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Reading the Owner's Manual
Useful Reading

A few nights ago, I had the pleasure of dining with Dr. Hugo Suilhopper, the noted social critic, cultural anthropologist and bon vivant. Frequent readers may remember that Dr. Suilhopper is the one who researched and publicized that sub-species of human known as bababoomers, those folks who think that all car stereos should have a bass powerful enough to shatter the sidewalk, and who are generous enough to share their musical tastes with us. Less well known is the doctor’s remarkable work, “Dearth of Instructions,” or perhaps it was “Earth of Destruction.” At any rate, it had a lot to do with the reason there are so many badly assembled swing sets in people’s back yards, VCR and DVD players perpetually blinking 12 o’clock, and exercise equipment slapped together in such a way that only the Marquis de Sade could derive any use for it.

According to Suilhopper, buried within many humans’ genetic code is a deep-seated aversion to following instructions or glancing through an owner’s manual.

To be sure, there are sound reasons for this. Many of the guidebooks for items meant to be easily assembled with hand tools appear to have been written either by the neighbour’s cat, by people who don’t have the foggiest clue of the technical details they’re meant to be describing, or a combination of both. Witness, for example, the instructions that came with my cable tire chains. Apparently, the only way to install them is to jack up a wheel, attach and tighten the bands, lower the car, and do the same again on the other side. Perhaps that may be true in some cases. However, I saw no reason why I couldn’t simply lay the chains out in front of the wheels and drive on to them, a tactic which has worked perfectly to date. Then there’s the little bathroom utility cupboard that drove a friend to distraction by managing to provide both indecipherable diagrams and complex language to assist in the task of applying four wood screws per shelf. The problem with motor vehicles, though, stems less from language and more that the owner’s manual is often ignored. The most immaculate part on many aging cars is the pamphlet with the manufacturer’s logo on it that resides in the glove box in its plastic envelope.

This is a shame, because all those chapters on switches and procedures can make the ownership experience more pleasant, less expensive, and even considerably safer. Not long ago, I followed a driver who had his rear fog light switched on despite a clear, high-visibility evening. This lamp, for those who don’t know, is usually a single, higher intensity bulb in the rear light cluster, designed to make the vehicle easier to see from behind in inclement conditions. We stopped for fuel at the same spot, and the car owner was perplexed; he didn’t even know his vehicle was equipped with such a device, nor had he known that his front fog lights were switched on all the time, day and night. He had assumed those little green glowing indicators on the dashboard were part of the vehicle’s normal display. Don’t laugh too soon. I recently encountered a perfectly intelligent, somewhat heavyset woman, who didn’t know her car seats had adjustable side bolsters, and was prepared to accept the punishment of that bite in the ribcage as simply the automotive equivalent of a girdle. There are lots of folks out there who don’t know their electric seats have memory settings, and curse and fume when someone else has readjusted the driving position. Knowing about a rear fog light, or realizing that an automatic locking device can, under certain circumstances, leave you stranded outside the car with the keys in the ignition, being aware if a car has anti lock brakes or traction management, these are all safety concerns. Beyond that, if my vehicle is equipped with comfort and convenience items like heated seats and mirrors, or individual climate control, I’d rather realise it now than find out from that smart kid who is buying the vehicle from me a few years from now, and has done a bit of research.

Dr. Suilhopper is cutting back on scientific activities for now, having discovered that ninety per cent of today’s bababoomers will be partially deaf in a few years. He has cornered the market on some high tech hearing aids, and is likely to soon be a very wealthy man. Failing that, he claims he can make a decent living going door to door and resetting the clocks on people’s various electronic devices.


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