February 28, 2024

Unnecessary Manuals

My new cell phone arrived the other day and I couldn’t believe how big the shipping box was. The new phone is about the size of a credit card, but the box it came in would hold a Sears side-by-side refrigerator freezer with room left over for a homeless Sumo wrestler.

I knew it was my phone, because it said so on the box, but I felt a twinge of panic.

I wondered exactly how many phones I had ordered or perhaps I had misunderstood how big the thing was. After all, I had never actually seen the phone, except in pictures.

With trepidation, I opened the box. The phone lay right on top and it was about the size I expected. There was some packing material, but the rest of the box was full of papers and books.

The top layer was promotional material and advertisements for phones and accessories. Most of it related to the model I had ordered, but there was a significant amount of literature regarding other models of phones that are available from the same vendor. I just bought a new phone, why would I be shopping for another one before I charged the battery on this one? I suppose though, if I found my purchase unacceptable it would be nice to have information for other models handy.

Below the promotional stuff I found the warranty information and related survey cards. Then I came to the instruction manual that was roughly the size of the Manhattan white pages.

“How can that be?” I muttered to myself.

But sure enough, it was the instruction manual. After investigation, I realized why it was so big. The first forty-six pages were in English, and then four pages of glossary followed by four pages of index. In total, fifty-four pages. I know this phone has lots of features, but fifty-four pages? After that came the French version, the Spanish version, the German version, and finally the Japanese. What no Italian? Maybe there wasn’t room in the box.

Coincidentally, I had a similar experience when I bought a new mouse for my computer the next day. It is a plain, ordinary two-button mouse except that it connects to the USB port instead of the regular mouse hole. Not all that special, but it came with a ninety-page instruction manual. More than half the manual was in English and the rest in French. The French part is printed upside-down…or maybe it’s the English side, I couldn’t tell for sure. I guess that’s so you know when to stop. Apparently the fact that what’s written there is completely incomprehensible is not enough. Or are they trying to save the bilingual folks the trouble of reading it twice. My guess would be that anyone who owns a computer would catch on when the manual switches to an entirely different language. On the other hand if someone has to have printed instructions on how to use a mouse, all bets are off.

How many pages are required to describe the fine points of pressing down with the index finger as opposed to the second finger, or pressing twice instead of once? How many pages should be devoted to moving the mouse left or right on the mouse pad compared to up and down? What about the pad itself? Should it be covered in the mouse manual or treated as an accessory and have a manual of its own? Apparently it comes with its own manual, because a quick scan of the index showed no entry for ‘pad’ in the mouse manual.

Of course there is the in-depth analysis of single-clicking versus double-clicking and when it’s appropriate to select one over the other. That cannot be emphasized enough. Having over ten years experience using a mouse, however, I felt confident that I could figure this one out without reading the manual, so I threw it back into the bathtub-sized box. I suppose that’s living dangerously, but I have always been a risk-taker.

I chose to talk on my phone while double-clicking my USB mouse, rather than spend the next six months reading about them.

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