Reading owner's manuals

We have friends who recently purchased a new car. Our particular circle of friends is such that we tend to drive pretty old vehicles and replacement comes infrequently, so a new car is noticed by us. These particular friends had piled up well over 200.,000 miles on their previous vehicle, so a new one was in order. I was admiring the new car and our friend told me that he had now read the owner’s manual twice and was in the process of reading the section about programming the radio a third time. Of course the radio is much more than just a radio. I think that some manufacturers are calling them “infotainment systems.” It has a fairly large video display with a touchscreen that is used to operate the car’s climate controls, the heated seats, the stereo, which in addition to playing radio, can play MP3 files and take audio entertainment from external sources via Bluetooth as well as with a cable. It also features a GPS navigation system and displays a moving map. It can be used to program special features including the operation of the car’s key fobs. It is a fairly sophisticated computer.

The conversation got me to thinking about all of the owner’s manuals I have. In addition to the vehicle manuals which I have read and which ride in the car, I have a drawer filled with owner’s manuals next to my desk in my library. I have manuals for power tools, for computer equipment, for home appliances, and countless other devices. Periodically I have to go through the drawer to remove manuals for devices that we no longer own. While I keep that large stack of manuals in the drawer, the truth is that I almost never go to the drawer to take out and read the manuals. When I need help understanding, repairing or using an item I am most likely to “Google” the item and find the manual online. I also watch YouTube videos of repairs and adjustments to learn how to make them myself.

Paper manuals are becoming a thing of the past.

It isn’t difficult to imagine the day when a customer will buy a new car, slide into the seat, and touch a display in the dashboard that teaches the owner how to operate the vehicle and its various systems. Despite this development, however, I have noticed an increasing number of vehicles that feature two glove compartments in the dashboard. Since I have never kept gloves in the glove compartment and use it exclusively for the operator’s manuals, proof of insurance, registration and repair receipts, I am not sure what one is supposed to do with multiple glove compartments in a vehicle where no paper manuals are required. While I keep a paper copy of my proof of insurance in each car, I also have an application on my cell phone that displays proof of insurance. I have already set up maintenance records keeping on the web sites of the manufacturers of our vehicles. It isn’t hard to imagine the day when we are paperless when it comes to automobile records and documents.

When my computer gives me problems, I use my phone to look up possible solutions. When my phone doesn’t work properly I use my computer to seek a solution.

Yes, I’m even reading books on a tablet computer these days. I’m trying to avoid collecting any more books in my already overfilled home and office, but I have to admit that there is something different about reading a book on the screen. I’m currently reading a volume given me by a friend that is a physical book with over 500 pages. I like the heft of the book in my hands and it is fun to watch the bookmark move through all of those pages as I read. There is no similar satisfaction with reading a book on the computer.

Yesterday I had a conversation with another friend who was reporting that among the tasks of his day was going with his wife to select a new phone. He told me, “We recently had a small fire in our home, started by a candle. We had to repaint a wall, replace carpet, get the paint refinished and elect new curtains for the room. All of that was less effort and less trauma for us than selecting a new phone.”

I told him I understood perfectly. We recently added a new phone in our home with a significant learning curve and more than a little bit of disruption. Bringing a new piece of technology into our lives frequently involves a change in our lifestyle.

I’m not sure that I am happy with having to conform to the demands of technology. I have enough trouble keeping up with relationships and the expectations of the people in my life. I’ve no desire to have technology raising additional expectations for me. This is, however, the world in which we live today. We ignore the advances of technology at our own peril. I think that part of what makes it such a challenge for us to adapt to new technology is that we don’t keep up. Our newest car is 7 years old. It is in good shape and it will be quite a while before we are thinking of replacing it. My daily driver is 19 years old. When it was delivered it didn’t even have a CD player in it (remember CD’s?). I was impressed with its electric door locks with a remote control at the time. If I had traded cars every couple of years, the technology would seem to have evolved for me. Instead, when I do replace that car I’ll be like my friend. needing to study for several days in order to know how to operate it. The same is true of the new phone in our home. It replaced one that has been around for several years. The old phone had actual buttons that you pushed. The new one features a touchscreen and no physical buttons.

So, I’m going to sort through the owner's manuals once again. Which is another way of saying I’m not going to throw them all out quite yet.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!