I'd rather suffer through 1000 loud, looping repeats of the Barney "I Love You" song than read directions for an electronic gadget I've just purchased. Especially when I get a somewhat complex device (like a new Palm Pilot, cell phone or camera). I can hear my new toy calling to me when I open the UPS or Fed Ex box, saying, "Try me! You can figure me out! Pull the plastic off! Don't I look easy to use?" Then when I pick it up for the first time I see an owner's manual underneath. I'm puzzled. " What's that for? Am I supposed to read that? The 'Quick Start Guide' is about two pages -of 6 or 7 pictures. That's way too much reading. Do you know how much patience that requires of me at this moment? Does anybody read that thing?"
Then I remember the old adage: "When all else fails, read the instructions." And since all else hasn't failed yet, I'll usually pop in the batteries and start punching buttons just to see what I can work out. It sure is fun to see what happens. Sometimes it works, but sometimes I'm cracking open the instructions after an hour to learn that I have to hold down the power button for two seconds to make it turn on!
This impatience is not limited to gadgets. Newly installed software on computers sparks the same sudden overwhelming desire to "just try it." Why read the help when there are so many neat menus to click on? "Let's see here... I should be able to [click, click, click] figure this out!"
I don't think I'm alone in my disdain for first reading instructions. In fact, many software manufacturers have stopped printing hardcopy of manuals, choosing instead to put all instructions within the software's HELP section -knowing that users are not going to touch a thick paper manual. (Our impatience must save these software companies a bundle in paper costs!)
So what makes it this way? Well, here's what goes through my head when I get a new piece of technology:
1. It's a challenge. "I bet I can figure this out! No one is watching so no one will know if I get stumped. It looks simple enough. I know Jerry at work got one and I didn't see him reading anything -he just started using it. How hard can such a small device be?"
2. It's fun to explore it immediately! " Wow, these new buttons and menus are great! What a cool new display this thing has! And I've wanted it for a long time. What harm can just trying a few things do? Ooh, I wonder what this tab does!"
3. It's a gamble. "There's a chance that it will be super easy, intuitive and conquered hands-on in about 10 minutes which would save so much time. Why not try? If I can figure it out then reading the manual would be waste of time anyway! Besides, I have data I needed entered into this thing yesterday! I'll come out ahead if I just go for it!"
What's the problem with jumping into the hands on -aside from some wasted time? Perhaps there is no problem except the risk that instant gratification will turn into to unnecessary frustration. Despite my lack of patience with instruction manuals, I have discovered that investing a few minutes reading the instructions (yes, the thick one, not only the Quick Start Guide!) pays off big time. For me it's nearly unbearable to set my new gizmo on the table and turn to the paper that came with it. But if I bite down on a wood chip (to help with the pain) and force even a quick skim through the instructions it provides a huge head start in understanding almost any technology, which makes me so much happier with my purchase.
Finally, what can be worse than having to read an instruction manual? Calling for help with a technology problem after your device or software isn't new anymore! I find that for some reason, people resist this phone call as much as they resist initially reading the instruction manual. I have been called to help a client that was unnecessarily going in circles for hours over a technical problem. Just as there is a best place on a bat to hit a ball, there is a sweet spot on the troubleshooting timeline where it's best to call for help. Yes, it can be a nightmare, and you may have to punch through 15 automated telephone prompts in a seemingly endless wait. But that process will likely bring you to a person that does nothing but quickly solve your specific problem for people everyday.
Help, written or by 800 number, is there for a good reason. Sure, it's tempting to just struggle through the learning curve on your own. But next time you're stuck learning a new software program or new Mp3 player or whatever, look for instructions on paper or by phone. Both those old-fashioned, boring forms of assistance can tremendously enhance your enjoyment of new-fangled technology.