March 30, 2010

Plug and play

I was driving home a few nights ago when I got a call on the cell phone. The GPS showed the incoming call, so I clicked the button to answer it. And I heard nothing. I was able to send the call back to the phone and retrieve the call, but only because the caller had been patient listening to silence for ten seconds.

Great, the fancy Bluetooth thingy wasn't working. While I was driving home I tried to figure out what the problem was. Then it dawned on me that there was no real manual included with the GPS, only a 'quick-start guide'. This has become pretty typical these days and that is both good and bad.

On the plus side, many electronic gadgets are set up to be relatively intuitive to use, so a brief guide will get you started. And by not printing out the full manual for every item sold, many trees are saved and less gas is burned to deliver them to the store or your door. On the negative side, people have stopped taking the time to learn how to use things. If a feature doesn't jump right out at you, you may never know it exists. And if something doesn't work, you have little troubleshooting knowledge to fall back on.

I used to be in the habit of reading every manual for every new product I bought. Before I used something, (usually while it was getting its first charge) I sat down to learn about all the features and how to use them. J used to good-naturedly tease me about it, saying I was more excited about the the manual than the gadget. Of course after she had to ask me about how to use a new gadget a few times, she started skimming the manuals as well.

We have come to expect that things should just work without needing to learn how to operate them. Don't get me wrong, plug and play is a good thing. When I was shopping for a digital camera, if I couldn't navigate the menus to the basic features easily, I picked up the next camera to see if it was more intuitive. But by not making the effort to learn about it, the wealth of features on all the new gadgets are kind of wasted. So I still read the manual once I decided on a camera.

Usually there is a reference in the quick-start guide to a web address where you can download the manual. The Garmin guide made no reference to a manual anywhere, but I was able to find it online. And yes, I skimmed through all 64 pages, and no there was no indication why the phone call didn't come through. But I did find out how to get the direction lady to speak in an Australian accent.


matt said...

Ooooohhhhh . . . . Australian!

I searched and searched through Google Maps Navigation to see if the voice would end every direction with "Big Daddy" . . . "In 400 feet, take the 154 Exit toward Costa Mesa, Big Daddy".

No dice.

tami said...

I can't even imagine the two of you in the same household. :-)