Joe Pisani (opinion): If this were an owner’s manual, I wouldn’t read it

M. Ryder
M. RyderM. Ryder

I’ve always hated to follow directions, whether they were from my parents, my boss, my wife, the president or the Ford Motor Company.

That’s a major reason why I won’t buy a new car or computer for as long as possible. I don’t want to read directions.

What are pleasant experiences for the average person cause me anxiety. I prefer not to walk into the car showroom and have to negotiate and haggle. Even worse, I hate the thought of having to read an owner’s manual that’s longer and more bewildering than a Dostoevsky novel. Plus, there’s always new technology or something or other that’s bound to break.

But the day inevitably comes when you can’t push the old RAV4 past 200,000 miles or your MacBook is about to go kaput and you’ll lose all those records that can protect you from an IRS audit now that Joe Biden wants to know every detail of your bank transactions over $600.

I didn’t read the owner’s manuals for my last three cars, and I like to think I’m a better man for it, although it took a while before I figured out how to open the gas tank cover. (I wanted to pry it open with a screwdriver.)

Throughout my student years, there was always somebody like Miss Ryan or Brother Jerome or Professor Higginbottom who said, “Can’t you follow directions?” Instead of answering truthfully and telling them, “I don’t want to,” I sat there with a smirk on my face.

I’m the type of person psychologists call an “experiential learner.” That means I refuse to plod through pages of confusing manuals written by technical writers who probably wanted a career in journalism but missed out because there aren’t any jobs. Instead, they became “direction writers,” and what they write is so confusing they could have been journalists.

My hubris is I consider myself smarter than the people who write directions. You see, I like to figure it out by myself. I developed this habit after 15 agonizing years of assembling toys for my kids. For your information, toy assembly isn’t as simple as it sounds

Instead of reading pages of directions in 6-point type, I did what was known in the olden days as “winging it,” which can lead to disaster when you’re assembling a doll house with 187 interlocking pieces or a John Deere tractor for kids, complete with a trailer.

Usually, there are too many parts with numbers and letters, along with countless different kinds of nuts and bolts. In fact, there are so many, I feel like I’m taking an IQ test, which will prove what my wife has long suspected — I’m direction-deficient or challenged or whatever the socially acceptable word is.

Apple products come with virtually no directions. All those iPads and iPods and iPhones are “intuitive,” which means you can play around with them until you get it right … or they break. They remind me of the ’60s, when people lived by mottos like “Do your own thing,” “Be free,” and “Caress the universe.” Don’t get me wrong, I really want to give the universe a big cosmic caress, but that isn’t going to help me migrate the files from my old laptop to my new one. For that, I’ll need my son-in-law.

In our home, we have a top-secret drawer that’s overflowing with directions no one has read — directions for everything from the dehumidifier to the toaster oven and the electric toothbrush. There are pages upon pages of directions in English, Spanish, German, Japanese, Chinese, Swahili, Portuguese, Latin and Hebrew. If we can’t understand directions in English, what makes the manufacturer think we’ll understand them in Farsi?

To make matters worse, the print is so small you need a magnifying glass, until you come to the line that says: “DANGER, DANGER, WILL ROBINSON! PUSHING THAT BUTTON WILL END LIFE AS WE KNOW IT ON PLANET EARTH!”

I also hate when manufacturers make you watch a 45-minute YouTube video narrated by someone with a whiny voice who’s trying to explain how to put a protective cover on your cell phone with dish detergent and an applicator. Whenever I see the word “applicator,” I know there’s trouble around the corner.

One last thought. This direction phobia can be dangerous when it comes to prescription drugs ... which is why I let my wife administer any and all medication.

Former Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time Editor Joe Pisani can be reached at