Have you ever wondered what engendered some of the seemingly ridiculous warnings and precautions in instruction manuals? Every time I buy something new and read through the instruction manual, I have to shake my head. Mostly I imagine they are occasioned by the American tendency to sue anyone and everyone else for their own stupidity. I once wrote an article to the effect that you cannot legislate away stupidity. Maybe I should take another look at that.
That aside, product instructions, no matter how prescient the manufacturers might be, are probably of little help as well. Nevertheless, they do try; rather amusingly at times.
My husband, Bernd, recently purchased a Bissell Steam Shot. He likes to have things sparklingly clean. The shower pan in our master bath has resisted all of our efforts to get and keep it bright and shiny. Enter the Steam Shot.
Within the safety instructions for the gizmo were a number of bulleted warnings … 27 of them to be exact (although two of them, “Do not leave the steam cleaner connected to an electrical outlet when not in use” and “Unplug from outlet when not in use and before conducting maintenance or troubleshooting”) would seem to say essentially the same thing.
One of the warnings that really got me wondering was “Do not use appliance in an enclosed space filled with vapor given off by oil base paint, paint thinner, some moth proofing substances, flammable dust, or other explosive or toxic vapors.” What did some silly person do and then have the audacity to complain about it so that the manufacturer felt compelled to add that warning? It gives me visions of singed hair and a cloud of noxious smoke and people screaming and running from their house.
The best warning of all, however, is “Do not attempt to use without water in the tank.” Frankly, why would anyone even think of doing that? The whole point of the appliance is to make steam. They also warn consumers to “Avoid contact with hot surfaces.” Of course, they do not spell out explicitly which surfaces may become hot. Guess you just have to learn that from trial and error. And above all “Do not allow to be used as a toy.”
Bernd also had occasion to purchase a new universal remote control not too long ago (he wears them out regularly and rapidly). It was touted as being very easy to program. Even so, the instruction manual that came with it was 45 pages long! And it was all in English with no foreign language translations; 45 pages of English! The manual did not, however, have the usual list of numbered warnings such as “This is not a toy” (obviously they know better) or “Do not immerse in liquid.” It does, though, discuss the benefits of the “Couch Mode” which automatically shuts of the remote if a button is pressed continuously for more than 30 seconds. This prevents the battery power from being depleted should the remote accidentally slip between the couch cushions.
Instead of listing them for easy access at the very beginning, the remote’s manual sneaks in the warnings throughout the instructions as in “Programming WR7 using the Learning Method” where they have written: “IMPORTANT: You have 30 seconds to perform the next step while you are in programming mode. If you do not press a button within 30 seconds, the component LED light will turn off. The remote will exit the programming mode and you will have to start over.” Better not dither or be in any way undecided.
Once when I was quite young, one of my cousins had an accident. My sister and I were visiting for a week or so during summer vacation. We had just spent a hot and dusty afternoon cleaning up after their horses and my cousin’s mom brought us all some nice cold Coca Colas. They were in bottles because that was the way they came in the 1950’s.
One of my cousins, in a fit of absolute stupidity, decided to try to sit on her (thankfully) empty Coke bottle. It did not go well.
Her mom decided not to try to remove it herself and we all piled into the station wagon (my cousin had to lie down in the back) and went straight away to their family doctor. The doctor didn’t laugh but he did remark that this was the first time he’d seen that.
I haven’t looked at a Coke bottle in years, but the last time I did, it did not bear a warning about not trying to sit on it. Clearly, my cousins did not even think to sue Coke for not warning one to never attempt to use a Coke bottle as a chair.