By Wayne William Cipriano
In a society such as ours that we humorously refer to as techno-logically advanced there are three types of people: 1) the abundantly confident Technocrats (Crats); the morbidly terrified Technophobes (Phobes); and the suitable cautious but fairly comfortable Technorests (Rests).
Crats like my Cousins Larry and Brian have never encountered a machine they could not understand immediately or figure out eventually, can recite Ohm’s Law, and own a set of immaculate tools of all designs and purposes.
Phobes like my Cousin Billy have inevitably been subverted by the phrase “even a ten-year-old can…” and so often gently opened a contain-er and been surprised by a plethora of springs and ball bearings ejecting into the air and collecting about their ankles.
Rests like the rest of us have done a few things, some turned out well, some even perfectly. Some others turned out not so well, some even dangerously. On the whole we are willing to give it a try, but we are always running a tab in the back of our mind calculating the value of our time and (frustration) against the cost of having it done for us by a Crat.
Place any one of these three individuals in front of a box contain-ing the disassembled pieces of a “user friendly, easily assembled unit” and they can be quickly identified.
The Crat rips open the box since it will never be needed again, spills out the parts and begins to assemble the “easy stuff” into larger, more easily integrated units. Other less understandable parts are hefted, turned in the light, oriented one to another, then set aside as other parts are examined. Frequently, all motion ceases as the Crat takes a long, slow look at the pile of parts, then dives back in with almost frenetic abandon. It goes without saying that the instructions never leave the plastic envelope in which they arrived –– consulting them would be a frank admission of failure.
Phobes, somehow tricked once again into a position close to technology by a Reality’s horrible sense of humor, is simply paralyzed. The open box represents another horror about to be perpetrated upon the Phobe. Lured once more by the mendacious promise that little or no assembly would be required, even the eventual plugging of the unit’s power cord into an electrical receptacle, or the winding up of the mechanism with some sort of key harbors deep, almost primitive fears nurtured by the Phobe’s previous history of crushed fingers, electrical shocks, lost friends, small house fires. Instruction booklets are never read –– the complication hinted and the potential for personal injury and humiliation so great that merely opening the booklet foretells a therapeutic visit.
Rests open the box, calmly lay out the items within, pick up the instructions and begin to read. Most of the parts are easily identifiable and those lost during the inescapable assembly, disassembly, and reassem-bly process (due of course to inadequate instructions) are generally replaced from the stash of “unnecessary” left-over parts, and those discovered under the couch, after the completion of previous projects of various types. Exaspera-tion demonstrated in differing ways and accompanied by language scaled in color to an appropriate level is normal, particularly in the case of foreign products which have had the Assembly, Use, and Maintenance Guide translated directly word-for-word by visiting graduate students of limited English-speaking skill.
Crats will begin thinking about replacing the newly-purchased item with one of more sophistication, utility, and/or depth of complication before the initial assembly has been completed and will be sure by the time the unit has begun to operate – usually perfectly – that something just a bit better can be found.
The Phobe will gratefully use the item in whatever final configuration it assumes until it ceases all, even partial functioning, resolutely pro-mise to never try that again, and may even keep such a promise.
Rests will sit back and decide that on the whole it was a good idea to try this thing and be relatively happy that it turned out as well as it did. The exhilaration gained from a completed project operating, more or less, as advertised only slightly diminished by the wildly underestimated assem-bly time premised and the laughably inaccurate list of “simple hand-tools” required.
The percentages of Crats, Phobes, and Rests distributed throughout our society are 10, 10, and 80, respectively. The percentage of Significant Others who battle through these assemblies alongside their Crats, Phobes, and Rests is, of course, 100.
Ignored by the Crats, useless to the Phobes, but perhaps of value to the Rests as they initiate forays into the adventurous land of Do-It-Yourself Assembly is the first sentence in the Instruction Manual I once used in the assembly of a Japanese motorcycle I purchased many years ago:
“Before beginning it is suggested that one assumes a calmness of mind.”
Pretty good advice in general, wouldn’t you say?