Whatever Happened to Instruction Manuals?

When I bought my first computer, back in 1984, it came with a stack of fat instruction manuals, each an inch or so thick, one for each software program, one for MS-DOS 1.2, and one for the computer itself.  Of course, none of them appeared to have been written by someone whose first language was English, but there was information in there if we dug deep enough.  Over the years the software manufacturers cut their manuals down to the level of pamphlets, but publishing companies stepped in and produced guides for just about everything.

These days we really don’t need printed manuals.  Computers and software have become far easier to understand, and the help files in the software actually help.  Even huge, complicated programs like QuickBooks, the bookkeeping program we use at the Scorekeeper, no longer come with books of instructions.

I don’t miss those old software manuals (or most of the old software!).  But I spent a good chunk of my day off today figuring out the myriad features of my new cell phone, and an actual instruction manual would have been a big help.

When I decided to upgrade my Tracfone service from an antique Nokia with a monochrome screen the size of a large postage stamp to an LG800G with a colorful touch screen, icons and widgets, browser access and a camera, I didn’t expect it to be a five-minute process.  I didn’t expect it to take six telephone conversations with various denizens of the Tracfone Customer Care department, either.

Mind you, I’m not complaining about Tracfone’s service.  Everyone I spoke to was unfailingly courteous and helpful.  The system just had a problem with someone who paid for service by the year, collecting tons of minutes that she didn’t use.  The first call got the phone activated and the phone number transferred, on Sunday afternoon.  On Tuesday morning, another helper got my minutes transferred, but not my service days.   This morning someone else got the service days added, and then it took two more calls (one from Tracfone to me) to set up the voicemail.

So by this afternoon I had a fully functional phone–and very little idea of what to do with most of the functions.  The phone came with a lot of packaging and a small “services guide.”  Half of that is in Spanish, and half the English section is legalese, leaving about twenty pages, maybe four by four inches in size, with information on the phone and its functions.  Some of its functions.  The basic functions.

The Tracfone web site does include a set of tutorials for each of its various phones, and those covered a different (but overlapping) set of functions and tasks.  From other sites I downloaded two entirely different manuals in pdf format–one is the sort of “quick start guide” that comes with electronics and one is actually 45 pages long, although only the first 18 cover the phone functions, the rest being Safety Guidelines from the FCC.  And after reading all four of these, I still have quite a few questions about mysterious settings and widgets, things I can’t find explained or identified anywhere.  Things, perhaps, that I am not meant to know.  Or mess with.

Speaking of Messes

Here are a few random lines from the Safety Guidelines, the cell phone equivalent of don’t stick your hand under the lawn mower while it’s running.

Never place your phone in a microwave oven as this will cause the battery to explode.  Gee, that was high on my list of things to do with a new phone.

Do not paint your phone.  Darn it, I had in mind a tasteful chartreuse.

Do not turn your phone on or off when putting it in your ear.  I’m having a hard time visualizing this one.

Do not take notes or look up phone numbers while driving.  Or read the newspaper, or put on makeup, or shave.

Could be some of the most important instructions really are buried in the Safety Guidelines.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cheryl Bolen
    Jul 05, 2012 @ 20:31:14

    Another cute post. I love the line about safety . . . and lawnmower.



  2. Nhan-Fiction
    Jul 05, 2012 @ 22:45:11

    I know what you mean. :O



  3. starhorsepax
    Jul 10, 2012 @ 14:29:40

    True humor is the best way to deal with tech insanity. It’s like when you click the help manual on the computer to find out why it won’t go online, only to find that the help to go online IS online!
    🙂 They expect you to find it on the internet from other users thru trial and error. Of course, the concept that some people don’t HAVE internet does not enter their minds.
    And if anyone really need instructions google Howard Forums. It’s all about mobile phones and most of what I needed to know about my phone was on there.



    • Kay Hudson
      Jul 10, 2012 @ 14:44:08

      I don’t know how I’d get along any more without Google. How Google sorts all that information into any semblance of order is another miracle, and one I’m grateful for. Thanks for the Howard Forum suggestion. I will check that out.



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