When I spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for computers, software, and other complex electronic gear today, I expect to have a complete instruction manual packed along with it. For instance, the first desktop computer I bought in the ‘70s came with two hardcover, 3-ring bound manuals that were remarkably complete. One described the Operating System, and the other was a Basic software handbook. They were clearly written in modern, acceptable English grammar and made sense. The first procedural step was described first; the second step next, and so on. I could actually read the manuals and understand how to navigate the software and use the computer hardware. What happened to these instruction manuals? The most recent computer I purchased had only one sheet of paper that contained a few pictures for connecting the hardware. Incredible; no book!
Now, when I need to know more about my new computer, I have two choices: I can go online and download an instruction manual or something similar, or I can go to Borders Book Store and buy a book written by a dude who had nothing to do with designing or manufacturing the product. After having said that, I admit, in some cases, the author had worked for the company at one time, or was commissioned to write a manual by interviewing someone at the company.
So, look at the first case: Go online. What if I cannot get online in the first place because I don’t have a manual to tell me how to go online to get the manual online? Stupid? No, it happens. Moreover, frequently when I do download the manual, it is so confusing, I cannot understand it. It appears to be written by someone whose native language is not English – it’s a translation from something unknown! And a lot of information and data are lost in the translation. What is worse, step two comes before step one, and so on! Look at case number two: Buy a book at Borders. Many of these books are incomplete, or do not discuss the area where I need to have detailed information. And others are prohibitively expensive! Many are written for “Idiots” and “Dummies.” Sorry, I am not one of these. Moreover, if I bought an HP-9000 laptop, what are the chances that a book was written about that particular model? Zilch! Compare that to a camera. I can buy a Nikon D40 that comes with a very comprehensive manual. And if I want another book to supplement it, I can buy a book written by an expert who actually uses the camera.
The thing that precipitated this rant is an “Air Card Module” that I recently purchased. It came with a very small manual that seemed to cover the device well enough to get me on the Internet and receive e-mail. But, after I energized the module, it never operated the same way twice. Sometimes it worked plugged into the computer and other times it would work only when unplugged! Reading either the paper manual or the online manual never helped me. Today, it does not work at all. And the green power light just turned yellow! What does that mean? It is not in the book. Where do I go for help? Should I call customer service and talk to a foreigner whose language or accent I cannot understand, or should I go back to the local service center and talk to a salesperson who knows less about it than I do, because he cannot afford to own one himself? No, I will return the module and get my money back. What would you do?