User manuals are given at the purchase of a new item. I look at this as if the responsibility has been diverted and is now our own. The companies may always say that full instructions have been provided at purchase, and they have fulfilled necessary or minimum requirements.
Consumerist mentioned a study (here) which illustrated that many returned items work properly, but the consumers have difficulties operating them correctly. This demonstrates how some of us have difficulties using our products, and the user manuals are not helping. Some of these are over 200 pages long. Who has the time to read that? This solution is awkward, makes it difficult to find the relevant areas, and mostly create more complexity.
My Dad found a shortcut and has never had to use a manual in his life. He takes the manual and gives it to me in order to explain to him only the features he is interested in. I showed him how to use the digital camera for the simplest functions, which are the only ones important to him personally, such as picture taking, zoom, review, delete, etc. On the other hand, my Mom taught me how to do my laundry without me having to read the manual. In this case, we have found ways to teach each other to use products each of us are familiar with. By sharing our knowledge, we have saved ourselves a lot of time.
As much as technology and innovation are supposed to simplify our lives, the products to do so are anything but. For this, assistance from others familiar with the products is much more beneficial.
Do you feel user manuals are helpful or just a complication? What is your solution?