Mechanical Morons Unite!

Penetrating the packaging of modern products has precipitated many an emergency-room visit.
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As part of a treatment for tendonitis, I need to put a new anti-inflammatory pad on my right shoulder twice a day. But the gyrations it takes to pry open the package of pads -- the "tear here" suggestion is nothing but a cruel joke -- are the last thing my aching arm needs.

I am a mechanical moron, a species to whom Larry David once gave voice when, in the opening scene of a 2009 episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," he exploded with "wrap rage" after a death-struggle with the plastic shell that encased a newly gifted GPS device. The mega-humiliating payoff comes at the end of the episode, when he's lost and desperately needs to un-package the GPS. But the box cutter he's sure will do the trick turns out to be so hard to open that it requires a box cutter of its own.

Penetrating the packaging of modern products has precipitated many an emergency-room visit. And once you open the damn things, it's even harder to figure out how to use them. Last week I wasted an hour on the Credo website trying to connect my new Blackberry with my old Prius's Bluetooth. I then talked at great length to a clueless Credo techie, who promised he would research the problem and get back to me. When he didn't, I emailed customer service to schedule a follow-up call.

A cheerful rep responded right away! Sadly, her missive ignored my request and simply attached the same instructions that had failed in the first place. The rep added that if I were still not satisfied, "don't hesitate to email me." My heart sank when I saw that her email address began with the dread words "no reply." I love Credo because they're so darn nice and, more important, they go to bat for progressive causes. But guys, get your act together!

More tech savvy than I can muster is required for what used to be the simplest of contraptions. The only timepiece in my house is a bedside clock radio. I've had it for three years, but its alarm-setting mechanism remains baffling and I'm still stumped over how to pre-set my favorite radio stations. I can't even figure out how to change the time! When I want to check it, I have to add thirty-three minutes -- an hour and thirty-three during daylight savings -- to what the clock indicates. I'm sure there's a Web site and a help-line -- the instruction manual is long lost -- but right now I can't find the time to learn how to find the time.

I admit I'm even more hopeless than most at this stuff, but, as John Lennon says, "I'm not the only one."

My mom has no idea how to use half the bells and whistles on the dashboard of her new car. The heavy-as-a-dictionary manual isn't much help -- its syntax suggests a poor translation from, perhaps, the original Korean. Reluctant to ask for assistance, she waits, she says, "Until I sweat" before calling my brother Randy, the sole electronics whiz in my family.

Randy can help me too, but first I have to figure out what to ask. He recently wondered whether the reason my car's GPS -- which, mercifully, I never had to open because it came with the vehicle -- has never worked is because I was trying to program it with the car moving, which Toyota's safety-conscious engineers (!) made impossible. Who knew?

I and others like me aren't Luddites. We love our electronics once they're up and running. But quick-start manuals, Web sites, online help-lines and user forums too often create a blur of inscrutable and even counterproductive information. If we could surrender to a Higher Computer Power, we'd do so in a heartbeat. Whoever creates a product that actually helps the tech-helpless will make a bundle -- as long as it comes in a package we can open without winding up in the hospital.

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