Monday, January 12, 2009

Flat Pack Queen Renews Her Skills

The wind is still ruffling more than feathers as she swirls and pounds. It is not impossible or even imprudent to go outdoors today--just not very pleasant. After feeding the cats and doing some basic house tending, it seemed a good day to actually assemble the two small sets of drawers that I bought long ago in a frenzy of organizational revival.

They have languished. Rather than tame the clutter that threatens to take over every corner and swallow up any useful thing that you dare to put down, these stalwart soldiers were in danger of going over to the other side.

As a semi-retired tech writer, I can not read instructions for assembly with the simple eye of "how do I put this together"? I cannot help but assess the language, the presentation, the usefulness of the instructions. Ordinary consumers find them useless or annoying. I find them an affront to the tradition of effective information management. A symbol of the decline of everything. Everyone has their foibles.

When I taught technical writing, I used to offer prizes to the student who brought in the worst user manual. It was often hard to tell which was the worst. I gave up offering prizes for good ones.

If I had time on my hands or felt particuarly annoyed, I would write to the companies with these terrible manuals and tell them that classrooms full of potential customers were holding their manuals up to ridicule. I never got a response.

So I stumbled through the instructions and drew on my wealth of experience as a flat pack assembler to put these things together, and, amazingly, it worked.

My daughter once said only half in jest, that I had spent a small fortune on closet organizers that I then sold in garage sales--usually never installed. If it requires more than a screwdriver, I am probably out of my depth. Even with a screwdriver, however, I can fall short of the best of flat pack assembly. Bragging to my daughter that I could assemble a bookshelf for her, I whipped through it--not bothering with instructions--and put the back on backwards. Not a great disaster and she very kindly pointed out that the books would cover the back anyway, but it was a comeuppance. Even the worst instructions have something worth reading in them.


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