Read The Fking Manual**, famously known as RTFM, might sounds like a harsh statement. Of course you could said the “F” is stands for “Fine” or “Friendly” to make it more PG-13. For those who are unfamiliar with the term “RTFM“, this term is commonly used in information technology communities and usually given as in response to a question that can be answered easily by reading relevant documentation, and suggests that the inquirer may be wasting people’s time #[1].

Let me illustrated two kind of questions:

  1. A: “Hello. How do I install software X? I run the installer and it keeps me asking questions that I don’t understand… Please help!”

  2. A: “Hello. I tried to install software X. I’ve been reading the Installation instruction but I could not understand the point no.3 which is: Put A if you want to use function A but left it blank if you don’t want to have function A. I don’t know what function A is and I could not find it anywhere in the manual. Please help!”

Which one do you think will get better response?

Of course someone could respond to question 2 with “Did you Google it yet? and even the “RTFM” statement could be answered with “WITFM” but I’ll write about them later in the future. Let’s stick with RTFM now, shall we?

Language

Unfortunately, or fortunately – I can’t make up my mind, most of those “Fine” Manual are in English. Now I am talking spesifically. For some Indonesian people, this factor is a big problem, it is a “BFP” – Big F*cking Problem, and there are only two final solutions, which are:

  1. Indonesian must learn English. We did. Since elementary school. Hmm.
  2. A lot of translation projects. Few people are doing this. We need more people. This is one of mine (Dear reader, if you have one, please link your own translation projects in the comment, I will try to move them into this article, thank you – yeah this is including you!).

Not interested on doing a translation project? Think again! Indonesian Minister of Communication and Information Technology, Sofyan Djalil, said that by taking part in a translation project you will guaranteed a place in heaven! It’s not much if you are an atheist but still why not give it a try?

Culture

Now, before you are accusing me of bashing most Indonesian, just let me saying this “It’s about time we, Indonesian people, learned how to accept critics as a good thing. Criticising used to be branded bad and impolite in the Suharto’s era, we are NOT in the Suharto’s era anymore, get over it. Wake up”. Shall we continue?

Cultural barrier is the biggest obstacle to implement “RTFM” concept. Those who are quite active in the information technology communites are very well aware with this familiar problem. How many times the blatantly ignorant question risen up in the discussion there? And no, there are no such thing as stupid questions but by being ignorant you are picturing yourself as annoying and stupid. Ask this guy. He’ll tell you some horror stories.

Most of us are fans of “spoonfeeding”. We just love to get the answer of our question without thinking why the question we are asking was arised. We don’t want to waste time to learn. We just care on the result, not the process. We just don’t freaking care. We are that shallow.

I think it is the culture. CMIIMW, but I think it is. We were used to sit while being spoonfeeded by our parents, teachers, government and others. And we were okay with that. The one who protested was always branded rebels, the no-good-element of the society. The bad apple.

So yeah. In the society who put higher appreciation on result instead of process, the RTFM concept would be suffered.

Solution? Wake up. Just wake up from this delusional dream. It’s hard but we have to do it.

RTFM as an approach to life

What? Yes, ever think about how to approach life using RTFM method?

OK, another story… I love telling story.

When I was a little boy, I used to ask my mom about life, the universe and everything. Normal enough, right? The thing was everytime I asked about something quite sophisticated, my mom always read the Encyclopedia (We had a set of Encyclopedia Americana) and read it -translated, of course- aloud to me.

At certain point in my childhood, of course I could read and barely understand English. At that point my mom gave me an English-Indonesian dictionary as my birthday’s gift. And from that day, everytime I asked the question about life, the universe and everything, all my mom did was walking to our bookshelf, took one of the encyclopedia and give it to me and said “Find it yourself, use the dictionary if you can’t understand it“.

Now that I remembered it, my mom already used the “RTFM” concept!! On a 7 years old boy! I grew up in that kind of environment, where exhausting your resource first before asking a question is the only way to get an answer. It might sounds like wasting time for those people who just asked and got the answer immediately but in the long run those “wasted time” turned to be the “best investment”. You remember things longer if you found it yourself. That is the undebatable postulate.

That’s why I like internet so much. The possibility to tap into vast amount of information on your fingertips is a dream come true to me. That’s why I love reading and that’s why I am a good map reader. But that just me tho.

I also applied this everytime I teach. For some people I might be an awful teacher because I never give a straight answer but just redirect them to find the right material that provide the answer. I just help them to focus. Give them a fish and they will eat for today, give them a fishing rod and they will eat forever, I choose to give them a fishing rod and that is my teaching principle.

Anyway, I just want to share my point of view about applying “RTFM” as a way to approach life. Now if only I could find a “Manual of Life”…

[1]: Wikipedia’s RTFM entry.