I know, I know: real men aren't supposed to read the manual. I lose guyness points merely by admitting that when I open a box I usually read the manual before I start playing with wires and widgets. But I use a lot of technical gear, and a lot of it is so complex, you'd never figure it out by just punching buttons. And even if you did, you'd miss a pile of little tricks that are in the documentation. So I've been in the directions-reading habit for a while.
Maybe the first place I learned the importance of RTFM was the first time I tried to assemble a piece of IKEA furniture sans instructions. I ended up with pieces not fitting, holes stripped from using an off-size fastener, and a very wobbly bookcase (which I immediately reinforced with plywood, construction adhesive, and pneumatic staples; reading manuals doesn't completely invalidate my other guy qualities). Now, even if I've assembled something just like it before, I still read the instructions first, just in case.
Also, I get a moderate amount of comedy by reading manuals. Maybe my favorites are for Rane audio gear. My splitter/mixer manual begins like this:
Realizing that in most areas there are laws against reading owners manuals, and that reading them under the blankets at night with a flashlight makes you feel stupid, we therefore provide this brief, yet legal description of how to use the SM26B just in case your batteries are low and your mother is about to come in the room.See the tech comedy I'd miss out on if I skipped the manual!
To achieve a quick understanding of the SM26B, think of it as a six channel mixer with faders and pans only. Or think of it as a 2-to-6 channel splitter with output level controls and a mix knob. If you get that, you may stop here. If you're really hardcore, wiring block diagrams are in appendix B. Otherwise, read on.
Believe it or not, I also at least glance through the owner's manual when we rent a car. This is how I find the extra aux jacks for the radio, figure out how to turn off the emergency alarm (good to know this in advance!), how the cruise control or hybrid controls work, things like that. The irritating car company: Nissan, whose manuals are in the glove box, but on DVD ROM. So, great -- if we accidentally activate the alarm, we need to find a computer to figure out how to turn it off. Laura had an Altima (otherwise an extremely nice car!) for a week on tour, and we never knew you didn't need to use the buttons on the remote to open the door. It works on RFID; as long as you've got it with you, you only need to push that little button on the door handle. This is a handy feature, one it would've been nice to know about in advance. And it's the kind of thing for which it's better to read the manual. Sure, you could learn almost everything through experimentation. But it's much more efficient to read the directions than to waste time fumbling and bumbling. And I'm fine with sacrificing a little macho on the altar of information.