I lived my life on automatic for a long time. I got up, got dressed, scraped the ice off the car, went to work (stopping for coffee along the route) and proceeded through my day. Stopping to think only as required. Usually that was when someone asked me a questions, like “Hey, we’re sending out for pizza, you want in?” and that wasn’t a very big think.


Between having done the same kind of work for a long time and perpetually racing against a deadline, thinking was a luxury. I wasn’t against it. I employed it when needed, but anything that I could do without engaging the frontal lobes made the day go more smoothly.

And then, everything changed.

An office

The industry decided that the work I did wasn’t necessary. Who needs a manual to tell them how to use equipment that costs a gazillion dollars and controls the operation of a steel mill? Or a missile tracking system? Or a space satellite grabber for use out in space? They can always call the help desk (especially in space where you can always find a good solid signal for your phone). Of course, those were the days when you actually could get help from people at the desk because everyone in the company was available to answer questions. From the CEO to the developers who designed each product module, we were all there to help. I was the one who organized all the chaotic information into a book with a table of contents, and index, chapters, and diagrams so you would not alway have to call someone.

empty equipment boxes

But the bottom line did me in. You can’t cut developers and you need a boss because someone has to say why you are all gathered here this morning. Also, the boss makes sure there’s coffee to fuel workers. That’s critical.

But a writer? They would only hire me when they were nearing the end of the cycle and realized the contract required they deliver documentation with the product. Sometimes, I got as little as three weeks to learn the product and produce a book that looked professional. At that point, no one much cared what was in the book or whether the information would be of any use to anyone. It just had to be big, thick, nicely designed, and weigh enough to use as a doorstop.

My days were numbered. Eventually, I was OUT.

They created “automatic documentation” generated by a program using “comments” left by developers. Many of whom speak English as a second or third language and in any case, do not understand how people work and what information they need to successfully navigate a complex product.

300-gibbs-sofa-dog-13122016_002It turns out, people were still willing to spend oodles of money and for an undocumented product. So I guess they were right.

Now, I live in the world of retirees where automatic is a word applied to machinery only. The boiler that heats the house. Electricity that powers everything. The pump which delivers water from the well. Supposedly the cable, telephone, and WiFi is also automatic, but not nearly as automatic as it should be.


Nothing I personally do is automatic anymore. I walk purposefully because I prefer to not fall and break something. I think before I get out of the chair or bed, making sure my feet are solidly planted on the floor and I’ve found my balance. I navigate stairs slowly and rough ground even slower. From living in the fast lane, we have moved over to the far right and follow the slow traffic.

We go to bed when we want to and get up (only) when we must. We do what we should, but not everything we ought. Good-bye automation!

Categories: #Photography, #Work, Humor, Retirement

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22 replies

  1. Most “instruction booklets” today consist of a folded up piece of paper showing you all the different parts with a tangle of arrows showing you where they should all go and not a single printed word anywhere to be found. Well, that was helpful! I guess it’s better than trying to decipher “Engrish”… there are entire websites out there devoted to the hilariously bad Japanese to English translations we kids got in our Nintendo games back in the day…


    • I think those “manuals” are written by the granddaughters of the company’s owner who has taken one year of English and has a Japanese-English dictionary. Some of it is really funny.

      What bugs me is when i spend a LOT of money on a very expensive piece of camera equipment and the manual is 100 tiny type, unreadable pages of generated technobabble. Useless crap. But we (the customers) put up with it. As consumers, our failure to demand they provide real documentation doomed the industry. By the late 1990s, I called myself “the one who writes the books no one reads.” A few people did read them — mostly engineers. More used manuals for reference, which was OK and was what they were intended for. But too many people threw the documentation out with the packaging and just called the hotline.

      The thing is, first the manufacturers eliminated the documentation. Then, they eliminated the hotline AND customer service too. Oops!


  2. “I lived my life on automatic for a long time.” Boy does that compute. I shocked myself a few days ago because I couldn’t remember a bunch of things I did on a regular basis back when I worked every day, traveled on public transportation daily and thought very little about why I was doing any of it, other than.., it was expected of me. Adding years to my life has given me a whole new perspective and, maybe, a sense of purpose. I think the realization that time on this planet is a limited commodity, and I’m quickly approaching that limit has added a pinch of urgency to my existence and what I’d like to accomplish before “D” day.

    I remain thankful that I haven’t yet succumbed to senility, or dementia and can actually still think a bit about stuff. Of course if the afore mentioned actually cuts in, at some point, I doubt I will really care anymore. I wonder, would that constitute the proverbial “bliss” brought on by ignorance?


    • I don’t know. These days, I worry about all of us. We are fragile and we aren’t getting younger. Yet we could live a long time. So I try to just enjoy what I can. I have no idea what the future hold and I’m just as glad. I don’t think looking into the future is a good thing right now. Or, maybe ever.


  3. Excellent summation of how life sometimes works. I say sometimes because “sometimes’ it is for the best and “sometimes” it could have and we might have preferred it to go the other way. But, hey, we are troopers and if it is one thing we learned early on in life is – that when we get knocked down – fact is – the only way to go is back up. And so we manage and life does go on. Thanks for sharing!


  4. I was replaced by younger, much less-expensive, more compliant young women who’d graduated from the program in which they would be teaching and while I find that rather incestuous, though economically smart, it was humiliating to be shuffled off in such a clichéd manner.


    • Yes. Becoming obsolete — especially when you are actually at the top of your game professionally — really hurts. But truth was, I was also burned out. Garry too. He didn’t want to go, but he actually needed to go. It has taken us some years to really understand it, but at the time, it was humiliating, painful, and through us from well to do into actual poverty overnight.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Well the old rule of thumb “if at first it doesn’t work, read the instructions,” is where the modern trouble begins. “Reading the instructions,” for me, use to corresponded with a stint in the bathroom where most of my research takes place. The only problem these days is I don’t, and few others I imagine, have computers in their bathrooms.., on which most instruction manuals now live. We may be saving paper while simultaneously encouraging us to ignore the damn instructions. Now finding clearly written instructions? That’s quite another problem. So while your skills have been deemed obsolete, we techy types sorely miss you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ben, I still get a lot of my creative ideas in the bathroom. I even mentally sketch out stories to write. Trouble is I sometimes forget the ideas or reject the stories by the time I leave the bathroom.


    • I miss me too. Every time I get a new camera and I have to go online and find someone who knows how to set it up because the “manual” isn’t a manual, it’s just a bunch of generated data. We are lucky insofar as we can usually dope out how something works because we’ve done it and used so many products over the years. But other people? They buy stuff and in the end, they never get out of “automatic” mode because they don’t know how.


  6. I get that one very well.My job was not exactly terminated by automation but turned into a boring repetitive work. No more personal contact with the custoers, getting to know them, asking how the weather was in their part of the world and applying the knowledge of other languages. It became all atomised, A did that, B did that, C did that and somwhere in the middle was you – and there was more stress. Result: complete burnout and eventually the day came when you were no longer so necessary, and probably too expensive as well. And now we are golden oldies, with our aches and pains, but only doing what we want to do and not what we have to, with the exception of having to go to the doctors. Oh, happy days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I wouldn’t have minded nearly as much had the things with which I was replaced actually been useful and served the purpose. They didn’t and they don’t. Generated documentation has no work flow, no understanding of what someone needs to know to get a job done. It’s just a lot of data. Disorganized, unfiltered, and ultimately, useless. THAT was what I did … take the data and give it form and meaning. But now, people complain they don’t understand the cameras and computers and phones because there’s no manual and they are right. As long as we keep paying the price without getting the value, they will give us less and less because they can and we don’t demand better. I’m VERY glad to be retired!

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