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Operating Light Machinery
Push a button. Flick a switch. Turn a knob. Know what�ll happen?

Your television turns on, your stereo plays music or the temperature of your oven increases, right?  No!

Manufacturers have added so many features to their products and so many functions to each button, switch, and dial, that operating everyday appliances and office equipment requires a degree in electrical engineering � or the assistance of an 8 year old.

Take the typewriter, for example.  Its purpose is simple and understandable. Learn the QWERTY keyboard (or hunt and peck), insert a piece of paper, and type away. That process didn�t change for years.

But in this age of digital technology, computers and software have replaced the typewriter. We turn the computer on, wait for the machine to �boot,� double-click the word processing program icon, and �type� away. But what if you�ve �input� a vital 10-page document, �send� the document to print, walk across the room or office � and discover your system has frozen. What do you do then?

Your hours of thought and labor are captive in �microprocessor jail.�

You can wait for hours until the IT department gets around to you. Or you could ask an 8-year old to help out. Either will punch a few keys, jiggle a couple cables and set you free. Of course, neither the IT department, nor the 8-year old will be able to explain what they did.

Can you drive a car? I�ve been driving for more years then I�d care to admit.

Simple, isn�t it? Put the key in the ignition, turn the key until the engine starts, place the gearshift in �drive,� gently push the accelerator pedal and you�re on your way.


After placing the key in the ignition you�ve got to press a button somewhere on the other side of the steering wheel for the key to turn. The gear shift, before being placed in drive, has to be pressed down or pushed to one side first � with your foot on the brake pedal � to be set to �drive� and only then, following these extra steps, can you gently place your foot on the accelerator pedal to start your journey to the supermarket.

I use a microwave oven. I loved the first one I owned. Put the food in the oven, pressed the �high,� �medium,� or �low� button, set the time necessary to prepare my feast and pushed the �start� button. Dinner would be ready in minutes.

Recently, when I replaced my beloved unit, I was delighted to learn the new appliance had new built�in features. I didn�t know what they were, but was delighted, nonetheless. After removing all the stickers, tape and warning labels, I plugged the new microwave oven in. I expected to find most of the buttons labeled similarly to the unit upon which I�d learned microwave cooking.

But I was faced with a control panel more complicated than the one used by the 7 pilots who fly NASA�s specially equipped microgravity jets.

The instruction manual was useless. It might as well have been written in Mandarin. In fact, it was probably written by a Mandarin.

It took days of experimentation before I was able to reheat the leftovers from the dinner party I was sent home with evenings before.

The telephone was a simple-to-use device when I first learned to use it. 1.) Pick up the receiver, 2.) listen for a dial tone, 3.) dial, and 4.) wait for the person you�re calling to answer, �Hello?�

But the telephone�s evolved. You decide whether it�s for the best:

  • Find the phone. It�s probably where you left it after your last call. Where were you when you last said �Good-bye?�
  • Pick the phone up, dial.
  • Put the telephone to your ear. Hear silence.
  • Pull the telephone away from your ear and determine which button will allow you to access a dial tone.
  • Press the �talk� button.
  • Put the phone to your ear to check for a dial tone.
  • Dial the number you wish to call.
  • Put the phone to your ear and wait for the party your calling to greet you with a �Hello.�

Perfect, if everything goes right. You may hear static on the line making the conversation unintelligible if you�re too far from the base station. Or instead of �talk� you accidentally pressed �redial.� When the party you�re calling answers �hello� you enthusiastically ask, �Hey Bill! ready to run out for a couple beers?�

That�s when you realize your prior call was to your boss to call in sick. Now you really are sick since you pressed the �redial� button. You haven�t dialed Bill�s number. The buttons are just a wee bit too small to read.

It�s the phone�s fault. But you�re in trouble.

The gadgets, machines, and equipment we enjoy today can accomplish a lot of different things (most of which we either don�t need, don�t understand, or can�t figure out).

Who came up with the idea of a mobile phone with a built-in camera? Do you dare try to change the alarm on a new clock radio? Why do ovens, microwaves, DVD players, shower radios, and other gadgets all need built-in digital clocks? Do our watches really need to monitor our pulse rates? I think not.

Those �nice-to-have� built-ins are there because, well, I don�t know!

I submit they don�t exist to make our gadgets more functional, but to make us more dependent on children, who seem to be the only qualified candidates for using, adjusting, and setting up the equipment we depend on.

Am I suggesting a conspiracy? Not at all. But I do propose a revision to that nation�s Child Labor Laws. With more kids in the workforce, both in homes and offices, maybe we, as adults, can stop spending time trying to figure out how things work and start working with � and enjoying � the stuff that baffles us all.

Which equipment most frustrates you? Let me know. Call me at 212.696.1200. If you can find your phone.

Mark S. Levit

Advertising agency