How often do we see questions that show that the OP didn't even bother checking 'the manual'? Is SO supporting a new breed of developers that have little clue of what they're doing and rely on us helpful souls to guide them through life?
SO may breed some lazy developers, but it also helps to surface some awesome developers who do some real good for the community.
As SO grows, it becomes a more-and-more comprehensive guide to solving virtually any expressible problem in any programming language, guided by some pretty-darn-selfless developers.
Yes it is a crutch for lame developers, but more importantly, it is a pretty useful tool for the average developer who just needs to get something done quickly (to meet deadlines), or to solve a problem. That average developer may or may not be able to find the answer here or elsewhere, and may or may not be able to solve it on his given sufficient time and information. But if this place can provide a good answer, why not?
Last but not least, I don't think that everyone knows about the existence of 'the manual' in the first place. Had I not studied computer science, I may very well not have known of the existence of a "language specification". I believe (I may be wrong) many developers not trained academically may not know about the existence of it, or at least they don't know about it early on in their career. These developers may very well believe ignorantly that their "Learn C++ in 21 Days" book/online tutorial is the language specification and failing to find the answer in it, resort to asking a question online (they would probably have tried google first and failed). And when someone answers a question here, and cites a section 2.1.2 of the specification in his answer, a motivated developer may be able to take it from there and refer to the specification the first the next time he has a problem.
This site is a godsend to helpless, eager-to-learn developers on their own without access to a mentor.
And here's a rambling by a self-indulgent me digressing without thinking hard:
Indeed there are many questions asked on SO for which the answers can be found in 'the manual'.
I would say that it is a systemic problem affecting the new generation of people (this is a problem not specific to programmers) who are introduced to the internet at a very young age. Obviously one can use the internet to search for 'the manual', but many would prefer to get the answer instantly. Even if all they could find is the manual, they would prefer that it is a text-search-able so that they can navigate directly to exactly what they want to know, instead of reading such manuals cover-to-cover.
Call it short-attention span, instant gratification generation or whatever euphemism/dysphemism you like, and I will probably agree with it. However, what really is the root cause is information explosion. It's not so much because useful (exclude multimedia for entertainment etc...) information increased exponentially only recently in the past 10 years (useful information have always been increasing), but because the accessibility of information have improved so much due to the internet.
As everyone has access to much of the same information, and more information, it becomes increasingly important for one to be able to grasp understanding of as many things as possible, and quickly too. I suspect this could be a reason why learning in depth has mostly fallen out of fashion.
Personally, I find this "problem" (coz it may not be a problem per se, but an evolution thingy caused by external factors) is a potential area for research (pedagogical, A.I.) and there is a huge potential market to cater to solving the new needs of this decade.... hence SO (and <insert your solution>).
What level of programmer are you referring to? Reading and understanding programming language manuals is a skill in itself. Just yesterday I tried to find the answer to a question from the PHP manual, and I did find the appropriate section but I just couldn't understand the manual. Luckily, someone had asked a similar question on SO, so I could find the answer here.
It can be quite frustrating when more advanced programmers make a snippy remark about reading the manual, and they don't seem to understand how programming language manuals can be very hard to understand if you are inexperienced. In fact, some newbies might not even be aware that a manual exists.
Yes of course but the trade off is that the none lame devs get a great community and good help, and people starting off came learn a little faster.
I think there comes a point when ever dev hits a point where reading the manual doesn't do the trick at this point they either grow and get to do some awesome creative things or well they get stuck and go to work building lame sites and lame templates.
I don't mind a few lame duck they make me look good ;)