Mad In Pursuit Notebook

Where is the manual?

5.17.2013. What does it say about our culture that that so many deeply complicated electronic devices and apps have simply abandoned the idea of a user manual, especially printed ones? With our computers and our programable TVs, media centers, cameras, satellite radios, tablets, and smart phones, have we simply learned to be happy with the "default settings"? Are we so thrilled when something "just works" that we dare not fuss with the controls? "No one reads the manual!" What... no time? no motivation? no brains?

I recently switched from an iPhone to a Galaxy S4, so this question is hot on my mind. Where is my orientation class to the Android system? How do I drill down to get the settings I want? What's this annoying panel that keeps jumping out at me when my finger brushes the left side of the screen? I finally dove into the Samsung site and did find a pdf manual. And then I began scouring Google for "tips and tricks" pages--friendly advice about what's good and what to get rid of. This helps with orientation and finding apps that either reproduce what I loved about my iPhone or apps that promise to take me to the next level of ecstasy.

Woe is me if I have a problem like "no sound without the headphone." I wind up in forum hell with a bunch of whiney newbies and self-styled experts giving advice out of their butts... and then I notice the thread was from 2011 or 2009. Grrr. Lucky for me, turning the phone off-then-on brought the speaker back.

Now the phone won't operate with the hands-free speakers in my car, even though the Bluetooth seemed to pair just fine. Google yielded no assistance. So I wound up tweeting both Volvo and Samsung. @VolvoCarUS tweeted that they'd get back to me. Not holding my breath. I will probably throw myself on the mercy of the Volvo dealership next week when we bring the car in for a check up.

Don't recommend that I call someone. I spent too much time in phone-tree hell this week with the company that manages Jim's retirement account. It was one of those horrible automated so-called assistance systems that requires you to speak your need and keeps saying it doesn't understand. When I would finally hit on the right keyword (or during the last calls, speak enough gibberish that the automaton gave up on me), it told me it was connecting me with a representative, then dropped me into dead air. Aaarrrgggghhhh.

So back to my question. What does this say about us as a society? On the producer side, complex technology plus the internet is wonderful. They can put a world on a microchip, market their amazing features, do away with real people in customer service. Big companies may provide manuals somewhere deep on their websites, but smaller companies "crowd source" their help function via social media. You get the slimy feeling that, no, they don't love their customers. They love their profits.

The poor customer... we are left to feel fortunate if our default settings work good enough. We are left cursing our own skill level and our own willingness to push ourselves a little harder. WHY didn't I just stick with my old phone? Why can't I just be happy with 5 channels on my TV? Who needs to watch movies without commercials anyway? Why can't I adjust the thermostat the old-fashioned way--with my fingers rotating a little dial? We give up on a phone tree and cross our fingers that the paperwork says what we thought we wrote on it. We use the same password on everything because we can't figure out the nifty systems to keep our data and our identities safe.

I guess my conclusion is like so many conclusions -- a person can give up and give in, a person can convince themselves they are satisfied with the "default settings" handed to them, or a person can meet the challenge with energy and determination. Could I be one of those people who abandon techno-civilization and build my own log cabin in the mountains? Uh, no. I will be one of those people to do not let myself be worn down by complexity. I will search for the manual. I will figure crap out. And I will convey my dissatisfaction to companies who think I'm a chump.

So there.