Did I Say That? Manuals for modern living

Throughout my life, I’ve avoided reading instructions because, quite honestly, I’m too lazy. I figure I can “wing it,” and for the most part, I’ve been successful except when it came to taking calculus tests in college or assembling elaborate toys like the Fisher-Price deluxe Downton Abbey Castle for Toddlers with Moat and Dungeon.  

I never had much success with directions, which means to say I’ve tried to assemble things, including IKEA furniture, by using my intuition. However, I usually ended up  scratching my head in puzzlement and concluding: “Hmmm, this looks like it goes here … I guess not … It must be an extra part.”

As an aging Baby Boomer, I’m particularly concerned about the growing national crisis over incomprehensible directions. We live in a technological age when every week a new product comes on the market, which we absolutely MUST have to lead a productive life – until you walk into oncoming traffic on Lexington Avenue or fall off the side of the Grand Canyon because you’re more preoccupied with an electronic toy than watching where you’re going.

Most of us don’t have the patience or the smarts to learn how to use gadgets like the Deluxe Digital Electronic Personal Assistant and Fitness Trainer designed to organize your life, balance your checkbook, pay your bills, build six-pack abs, massage your feet and heat up your chicken pot pie.

When you buy something like that, you’re as excited as a teenager on prom night … until you discover the book of directions is as large as the third edition of the Guttenberg Bible and written in seven languages, only one of which you can read, but barely because it’s printed in 6-point type, which is so small you’ll need a magnifying glass just to get through the life-saving instructions that say, “Do NOT connect to power source while you’re standing in a wading pool.”

It’s a sign of the times that more and more companies no longer provide printed directions, largely because kids today can’t read anything longer that a 13-word tweet. Instead, the companies direct you to a website or to a YouTube video to learn how to operate your George Foreman Outdoor Electric Grill with Astroturf and Turkey Vulture Feeder.  

Sometimes, the company avoids using words altogether and gives you a set of diagrams that looks like my 2-year-old granddaughter drew them at day care. I recently bought a portable MP3 speaker that used stick figures to explain what I had to do to get quality sound, but after two days of trying to decipher what the stick figures wanted me to do, I finally realized that the button I was pushing to increase the volume was actually the “off” button.

A few expensive products are stored in the bottom of my closet because I have neither the aptitude nor the patience to figure out how to operate them. I should also confess that after driving 70,000 miles, I still haven’t read my car manual, although things have gone reasonably well … at least if I ignore those seven mystery buttons I’m afraid to push because I don’t know what they do.

Some new products are “intuitive,” which means you’re supposed to rely on your God-given common sense to operate them. Most of my life, I’ve used those skills with moderate success, but it’s not easy anymore because as I get older, the products have become more complex — like my Sonic Turbo-charged Tooth Evacuator with Flexible Flosser, not to mention my NOAA-NASA-CIA Weather Radio with Light Saber, and my Super Smart Fitness Watch with Voter Registration App and Hillary Clinton Secret Email Decoder Ring.

I usually try to get by without reading instructions because they’re written by people who don’t know how to explain things very well and probably worked as proctors for the SATs in a previous life.

This means that everyday tasks, such as applying household glue to repair a tea cup, can be enormously challenging, largely because the directions on the tube are so small I can’t read them, which leaves only one intelligent option — wing it.

As a result, I learned the hard way that Gorilla Glue expands about 95 percent and any excess comes bubbling out like lava that’s impossible to scrape off. At least that’s what happened when I tried to repair my wife’s china. The bad news is we’ll never drink out of that cup again — the good news is I have 11 more cups to practice on.

Yes, I’ll do better next time. You see, trial and error is a lot more fun than reading directions.

Contact Joe Pisani at [email protected]

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