I have a problem, or at least my husband says I do—not reading directions. That's not to say that I never use directions—if I bought, say, a backyard nuclear reactor, I would probably crack open the manual at least once—but in the general run of things, I am more likely to just start fiddling with the device and see if I can work it out. According to my husband, it's hubris—because I have a technical background, I think I can figure it out.
In some ways, I suppose he's right. Part of training and working as an engineer involves broad experience in practical problem solving. When you’ve spent time building new things and troubleshooting existing ones, trying to work out how to operate a new tool/electronic component/mechanical gadget is less intimidating than it might otherwise be.
From my perspective, though, it's deeper than that. What was it that Newton said, if I've seen further than others it's because I've stood on the shoulders of giants? We're all trained in a common set of principles and techniques. (I would like to say we’re all schooled in a common language, although based on my experience, terminology can get fairly loosey-goosey.) When I open up a new device, whether it's a smart phone or a kitchen faucet, and just dive in, it's not because of hubris. It's because I have faith in engineering as a discipline and a mindset. I have faith in the approach of the designers I’m depending on the likelihood that they chose the cleanest, most intuitive design possible, and that it will be easy for me to follow their reasoning.
Now, I am not saying that this is a foolproof approach. There are times that I do wind up scrabbling around for the instruction book (and there was that incident with the GFCI, but I still swear the contacts were switched). Overall, though, I can usually follow the breadcrumbs of the designers. It's a tribute to the quality of the community that most of the time things work out just fine.
How about you, do you wind up skipping the directions? Does it drive your family crazy? What was your most spectacular misfire?
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