There's no shortage of topics to write about after a few month hiatus from this juggernaut of whimsy. There's been a tragic shooting at Virginia Tech., a Commander-in-Chief less popular than the weakest Fox reality series, and a set of foreign occupations that leave us longing for a more Vietnam-like imbroglio. Any one of these would be worthy of comedic polish, and indeed were until I recently ordered a new fan for my office. Now normally you may not think this would rank up there with military occupations and psycho-shooters, but it does. In fact, this single stupid event revealed a way to save billions of dollars, possibly end our dependence on foreign oil and stall global warming.
Overblown? Overly dramatic? Let me explain.
You see, I opened the box, took out the fan, and something fell to the dingy 70s carpeting below. I put the fan on my desk, plugged it in, and turned it to "1." Ahh... that's nice. I rolled my chair back to my keyboard and rolled over something that crinkled. I looked down. There, on the ground, was a small paper guide. I picked it up. It read: "Oscillating Power Fan: Owner's Guide." Then, below in ALL CAPS it instructed me to: "PLEASE READ AND SAVE THESE IMPORTANT INSTRUCTIONS." Being a law-abiding citizen, I began reading immediately. I have no desire to involuntarily visit Guantanamo Bay and have batteries attached to my privates.
The manual is printed in two languages, English and French, and right off the bat I know I'm in trouble. "1. Read all instructions before using this appliance." Oh crap! Immediately, I switch off the fan, with a quick look over the cube-farm for anybody speed dialing Internal Security. "2. Use fan only for purposes described in the instruction manual." Purposes? Quickly, I scan the pages. It says nothing about the purposes of this fan!! I thought it was just for moving air around, but they seem to imply there are others. What could they be? I'm missing out on something. I want to maximize my experience with this purchase. Who wouldn't?
"15. Do not operate fan until fully assembled with all parts properly in place." Oh crap! I didn't assemble anything!! I mean, there's just the fan and the cord attached to it! Quickly I ransack the box, revealing nothing, no other parts. Wait a minute.... I read on.
"ASSEMBLY INSTRUCTIONS: Your fan comes fully assembled and ready for use." Huh? So why are they warning me...?
Aha! Suddenly it hits me like a .38 between the eyes. This is bullshit.
Yes, I'm sorry technical writers, but your fan manual is a complete and total waste of resources. I looked it up. Ask.com delivered: it takes 1/4 lb of oil to produce 1 lb of paper. So for each million fans you crank out, that's half a ton of oil wasted (1,100 lbs). Lets assume, for the sake of argument that there's 100 different types of similar fans out there, that becomes 50 tons of oil just to tell me how to take a fan out of a box and plug it in, and you have enough energy to heat 17 homes for an entire year.
Pretty amazing huh? Now think back, IRREVERENT audience, to the last time you read ANY manual that came with ANYTHING you purchased AT ALL, regardless of how complicated it was. I'll wager you're hard pressed to think of one, up to and including a new Xbox 360. I have some experience with this. I bought one early this year and didn't need to read anything to figure out to plug in the cord to the back, attach it to my widescreen, and set it underneath my T.V. with space behind it for air circulation. And unless you've not purchased a piece of electronic equipment in the past two decades, you knew that too. Ahh duh.
So why are we wasting all this Saudi oil to print things nobody reads that ends up filling up landfills?
Remember that line from I Robot? "That is the correct question."