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FICTION

Manual Generation

  • onMarch 7, 2016
  • Vol.31 Spring 2016
  • byKim Junghyuk
The Library of Musical Instruments
Tr. Kim Soyoung
2008
307pp.

I still hadn’t written the first sentence yet. I was already stuck in “Precautions.” If this was an ordinary product, writing the “Precautions” would be a piece of cake. Just recycle the old ones, with some rewording and rearrangement. For instance, replace ‘it could be dangerous’ with ‘it is dangerous’ and ‘disassembling could cause a severe shock’ with ‘do not disassemble.’ But this was no ordinary product; it had features I had never seen before. No wonder I was stuck, even though the product developer had explained them to me many times. I needed to think hard to figure out where to start. I believe in order and organization. Even the most insignificant manual must have it.

I still remember the first manual I had ever seen in my life: it was the manual of a digital camera that I had spent a month’s savings on. When I opened the package that came in the mail, it wasn’t my new digital camera that overwhelmed me. It was my new digital camera’s 300-page manual. I hadn’t even considered taking my camera out of the box when I picked up its manual, and I went on to read it all night, as if my camera would break if I started using it without reading the manual first. I carefully read and reread “Precautions,” “Parts & Components,” “Getting Ready to Take Pictures,” “Basic Features,” “Advanced Features,” “Tips on Taking Nice Pictures,” “Appendices,” and “Specifications.” My digital camera’s manual touched me. It had laid the groundwork for the structures of knowledge in my head and built them up with texts, figures, and tables. The result, it seemed, was the digital camera town constructed in my head. The manual struck me as a fascinating piece of architecture. By the time I finished reading it, I had a pretty good idea about what a digital camera was.

That’s when I began collecting manuals. They gave me the feeling of actually using products that I didn’t have. I downloaded free PDF manuals from the Web and scrounged free copies of all sorts of manuals from the salesclerks at electronics stores.

The hundreds of manuals that I have read tell me that there are two kinds of manuals in the world: good manuals and bad manuals. Good manuals lay solid groundwork in my head, whereas bad ones pile up random information like sandcastles. Good manuals are logical and ersuasive, whereas bad ones are selfassertive and unkind. I have been inclined to believe that people who make bad manuals are obviously bad people.

“You haven’t even started yet,” Park said. Our design manager was looking at my monitor. I knew he was laughing at me, and I hated him for it. But I couldn’t get mad at him because we made good manuals as a team, which meant that he couldn’t be a bad person.

“It’s your fault. You signed this contract.”

“Excuse me? You told me to go find contracts. If you don’t want it, cancel it.”

“No way. I have bills to pay.”

“Then write your texts already. You have people to feed, too. The product illustration is almost done, in case you’re wondering.”

“You sound like you run this place. I think if you were really the boss, you would tie my hands to the keyboard.”

“Wrong. I would fire you. You get paid too much for what you get done. You whine, too.”

“Enough. I’ll get my writing done by tomorrow. So stop bugging me and get lost.”

Sipping his coffee, Park returned to his desk. And my eyes returned to the monitor, a bleak desert. Blinking over the desert was the black cursor. The blinking cursor looked like a distress signal from someone buried in the desert. Look, I am suffocating almost as much over here as you are over there. Just stay buried, okay? Sending out distress signals is a waste of time. There’s no one out here to help you anyway. But I also felt like sending out distress signals to someone over there in the desert.

“Send me the production illustration file. I need some inspiration,” I shouted at Park. My voice had come out so loud that the faces of all three employees turned toward me. Making manuals for the product release was often stressful, but this project was an extreme case, even by my standards. The employees looked uneasy and weary as though they were handling a ticking time bomb.

“It’s not quite ready. Try touching the product, if you need a writer’s inspiration.”

“I did, until my hands hurt. Still no luck. Just send it over. I don’t care if it’s not ready.”

Judging by the volume of my voice, one might think that I was talking in an auditorium. But my office was a cubbyhole, just large enough for a company of four, including me, the president. The rest were a manager and an intern, which left only one position for an ordinary employee. Basically, we lacked a sense of balance as an organization. Worse, the four of us were all men. I opened the file that Park had sent me.

 

<A sketch of a globe with a grainy surface>

 

“What is this? Am I writing a manual for spherical cheese? Or a golf ball?”

Park walked over to my desk. He took a look at the monitor and laughed, “Wrong one. This is one of the initial sketches.”

“I’m struggling to pay bills, and you’re wasting your time and mine, sending me the wrong file, walking over here, walking back to your desk, and sending me another file, and me opening it. If I added up all this time...”

“Don’t start, boss. You aren’t good at math. So you’ll end up wasting more time doing that.”

“How can an employee humiliate his boss? What kind of company is this?”

“A fine company.”

The rest of my employees were chuckling, their faces turned away from me. I almost burst into laughter myself. When I was stressed out, Park always made some jokes to make me laugh. When he was stressed out, I did the same for him. It was kind of a give-and-take deal.

Park sent me another file, but I didn’t open it. I was still staring at the wrong sketch he had sent me. The sketch sitting in the middle of the monitor was quietly staring back at me. I felt as though I was looking at the universe where all but the “Planet Golf Ball” had disappeared. It looked forlorn. I felt suspense in the space, as if a golf club was going to appear out of nowhere and smash the “Planet Golf Ball” out of the universe. With the last “Planet Golf Ball” gone, the universe would be empty and the solemn voice of God would be heard: Nice shot!

“What’s the name of this product again, Park?”

“The Global Player.”

“That’s a lousy name.”

“Tell that to the client’s publicist when she gets here. She’ll be here in half an hour.”

“What? Why? I’ve never asked her.”

“Relax. She’s coming to check out the illustration. She’d be disappointed, though, if she learned that you haven’t even started the texts yet. Tell her you think the product has a lousy name. It could buy you some time. I think it’ll take them at least a month to come up with another name. Or, they could also fire us and hire another firm. Then you’d be stuck with your lousy bills to pay.”

“Be quiet, all of you. Can’t you see that I’ve started writing?”

The office grew quiet. Everyone was hard at work, except for me and Park. I put on my headphones and set to work. With the half-an-hour deadline approaching, I felt ready to write anything. I was surrounded by a stack of developer’s handbooks to my left, Park’s new illustration file open in the monitor, and the product to be released under the lousy name “Global Player” to my right. I was all set. I began to write the first sentence.

The precautions when using the Global Player are identical to the ones when using the Earth. Treat the Global Player as the Earth. First, do not disassemble. Second, do not store at high temperatures. Third, do not drop. Imagine that you are God, the creator of the Earth. You wouldn’ throw the Earth around. Most importantly, keep the Earth out of the reach of children. They would certainly destroy the Earth.

I composed one sentence after another as I listened to what sounded like a hunting song of a native African tribe. Once the first sentence was written, the rest practically presented itself. When I wrote manuals, it seemed that sentences hesitantly came out of their hideout as opposed to me writing them. I was almost convinced that writing manuals was excavation rather than creation. All I had to do was dust the sentences. I felt like an archeologist.

In twenty minutes, “Precautions” was done. I read the first sentences to Park. He said, “not bad.” According to Park’s Conversational Dictionary, ‘not bad’ meant ‘good.’ Emboldened by Park’s compliment, I rushed through “Parts & Components” and “Basic Features.” They were easy sections to write anyway as long as I had the developer’s handbooks handy, which helped me paraphrase and translate.

As I started writing the “Advanced Features” section, the office door opened and a woman in a black two-piece suit entered. The moment I saw her in black, the passionate Greek singer’s sad ballad song that I was listening to almost turned into a funeral dirge. Her tall and robust body added to the solemn mood. When I took off my headphones, I heard her voice, which was shrill for a body her size. She was talking with Park without so much as casting me a look. I pretended to mind my own business, when Park introduced us. She handed me her business card. 

 

Translated by Kim Soyoung

Author's Profile

Kim Junghyuk is a writer, film critic, music columnist, and cartoonist. He has received the Dongin Literary Award and Lee Hyo-seok Literary Award. French editions of his books include Your Shadow Is a Monday (Les ombres du lundi), Zombies (Zombies, la descente aux enfers), Wandering Bus (Bus errant), and The Library of Musical Instruments (La bibliothèque des instruments de musique) published by Decrescenzo éditeurs. English editions of his books include The Library of Musical Instruments published by Dalkey Archive Press.