I'm currently in the market for a cellphone, laser printer and digital voice recorder. Although there are plenty of options out there, I find the array of choices to be overwhelming. By the time the salesperson has finished describing all the features, I wonder if the item is even capable of performing its original intended task!
Yesterday, I made a decision to buy a laser printer, and took a few moments to learn how to install the toner. The printer came with no hard copy manual, so I was forced to go online to figure out how to do the installation. Once I finally found the manual, it was in PDF format and about 200 pages long! Funny thing was...I couldn't find the section that described how to install the toner. I decided to do another search, and came up with a 2 page PDF showing a series of cartoon-like diagrams. The document was so large, that I had to constantly scroll around to follow the sequence of numbers. Needless to say, the whole process was a bit frustrating.
Cellphone companies fared no better. Today I called a customer service line to ask whether the phone I was thinking about purchasing had a digital voice recording option. The agent assured me that the phone carried this option, but would perform best in small meetings with minimal ambient noise. I then asked him if he could help me find the activation information in the product manual (another 200 pages of information) that I was able to download online. He took a look, then claimed that the cellphone was only able to record short voice memos, and didn't have the capability (as he had originally claimed) to provide full voice recordings. Product specs for the phone told me that it provided a "digital voice recorder", yet nowhere did it explain exactly what this meant. This left further interpretation to the consumers imagination, and opened the door to potential frustration with the product.
In an era when we are constantly bombarded by more information than we can handle, I ask the following questions:
1) Is it really necessary to provide manuals that contain more information than a pre-flight check at NASA?
2) Given that we have a lot of information to work with, isn't it more important to be provided with the RIGHT information to make our purchase decision?
3) Whatever happened to simplicity in product manufacturing, marketing and distribution?
When it comes to consumer goods purchases, more is not necessarily better. It seems that the lengthier the product specs, the more salespeople have to know, and the less they really DO seem to know. While the margin for error might not matter with a small consumer goods purchase, would the same questions and concerns not apply to major purchases such as airplanes - or medical diagnostic equipment?
Kim Vicente, Internationally accredited Professor of Engineering, author of The Human Factor and global science and usability consultant extraordinaire (he has consulted to NASA, NATO, the U.S.Air Force and U.S. Navy), believes that business would benefit by making consumer goods easier to use. While technological innovation is advancing rapidly, Vicente claims that our ability to manage it is falling behind. On a large scale, this could lead to potentially catastrophic results as often products are designed without human nature in mind.
I'll leave my last words to Vicente as quoted in his book, The Human Factor. As technology continues to evolve at lightening speed, he claims that "At home, we have the latest electronic consumer products - each with its own remote control and hefty user's manual. All these gadgets are supposed to make life easier, but they often make it more difficult instead. And before we learn to use the latest technological "convenience", there's a new one on the market with more "advanced" features. No matter how many user's manuals we read, we just can't seem to keep up."
What do you think about this issue? Can you suggest ways that would enable us to keep up with the increasing pace of technology? Do you think technology is advancing faster than our ability to handle it?