Buy anything these days and chances are good it will come with a checklist of “thou shalt nots” longer than the Ten Commandants. For example, my TV came with explicit instructions not to drop this electronic device, hit the screen with sharp objects or operate it underwater. Fair enough. I had no intention of doing anything more than staring at it for hours and hours, but information is always a good thing.
Of course, stupid product warnings have been around since the mid 1970s, when corporations started telling people their coffee was hot and not to drink the Drano™. Unfortunately, they’ve now accelerated to the point of absurdity. Here are a few examples:
“Not to be used orally” – on a hair curling iron
“Caution: Do not spray in eyes” – on deodorant
“Do not use internally” – on a toilet bowl cleaning brush
“Choking Hazard: This toy is a small ball” – written in three languages on a small ball
And there are a lot more that get a lot more complicated, but we all know what we’re talking about.
There is a collective idea that we have these stupid warnings because our society is under siege from bloodsucking lawyers who will do anything to initiate lawsuits. This is not true. Yes, our society is under siege from bloodsucking lawyers (this, by the way, is a general comment, not directed at any particular bloodsucking lawyer.) However, we have stupid warnings on products because people are stupid. I’m not talking about high profile Darwin Award stupidity; just everyday ordinary incredible acts of Dumb and Dumber.
The reason corporations put all those idiot warnings on their products is
people do stand on the last rung of the ladder. They do spray deodorant in their eyes. And God only knows what they’re doing with that toilet brush — internally. These things happen on a daily basis.
Recently, a family was doing some spring gardening, using a device called the Weed Wand. The Weed Wand is an advertised alternative to the chemical warfare we’ve been using (and most cities have been banning, thank God) to control weeds. What it is, is a snout attached to a handheld propane tank that shoots flames directly at the weeds and kills them by cremation. (I’m not making this up; this is a real product.) Guess what? They set the house on fire! These are ordinary people, but their actions do beg the question: who buys a flamethrower — even a small one — to tidy up the sidewalk? When asked about it, the guy took absolutely no responsibility for burning his house down. He said, “In my opinion, it’s not a safe product, and we certainly weren’t using it in a reckless fashion … I don’t think products like that should be on the market.” Hey, buddy, it’s a flamethrower and you bought it!
The problem is our society is basically benevolent. We have eliminated most of the dangerous elements in our world and control many of the hazardous ones. However, in our zeal to make a risk-free society, we’ve created a couple of generations of people who think this is the natural order of things. They believe the world is a safe place. They wander around as if nothing on this good green earth is ever going to hurt them. Then, when something does, they think there’s been a malfunction somewhere.
I’m beginning to think our well-regulated society has beaten the self preservation gene out of our species and survival of the fittest isn’t even an option any more.