book, of course, so the next hour was spent leafing back and forth like a Baptist Sunday School class engaged in Sword Drills. When at last the answer appeared, it was written in a simple, cook-book-like series of steps. From this point, things were going to be easy. There was one minor problem, however. The directions didn't work. Now I know why the dealership was so slow setting up my wife's phone. I wonder how long it will take them to set up mine?


  1. So true.
    Took three adults two and one half hours to set up daughters new doll house this year.

  2. " a Baptist Sunday School class engaged in Sword Drills." That is a great expression. When you are funny you are very funny.


  4. At least you have a manual. Far too many things have only on-line manuals. I hate them.

  5. If manuals are written in English, it’s not too bad. If they’ve been translated into English it’s a lot worse.

    But leave me alone when it comes to instructions for digital gadgets. Whatever language they’re in, me no understand.

    1. I remember when the IBM 360-91 was state-of-the-art in mainframes. IBM had a whole series of manuals, none of which ever allowed anyone to fathom what they were trying to teach. I think that's what paved the way for the desk-top computer.

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