Why Everything Takes Longer

Because we really needed to do some cleaning out – understandably necessary after living in the same house for almost twenty-seven years – about two weeks ago I rented a construction-sized dumpster, not because I thought we had that much “stuff” that had outlived its usefulness, but because the smaller sizes came with restrictions on what we could put in them, and the range of what I knew we had to get rid of exceeded those restrictions. I also rented it because, first, there were items that wouldn’t fit in my old Tahoe, and, second, because the local dump is a twenty minute drive from the house – one way.

The dumpster arrived on schedule, and I started disposing, and, after four days of intermittent serious effort, and my creative use of a moving dolly, I’d managed to lever and haul the two hundred pound plus broken down massage chair out of the garage where it had been residing for half a decade, because, unlike other appliances, the one we wanted didn’t include – even for a fee – the removal of the old one. Then there were the cheap and battered veneer over particleboard or oriented strand board computer desks, or the set of iron patio chairs that ended up in the storeroom after we discovered that the non-removable castors had a tendency to snap and break in a way that was not repairable [at least not without access to a machine shop and welding gear]. And there was more… including a raft of barely usable and decrepit devices, the incredibly heavy “portable” dog fence that a relative had gifted to us [and which turned out to be totally useless], the non-functional stereo designed for cassette tapes…

But… after all the junk was in the dumpster, the need for true-deep cleaning became obvious, and my ingenious wife presented me with a brand-new power washer she’d ordered in advance to really deep clean the deck and the brick and concrete patios below. The catch was that I had to assemble it, because it came in a box – since, of course, there wasn’t one to be had in Cedar City. The instructions suggested that “five minutes” assembly time was all that was required. I’m not a mechanic, but I’m reasonably handy, or I thought I was. It took almost two hours, one hour of which was finding two screws the size of the ones that weren’t included in the box, which was necessary if I didn’t want to wait a week or two for the manufacturer to send what they hadn’t included.

Then, it took me almost an hour to figure out how to actually operate the machine. I’ve flown military helicopters. In the early days of computers I actually replaced components to improve performance. Part of the problem was that the directions never mentioned how to change the pressure coming out of the nozzle. So it was trial and error.

After that, it actually took less time to power-wash more than eighty linear feet of concrete sidewalks and brickwork than it did to assemble and learn to operate the machine.

But it seems in our ever more technical world, matters get more complicated, even when they shouldn’t. The afternoon after the power-washer fiasco, a new printer arrived [by delivery because we have no computer stores anymore in Cedar City] to replace the old one, a printer that, although not that old, had decided only to print in two of four colors, even after “cleaning” and the purchase of brand new cartridges, which also I’d had to order online. Now, over the years, I’ve gone through close to a score of printers. So I thought it wouldn’t be that hard. Wireless printers… no sweat.

Wrong. First, the on-screen directions on the printer stopped at “choose wireless or Ethernet.” I found a way around that. Then the damned printer wanted to connect to the wrong network and wouldn’t let me enter the right one. So I shut everything down and started over. I got it connected to the right network, and it said everything was fine. Except that it wouldn’t print because the printer was “off-line.” The computer settings wouldn’t let me change that, either. So I had to delete the printer from the computer and reinstall it. It works fine now, but to go through essentially three and a half installations?

My wife won’t let me print the details of the three hours it took her to work out the installation of a “simple” additional app to our satellite TV system.

I could go on for pages about all the stuff that’s supposed to be easy to install and use… and it never is.

How about you?

7 thoughts on “Why Everything Takes Longer”

  1. R. Hamilton says:

    It’d be easier if:
    the instructions were written in basic but literate English by someone with sufficient fluency in English.

    and sadly, to some degree, if one thinks like the designer rather than the user, to make up for the failure of the designer to test for user-friendliness with people that didn’t already know what they needed to know to assemble or install the product.

  2. WineGuy says:

    Ultrasound controls and Wireless printers were made by people who want to ensure my sailors’ vocabulary stays fresh in my mind.

  3. Nathaniel G says:

    Any time I see someone complain about Ikea furniture instructions (the most common “assembly” complaining I hear), I know they’ve never bought unassembled furniture from anywhere else- I’ve never once assembled furniture from any other vendor that didn’t include at least one step where it was impossible to tell which way to orient a part, or force me to spend five minutes trying to decipher which almost-identical screw I was meant to use for that step. Most assembly instructions across all industries are complete garbage.

  4. Lourain says:

    Many years ago,at a campground in Rapid City, I watched newlyweds trying to put up a two-man tent. The instructions were, I believe, a literal translation from Japanese.
    I finally took pity on them, and showed them how to set up the tent (and gave them some mosquito repellent…the campground was next to an irrigation canal).

  5. Michael Creek says:

    The worst set of instructions we ever had was for a wooden child’s playhouse. It was, supposedly, easily assembled by any home handyman. The instructions were supplied on a CD. Unfortunately, the playhouse was a new model, an extension/merging of existing models. The instructions were a mashup of the two. Many pieces, pre-cut to size, were not correct. In the end I employed a very experienced home handyman (also a working architect) who successfully constructed the playhouse, but cost more than the original set. I’ll acquit the company of any attempt to defraud, because they supplied a vast amount of timber and fittings, far more than necessary, but just being hopeless at explaining how to construct to a non tradesman.
    By the way, the last mini construction kit I bought was a study desk for a child, from Ikea. Pleasantly surprised, well made with clear instructions, mostly diagrammatic.

  6. Postagoras says:

    I certainly lack a general sense of “handiness”, so interpreting these kind of instructions is a challenge.

    Robert Pirsig has a wonderful vignette in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

    You know, the best instruction manual that I’ve ever seen was for a bicycle. The instructions began with the simple phrase,
    “Assembly of Japanese bicycle require great peace of mind.”

  7. Trevor says:

    I recently received a 3D printer for my birthday and decided to follow an instructional video on it’s assembly. An hour into it and I knew something was wrong. The beams weren’t lining up and it was stressing me out. I decided to take a break and come back to it. When I did I used the instructions that came with it. Sure enough I had it assembled and working within an hour. I have no idea why the video was an absolute joke but I’m glad to have gotten it working.

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