Do You Read the Manual?

If you’re like me, you’ve been plagued with computer problems your whole life– just not yours.

I bought my parents a Mac Mini a few years back. It was a stop-loss mechanism to help me spend more time with them. It worked. Now I hang out and have supper instead of fixing their computer problems– everybody’s happy.

When it comes to computers, there are two kinds of people in the world: Those that try, and those that read the manual.

If you experiment, that means that when you’re in a new program, trying to save a document or something, you click around: “Let’s see, how about ‘Edit’? Nope… maybe ‘File’? Ah, there it is! Save.” Then you save the document. See, it took a while, but you figured it out.

If you read the manual, it’s the opposite. You don’t know how to do something and you kind of freeze, call somebody for tech support, or you might reach for the manual. If this happens enough, the manual might even be dog-eared from use, who knows.

With cooking, I read the manual. But I think I’m slowly starting to become the first type. I recently began buying random food from the market and trying it out– different cuts of meat, veggies I usually never eat, etc. It works out great and I feel kind of empowered about it.

That’s the thing– the first type empowers you to learn for yourself, while the second leaves you dependent on outside resources. You tend to read the manual when you’re a beginner, but the trick is to remember to force yourself to experiment, instead of just becoming a cookbook expert.

I think that, back in the day with computers (and before the web), we were forced to learn through experimentation. Now, computers are simpler, so many people never get that way with their machines. They depend on Google for answers but may never truly learn for themselves.

I’m wondering if this is making us more compliant in general– what do you think?






6 responses to “Do You Read the Manual?”

  1. Deborah Avatar

    I don’t know Julien. ‘Back in my day’ we had libraries filled with books and teachers and… And, I have to admit in our household we went from heavy reliance on the Oxford Shorter English Dictionary and our encyclopedia to support our ‘discussions’ to … Google. Is that compliant or simply another way of finding out/exploring.

    And, I think it also depends on the area you’re trying to learn about. As a non-Geek I know I need support so I can get enough understanding to even think about experimenting. I mean what is #on twitter anyway? And how do I use it?

  2. John McLachlan Avatar

    Observation: The younger one is, the more one needs a manual but the less one wants to use a manual. The older one gets, the less one needs a manual but the more one wants to use a manual.

    Of course, I’m talking about life in general.

    On a slightly different tack, I’ve found when I help people out with “computer” issues, I like to tell them a little about “why” something is done the way it’s done. I think in the long run, this helps. However, if I get someone (a friend or family member) who says, “no, no, just tell me what to do to solve it right now – I don’t care about why,” I get annoyed and don’t want to show them anymore.

  3. Jeff Maystruck Avatar

    I have to disagree with John’s first point, the younger one is, the more one needs a manual. I believe the younger one is the less chance they will ever have at reading the manual (for computer trouble shooting, cooking is a different game altogether). With Google you can search almost any problem you encounter on your computer, and it’s only getting faster and easier. The younger generation learns faster and appreciates the empowering feeling Julien talks about. I think the older one gets the more they should be trying to fix things them selves and not calling for help every time something goes wrong.
    From cooking to computers, the more we learn on our own, the better off we are.
    PS: If you’ve never looked up a recipe online, you are REALLY missing out, lot of helpful chefs on the web!

  4. John McLachlan Avatar

    Jeff: My first point was really said more in fun than anything as it relates to life. It’s along the lines of a Mark Twain quotation which (from my memory here) went something like “When I was 17 I was amazed at how little my father knew. When I turned 25, I was amazed at how much my father knew.”

    In other words, we often think we know when we don’t. 🙂

    I’m with you about not using manuals and just working on our own to figure things out. I think we learn better that way.

  5. Deborah Morrison Avatar

    I think there is actually a 3rd group of people – those who do neither.

    This is the group of people who, when met with a challenge, just don’t do anything. They don’t try to figure out how to solve it and they don’t go find a resource (manual, cookbook or google) to get them to the next step.

    I find this is especially true with technology (although I know a few people who don’t know how to cook and thus just get take out every night). Some people just choose to avoid the challenge altogether and end up wasting more time or money on a work-around.

  6. Farmer John Avatar

    Sometimes the consequences of not reading the manual are too great. If you spend a couple hours or a day assembling a trailer, or planting seedlings you want to get it right the first time. As is with learning to farm, I’m glad to be apprenticing under a mentor, rather than risking my time and capital setting up my own farm right off the bat.

    It’s a judgement call.

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