Brandon Sun (Newspaper) - June 29, 2002, Brandon, Manitoba
Radish-brained consumers, spore-based lawyers
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 why 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 correct 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,
and got a lawyer, and sued, and a jury made up of people whose understanding of economics is based entirely on grocery coupons 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.)
Another reason why consumers don’t read manuals is that products today have TOO MANY FEATURES. (I know, I know, I’ve complained about this before. So sue me.) We — and when I say “we,” I am
speaking for every human being in the world — do not want a lot of features. In fact, for most products, we really want only two features: the “on” feature, and the “off” feature.
An example of a feature that we do not want is “picture in picture.” This feature allows you to watch one channel on most of your TV screen, while another channel appears in a little box in the corner. The salesman always makes a big deal out of “picture in picture,” and the manual always devotes pages to how you use it.
Except you don’t use it. I have never seen any actual human consumer use the “picture in picture” feature, because (a) nobody remembers how it works; (b) it’s annoying to have two pictures on the screen; and (c) it’s hard enough to find ONE thing on TV you want to watch.
The third reason why consumers don’t read manuals is that many consumers are men, and we men would no more read a manual than we would ask directions, because this would be an admission that the person who wrote the manual has a bigger ... OK, a bigger grasp of technology than we do. We men would rather hook up our new DVD player in such a way that it ignites the DVDs and shoots them across the room — like small flaming UFOs — than admit that the manual-writer possesses a more manly technological manhood than we do.
And then there are some people who simply do not NEED manuals. I refer here to my son, who, like many young people, can immediately grasp how to operate any technological object, no matter how complex. Give my son 15 minutes in the space shut
tle, and he will figure out not only how to launch it into orbit, but also how to make it play really hideous “hip-hop” music loud enough to shatter passing asteroids. (And please do not tell me that sound does not travel through space. “Hip-hop” music travels through EVERYTHING).
So what does all this mean? It means that if manufacturers want us to read their manuals, they need to take a few simple, common-sense steps: (I) Deport all the product-liability lawyers to Iraq; (2) Get rid of “picture in picture”; (3) Include nothing in the manual except simple, clear, minimal directions, printed on photographs of tennis star Anna Kournikova naked. These steps will greatly improve consumer knowledge, and reduce unfortunate mishaps. You may now place this column over the wound.
(NOTE TO MANUFACTURERS: Make sure it really IS Anna Kournikova, or you will be sued.)
Dave Barry is a humour columnist far the Miami Herald. Write to him clo The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami FL 33132.
TODAY IN MUSIC HISTORY
# In 1996, Canadian Alanis Morrissette joined rock legends Eric Clapton, Ron Wood, Bob Dylan and The Who to perform for 150,000 people at London’s Hyde Park. The all-day event raised about $1 million for Prince Charles’ Prince’s Trust charity. Morrissette performed eight songs from her mega-hit album, Jagged Little Pill. Hie Who gave what was billed as the “live debut” of their 1973 Quadrophenia album. During a rehearsal, lead singer Roger Daltrey suffered a fractured eye socket when he was accidentally struck by a microphone wielded by fellow singer Gary Gutter.
• In 1901, singer Nelson Eddy, whose duets with Jeanette MacDonald were great favourites in the 1930s and ’40s, was bom in Providence, Rhode Island. Eddy and MacDonald starred in such film musicals as Naughty Marietta, Rose Marie and Maytime. Their 1936 recording of Indian Love Call from Rose Marie was the first show tune to sell a
million records. Nelson Eddy died on March 6, 1967.
# In 1888, the first musical recording in Great Britain was made at the Crystal Palace in London on the occasion of the Handel Festival. The recording was made using Thomas Edison’s cylinder phonograph.
# In 1941, Polish pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski died in wartime exile in New York at 81. His brilliant playing made him the world’s most popular pianist since Franz Liszt in the mid-19th century. U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt vowed Paderewski’s remains would be returned to his homeland “when Poland is free.” They were shipped home in 1992, three years after Communist rule ended in Poland.
# In 1944, singer Little Eva, whose full name is Eva Narcissus Boyd, was bom in Belhaven, N.C. She was the babysitter for songwriters Carole King and Gerry Goffin when she recorded their song, The Loco-Motion.
# In 1955, Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock reached No. I on the U.S. charts, staying in the top spot for seven weeks. Haley’s recording sold only moderately weU when it was first released in the spring of 1954. But when it was included in the soundtrack of Blackboard Jungle, a film about juvenile delinquents, demand soared. By 1970, world sales were estimated at 16 million.
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