I think it can be fairly safe to say that technical communication as far as instruction manuals and other forms of directions are concerned are largely victims of mass production. On a personal front, I cannot remember the last time I read an instruction manual for anything; in fact the closest thing I can recollect is when I was trying to help assemble a piece of IKEA furniture and even then it was mostly just to double check things. I do not think there is any real way to make technical communication more effective in the sense that more people will pick up an instruction manual and use it for what it is for and the root of that lies, in part, with culture. In the West, many of the things we use that are complicated enough to require some sort of instruction like a car or a computer are so ubiquitous across the board the manuals are mostly redundant. Every one recognizes a power button symbol, all keyboards have the same letters in the same positions, all Macs or Windows come pre-installed with certain programs that are, for the most part, updates of the previous computer’s and are rarely that wildly different.
The goal of technical communication is ultimately to make processes easier and information more permeable and it has been accomplished by replacing the large blocks of texts and accompanying commentary with pictographs that gain acceptance as “universal” symbols. Text can still be very important under certain circumstances but far less has proved to be more. There is a cultural perception in America especially that emphasizes new things coming on the market should be better, faster and above all EASIER to use than what was previous. Furniture is pre-assembled or very nearly, something like 38% of toddlers and babies under the age of two are able to use Ipads and tablets, proving you do not need to be able to read to figure out technology. As we saw in one of the module presentations info-graphs are gaining increasing importance in conveying information and unlike, for example brochures, they are not given to the exclusive category of advertisment and brevity for the sake of enticement.
Cars are another example and are much the same case. Because every vehicle has certain standard feature placement (such as radio, which side the turn signal is on vs. the windshield wipers etc.) there is not an urgent enough need for the most part to read the owners manual every time one gets a new car, the basic aspects of being able to drive are what most people care about most of the time. I feel like the perception of men never reading directions is just as it is: a stereo-type; it is in fact common to both genders to ignore guides when they are confident in what they are using or have seen done before because complication makes it less appealing to buy and use.
3 thoughts on “Blog 7: Obsolete”
I really liked the examples you have chosen because they are things that just about all of us encounter every day and things of which we are familiar: laptops and cars. Operating laptops and cars are considered common knowledge in our discourse community, so we often skip the manuals and dive right in to work.
However, I do not think that because 38 percent of babies and toddlers are able to use iPads or other tablets *proves* that we do not need to know how to read in order to figure out or understand technology. In other words, the correlation of that 38 percent cannot be applied to adults since many factors influence our different uses of those items. I think a better argument would have been that visual aids have proven to be more engaging both visually and mentally than large blocks of text.
The stereotype that men never ask for directions, I think, is more of a gateway to the topic of men and their (distorted) perception of masculinity rather than the literal meaning, though I do agree that given enough confidence in certain tasks makes all of us inclined to ignore instructions and manuals.
While you raised some good points, I’m sure there are certain appliances or gadgets that will get a person to want to read a manual whether or not they could do without it. I remember my dad buying my computer stand or the television stand and I was aware that as much as he wanted to pass up reading the manuals he had no choice but to look through in order to avoid assembling them all wrongly and having to redo it all.
Also, I doubt babies are able to use an ipad or tablet 100%. Partly because they are unable to read and are just going to keep touching the screen without necessarily doing anything as they are unable to fully maximize the usability of the tablet.
I agree with you that technical documents are rarely used anymore in the mainstream. We live in a world where many of the things we buy are so user friendly that we don’t even glance at instruction manuals. And this is how we expect it to be. How irked would I be if my new iPhone required me to read a manual before I could use it? We want things to be ready to use right out of the packaging, and we only refer to the user guide in the event of a problem with the product. We live in a fast paced world, and no one wants to take the time to read instructions.
With that said, I don’t think this means that the future contains a world of only graphics or that people will no longer need to read to use technology. iPhones and tablets are basic things that can be learned without reading, but there are many other technologies that can’t be learned without an instruction guide.