Fold, Spindle, Mutilate

December 1st, 2008

“Do not fold, spindle, or mutilate.”  Remember that old product warning?  Well, maybe not.  You have to be of a certain age, which is to say, old.  That was about all the warning you got on most products.  Since no one knew what the heck “spindle” meant anyway, it wasn’t a problem.  We just ignored it. 

Product information, like life in general, has gotten a lot more complicated.  Here’s Dave Barry, writing in 2002:

The topic of this column is a recent Washington Post story stating that manufacturers of appliances, computers, cars, etc., want to know why Americans don’t read their owners’ manuals.

WARNING: THIS COLUMN IS INTENDED FOR READING PURPOSES ONLY. DO NOT USE THIS COLUMN AS A TOURNIQUET.

One big reason that consumers don’t read manuals is that the typical manual starts out with 15 to 25 pages of warnings, informing you of numerous highly unlikely ways in which you could use the product to injure or kill yourself.

WARNING: DO NOT READ THIS COLUMN WHILE WATER-SKIING. DO NOT SET FIRE TO THIS COLUMN IN A ROOM FILLED WITH HYDROGEN.

The typical consumer’s reaction to these warnings is: “What kind of moron would do THAT?”

The answer to this question is: ”A wealthy moron.” Because the reason these warnings exist is that somewhere, some time, some consumer with the IQ of a radish actually DID one of these bizarre things, got a lawyer and sued, and a jury decided, what the heck, $300 million sounds about right, but let’s not tell the judge right away because first we should order a pizza.

So every year there are more huge product-liability awards, and every year manufacturers have to put more warnings in the owners’ manuals, and every year the radish-brains come up with newer, more-innovative ways to injure themselves. There will come a day when every product you buy will come with an actual living lawyer inside the box, sealed in plastic; as soon as you break the seal, the lawyer will emerge and start preparing your product-liability lawsuit. (This system is feasible because product-liability lawyers are spore-based organisms who can survive for years without air.)

Dave goes on to give more reasons why many consumers don’t read product manuals–too many useless features and a natural male reluctance to take instruction from anyone.  Read the whole column!


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