The topic of this column is a Washington Post story stating that manufacturers of appliances, computers, cars, etc., want to know why Americans don't read their owners' manuals.
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One big reason that consumers don't read manuals is that the typical manual starts out with 15 to 25 pages of warnings, informing you of numerous highly unlikely ways in which you could use the product to injure or kill yourself.
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The typical consumer's reaction to these warnings is: "What kind of moron would do THAT?"
The answer to this question is: "A wealthy moron." Because the reason these warnings exist is that somewhere, some time, some consumer with the IQ of a radish actually DID one of these bizarre things, got a lawyer and sued, and a jury decided, what the heck, $300 million sounds about right, but let's not tell the judge right away because first we should order a pizza.
So every year there are more huge product-liability awards, and every year manufacturers have to put more warnings in the owners' manuals, and every year the radish-brains come up with newer, more-innovative ways to injure themselves. There will come a day when every product you buy will come with an actual living lawyer inside the box, sealed in plastic; as soon as you break the seal, the lawyer will emerge and start preparing your product-liability lawsuit. (This system is feasible because product-liability lawyers are spore-based organisms who can survive for years without air.)
Another reason consumers don't read manuals is that products today have TOO MANY FEATURES. (I know, I know, I've complained about this before. So sue me.) We and when I saw "we," I am speaking for every human being in the world do not want a lot of features. In fact, for most products, we really want only two features: the "on" feature and the "off" feature.
An example of a feature that we do not want is "picture in picture." This feature allows you to watch one channel on most of your TV screen, while another channel appears in a little box in the corner. The salesman always makes a big deal out of "picture in picture," and the manual always devotes pages to how you use it.
Except you don't use it. I have never seen any actual human consumer use the "picture in picture" feature, because (a) nobody remembers how it works; (b) it's annoying to have two pictures on the screen; and (c) it's hard enough to find ONE thing on TV you want to watch.
The third reason consumers don't read manuals is that many consumers are men, and we men would no more read a manual than ask directions, because this would be an admission that the writer of the manual has a bigger . . . OK, a bigger grasp of technology than we do. We men would rather hook up a DVD player in such a way that it ignites the DVDs and shoots them across the room than admit that the manual writer possesses a more manly technological manhood than we do.
So if manufacturers want us to read their manuals, they need to take a few simple, common-sense steps: (1) Deport all the product-liability lawyers to Iraq; (2) Get rid of "picture in picture"; (3) Include nothing in the manual except simple, clear, minimal directions, printed on photographs of tennis star Anna Kournikova naked. These steps will greatly improve consumer knowledge, and reduce unfortunate mishaps.