Saturday, July 10

People don’t read

After years 0f maintaining Web sites for our two businesses (plus those of other people), one thing stands out: [Many] people just don’t read. I get emails and phone calls and snail mail from folks who start out by saying, “I read your page on [subject] and have a few questions.” Then they proceed to ask about the things that are clearly explained on the pages they just mentioned. People send money via our credit card service for things that they are warned to contact us about prior to making a payment, but don’t. I put up a huge bright red headline right before the button they click to make a payment for a boat reservation saying to make a reservation first before clicking the button. We still get payments before reservations from people who apparently don’t see red.

It’s not only Web pages that don’t get read. We have provided a radiotelephone at the Muir Trail end of the lake for people to call for a ferry boat. The instructions for phone use are to press the button to speak, then release the button to listen for a response. It’s a two-way radio, for gosh sakes. But here’s what we sometimes hear: “Boathouse, this is the south landing.” We can hear background noise and talking as the person holds down the transmit button. Soon we hear them saying to their friends, “This thing doesn’t work.” [Tap tap, bang bang.] “Boathouse, this is the south landing. Please answer.” More background noise and talking. Finally we hear someone say, “Look at the sign.” Silence. Then, “Boathouse, this is the south landing.” Then silence, and we answer, “South landing, this is the boathouse. Go ahead.”
“Uh, we have six people here for the next boat.”
“Thank you. We’ll be there in 20 minutes.”

It got so bad I took pictures showing how to use the radio. In picture #1, the hand is holding down the transmit button, with the words “Press to talk.” Picture #2 shows the hand holding the receiver with the fingers off the button, “Release to listen.” The picture is right inside the door to the phone box, hard to miss.

Here’s the part that is most interesting, though. The majority, almost exclusive violators of not following instructions come from one demographic/employment category: Female university professors. Second are physicians and third are attorneys, both genders. Why? My theory is that these people already know everything and aren’t about to waste their time reading instructions. Especially instructions from rubes in the wilderness about a stupid little phone.

The Web page non-readers are mostly from the same categories, judging from the signatures of their emails extolling their titles and honoraria. The butchers, bakers and candlestick makers are easiest to deal with because they take the time to read and understand. They make our lives, and theirs, much simpler.

My most memorable non-reader still makes me laugh. We had a problem with the radio phone, and posted a sign on the phone box saying that it didn’t work. We instructed people to put their backpacks against the lake-facing side of the little building where they wait for the boat. We said we would look for their backpacks with our very powerful binoculars. If we saw them in front of the building we would send the ferry boat across the lake at the regularly scheduled two-hour interval. Simple enough, eh? At nine o’clock one morning I looked for backpacks against the building. There were none. I checked again about ten minutes later. Still none. The boat stayed at home. At eleven o’clock I saw backpacks and took off with the ferry. I picked up the passengers and they got settled in for the ride. Then one of them approached the cab, stuck her head in, and proceeded to read me the riot act. “We waited for TWO HOURS for this boat. We got here before nine o’clock!” I responded that I had looked for their backpacks and didn’t see them at nine o’clock or even ten minutes later.
“When the boat didn’t show up at nine, we took the packs down,” she answered. Either her watch was fast or her action was stupid. Maybe she was simply prevaricating.

When the ferry reached the dock, I tied up and everyone got off. She asked who my supervisor was. “Me,” I answered.
“Who’s in charge of your permit here?” she demanded. I told her.
“Who’s in charge of this forest?” She wouldn’t stop till she knew the name, address and phone number of the guy in charge of the entire Sierra National Forest.

“My uncle is SENATOR Alan Cranston,” she shouted, “and HE’S going to HEAR about this!!”
“He probably won’t respond. He never really answers my letters about getting our ranch road excluded from the wilderness in the upcoming wilderness bill.”
“What do you mean? He has 300 people on his staff answering letters.”
“Yes, I get an occasional piece of boilerplate,” I responded. “And the typewriters they use must be surplus from the Second World War. Senator Hayakawa’s letters look much better, but they’re also just boilerplate.”

She stormed off with her friends(?) who came to pick her up, one of whom said, “Don’t get so worked up. After all, you can never count on public transportation.”

Karla heard the whole exchange from a distance. She said she was glad it wasn’t her driving the boat and getting chewed out. “It was fun,” I said. “I enjoyed it. Maybe I’ll finally get something real from Cranston.”

Senator Cranston never chewed me out. Later he died.


Pete S. said...

Great stories!

Tom Hurley said...

Pete S: Thanks!

Stephen said...

Recommended by Pete.