Why Won't We Read the Manual?
Stupid Question, Perhaps, but Manufacturers Have Heard Stupider
By Caroline E. Mayer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 26, 2002; Page H01
It's an old joke, but a spokesman for Gateway swears it's true -- that the computer maker's
technical help line once got a call from a new purchaser complaining that her teacup kept
slipping out of the computer's cup holder.
The reason, of course: The "cup holder" was the tray that slides out to hold a CD-ROM.
And so it has come to this: Americans buy the most sophisticated computers, the coolest
digital cameras, the most advanced automobiles, the most versatile cell phones and
handheld organizers, and then . . . and then we forget, or decline, or flat out refuse, to
read the directions. Owner's manuals, care guides, how-to directories? No, thanks.
There are lots of theories about why, but one thing is certain: The situation is driving
manufacturers nuts -- and costing them, and eventually all of us, money.
Consider Lee Battaglia of Vienna. He never reads directions for the computer and camera
gear he buys. "It's too time-consuming and I'm impatient," the retired photographer said.
"I'd rather watch someone else doing it and then I can ask why." And there's Fairfax
schoolteacher Pam Grainer: "I'm a hands-on person; I learn by doing." Both would rather
pay to take a course to learn how to use their new computers than do it on their own, from
the detailed manual.
Marketing experts, customer service consultants and corporate executives agree on the
phenomenon. "There's no question that people are averse to reading the full instruction
manuals -- that's a given these days," said Chuck Westfall, assistant director of the
technical information department for Canon Inc., the camera and office-equipment
And that makes consumer-product companies the target of their customers'
dissatisfaction. In fact, some manufacturers and retailers say consumers' failure to read
directions has prompted returns of perfectly good items on grounds that they don't work -
- or don't live up to the customer's expectations.
"Why doesn't my washing machine start?"
(Is the lid closed?)
"Why won't my printer work?"
(Is it plugged in? Is the ink cartridge properly installed? Is