Manuals: why do we avoid reading the instructions?
It’s a common myth that men will never read the manual of any gadget, instead going at it with dogged determination to work it out for themselves. If the truth is to be told accurately, however, this is not a phenomenon relegated only to men.
So why is it that the humble manual is so often completely ignored? As the average person’s ownership of gadgets increases, just how many hours are spent ignoring a manual?
Advantages of reading the manual
This writer’s household may differ from some. It’s not the fact that the male of the species will never look at a manual, but this combined with his complete lack of understanding of anything technological does make for more-than-usually frustrating onlooking.
When the Internet was connected some months ago, there was no argument that a professional installation was necessary, but this is only because mistakes have been made so, so often in the past.
Modems seem so simple, with their clean, streamlined outer surface, but looks can be deceptive. With ADSL, ADSL2+, wireless broadband and wireless PC cards available, their innocuous exterior is more often a front for more complex characteristics.
Because no one bothered to look at a manual the first time an ADSL modem was installed, the household lived, painfully, without a filter for at least 3 weeks. It was finally revealed by a friend (who happened to be a Telstra technician, not a manual), that a lack of filter was why every phone call was so annoyingly noisy.
Men and women alike will more often than not begin setting up any type of gadget, from game consoles to mobile phones, iPods to computers, Palm Pilots to modems, without any thought of referring to the manual.
This could be due to the fact that people are so often surrounded by electronic gadgets; a certain level of usability is to be expected. Easy to follow prompts guide people through the set-up process, and colour-coded plugs make easy work of where to stick things in.
It’s a catch-22. Companies have made it easier for people to work things out for themselves, leading to less and less manual reading. On the other hand, perhaps it’s because so few people read manuals in the first place that the set-up for so many products became child’s play.
Manuals: the most un-read books in the world
Most manuals are not on the best-seller list in terms of readability, and this could be one of the main reasons people avoid them like the plague. Perhaps one solution is for companies to begin hiring teams of creative writers who work together with those less well-liked technical writers. Imagine if a manual was actually an engrossing read!
Sometimes the purchase of a new gadget is an exciting experience, and literally getting your hands on it can distract anyone from reading the manual first. However, for many, technological prowess will never be a strong point, and it doesn’t matter how many gadgets they surround themselves with, they will still be frustrated rather than enlightened, guessing rather than reading.
Software companies have become more aware of the fact that most people either don’t have a manual or, if they do, read it only in a crisis. As a result, many programmes have become self-explanatory. For instance, when first using Adobe Photoshop, one of the simplest ways to get to know the tools is to just hover the mouse over them, revealing its name.
Of course, for those wanting to avoid software programme manuals altogether, online tutorials have become increasingly popular. Several companies, such as Lynda.com, have boomed in recent years.
Still, it’s safe to say that many of this writer’s gadget’s manuals have never been opened. Many of the gadgets functions will go on being unused as blissful ignorance continues. Perhaps there are just too many functions available, but one thing’s for sure: no time has been wasted reading, but plenty uselessly playing.
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