Speechless

Those of you who know me know that I loathe most social media, especially Twitter. I feel that Twitter has done significant damage to our language, to the point that I now get email without punctuation or complete sentences. Our universities seem to have eliminated the essay in favor of the Tweet. I actually heard a college graduate recently, talking with friends, who expressed the opinion that most of the symbols and punctuation marks should be removed from keyboards because they only appeared in typos.

However, I don’t blame this directly on Twitter addicts, and I only call them “Twits” rather than “Tweeps” occasionally, to maintain my well-earned reputation for having an endearing New England irascibility. Because they didn’t start the downward slide of accurate language. We did. Or, at least those of us who are manufacturers did.

I blame it all on whomever invented the switch-mode power supply.

That’s because the minute we could ship the same product to multiple continents, the destruction of the English language (in fact, all languages) began.

First, the manuals got thick and you had to thumb through page after page of “Ipso Lorem” looking for the english page, only to find out two things: First, that you were holding the pamphlet upside down, and then that the thick little stapled booklet you were holding was actually the warranty statement.

So you go looking for instructions. You plow through all the cardboard and styrofoam, and come up with: The “International” instruction sheet.

This, of course, is a poster size sheet full of cartoons of stick people using cartoons of the product, plugging in the cartoons of colorful patch cables and then pressing the cartoon power button with their single finger.

And I respond to finding these hieroglyphics with a single finger of my own.

Now, I have been in the AV business long enough to develop an appreciation for having a real manual. Like obscure marks of punctuation, those “features nobody ever uses” are often important to us. “RTFM” has always been the rule for professionals, even if we do allow the clocks on our video equipment to constantly flash “12:00.”

I don’t seem to have taken the international Rosetta Stone course required to decipher these international sheets. And when you have to unfold them to the size of bedsheets, it is difficult to hide from the client (or your crew) that you are consulting them. And when your employees see you studying cartoons, they can begin to wonder if they have made a bad career choice.

I will admit to understanding the three or four cartoons involved in plugging the product in and turning it on. It is the dozens that come before and after that sequence that are hard to interpret. I usually wind up ascribing my own meanings to them. For instance, the one that shows a forklift with an international “NO” symbol over it probably means “You will become frustrated enough to run this product over with your forklift. This will void the warranty. See the big booklet for more information on this.”

The one that shows the stick figure spilling a cartoon drink on the device and then falling to the floor must have something to do with the device driving you to drink. But this is the nature of these instruction sheets. They mostly show things Mr. and Mrs. Stickfigure shouldn’t do. Which is the opposite of what instructions are supposed to be about.

So I have a request. Couldn’t we bring back words in the instructions? Just a few? You could have the stick figures say them. And if it makes you feel better, you could limit them to 140 characters.

Joel Rollins

About Joel Rollins

rAVe Rental [and Staging] contributor Joel R. Rollins is the founder of Steamroller Digital and is well known throughout the professional AV industry for his contributions to industry training and his extensive background in AV rental, staging and installation. Joel can be reached at joelrollins@mac.com.