Monday, March 04, 2013


My old cell phone died the other day, after several years of exemplary service, and I had to go out and buy a new one. Now, if I talk a total of ten minutes a month on the phone, it's been an exceptionally busy month. Therefore, ever since I got my first cell phone shortly after moving back to Chicago in 2006, I have opted for the simplest, most basic of phones. No bells, no whistles, just a phone. And because I couldn't see paying $3,229 per month to sign up for Sprint or Verizon or ATT or Cellular One, I bought a phone that allowed me to simply buy blocks of minutes and not have to worry about anything else.

So when I bought my new phone, for which I paid, I think, $29.99, I expected it to come with a very simple “Press ON to turn the phone on, Press OFF to turn the phone off” instruction manual. Imagine my surprise to find this one comes with a 126-page instruction manual. 126 pages! From what I can gather, the phone not only can send and receive telephone calls, it can text, accept and send voice mail messages, take photos, accommodate conference calls, fax, send and receive Morse code, directly access the Encyclopedia Britannica, store recipes, and run errands. I suspect one of the little slots on the side is for putting in detergent when I wish it to do the laundry.

So when I got home, I took out the instruction manual and went into the living room to study it. I got exactly one-half page into it and gave up, totally overwhelmed and utterly confused.

I do not follow instructions well. No, let's face it...I do not follow instructions. Period. I never have, which has gotten me into far more trouble than I choose to think of at the moment or ever, and chances are very good that I shall never learn to follow them.

Instruction manuals, I have found, are both insidious and devious.They purport to be written in English but are, on closer inspection, in fact written in some sort of indecipherable code. “When assembling the digital superstructure, it is imperative that the framastat be aligned properly with the mainframe. As noted on page 119, Illustration 18-B, simply insert Tab A into Slot B.” I then discover that, nine times out of 10, I can find neither Tab A nor Slot B.

It isn't that I don't want to follow instructions. Really, it isn't. And I do try to the best of my abilities (“to the best of my abilities” being the operative phrase here). I do want to understand how things work and how to work them, and I feel utterly stupid when I do not/cannot.

My inability to follow instructions is not limited to instruction manuals. I've often told the story of being forced (it was a required class) to take algebra...or maybe it was geometry...or quantum physics; they're all the same to college. Math, or as I still call it, “arithmetic,” has always been terra incognito for me. At any rate, I hated the class, and reacted to it like a tuna caught in a fishing net. It was the only class I ever took which I avoided an “F” simply out of the kindness of the instructor.

I remember one prime example from the class. The instructor drew a problem on the blackboard, explaining the significance of every single squiggle and its relation to all the other squiggles and, as he did so, I was totally amazed that I understood everything he said. It was all crystal clear and I was giddy with my breakthrough in comprehension. And then, when he had finished the equation, which stretched clear across the blackboard, he walked back to the middle of the equation and changed a “4” to a “3” and said, “and how does this change the answer?” and I immediately dissolved into a quivering mass of total stupidity. Not only did I not have a clue as to what the answer might be now, I couldn't remember one single thing about how he had arrived at the answer he originally got. It was, as I say, both humiliating and immeasurably frustrating.

Did I mention that I have a new cell phone? Did I mention that the instruction manual that came with it is 126 pages long? Did I mention that I make very few phone calls? Can you understand why?

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (


Kage Alan said...

So...uh...Gary stopped by to give you a hand? And did you happen to put the old chip into the new phone so you don't have to re-enter all of your contacts? And, of course, I suspect you kept your old number?

Carol Wills said...

Never mind dear, my husband is the same...I think not being able to follow instructions & directions is a man thing.

Carol x