I was shaving the other day when I noticed one of those small white plastic warning tags on the power adapter of my electric shaver. I didn’t pay it much mind at first, figuring that it was just the usual kind of thing – you know, “Do not immerse in water, do not feed after midnight,” etc.
As it happens, the shaver itself is cordless – the adapter is just plugged in to charge it, not used when actually shaving – so it spends most of its time not connected. Its usual spot is up on one of the shelves in the bathroom, where one tends to see it whenever one uses the facilities. So over the next few days, I kept noticing the warning tag, and eventually it penetrated my conscious mind that there was something odd about it.
Finally I took a closer look today and realized that it’s not one of the usual warnings. It’s a little pictogram showing the transformer on the plug end, a pair of scissors positioned just below it on the wire itself, and a red X over the junction of scissors and wire. The warning here seems to be at once very specific and, to my mind, more than a little bizarre: Do not take a pair of scissors and cut the transformer off this power cord.
I find this simultaneously amusing and appalling. Amusing because we’ve finally reached the stage that my friend Andrew predicted years ago, appalled because, well, we’ve finally reached the stage that my friend Andrew predicted years ago.
A long time ago, I worked for a PC manufacturer, Leading Edge Products, as did my friends Andrew and Derek (and a good many others besides, but that’s not important right now). One day we were looking over the documentation for one of Leading Edge’s laptop computers and came across the page explaining the relative severity levels of the several different types of interjectory bullets one was likely to find in the course of reading the manual. I’m paraphrasing from memory, because it’s been a long time and I don’t have any of those docs any more, but they ranged from something like Note!, which indicated something the user might find helpful but that wasn’t of particular importance, through Caution! and Warning! to STOP!, which, the book gravely explained, was a warning that, if unheeded, could lead to injury or death!
There being a relatively limited number of ways in which even a careless user could kill himself with a laptop computer, Andrew speculated jokingly that somewhere in the book was the warning, “STOP! Do not eat your laptop!”
Well, we’re there. Manufacturers now feel it necessary to include little iconic warnings advising us not to do things that:
A) Any idiot can plainly see are dangerous (cutting an electric wire with a pair of scissors); and
B) Would wreck the device if performed, even if no danger to the user was present (severing the transformer, even on a power cord not presently plugged into the wall).
So I thought for a while: Why would Philips Norelco have felt the very specific need to warn us not to do this particular thing? And the only conclusion I could come to was that someone has done it, then brought the fact that it tends to cause problems to the company’s attention, probably by way of a lawsuit.
I find this both depressing and more than a little baffling. I mean, what person rational enough to go out and buy an electric shaver, and old enough to have any use for same, would even think of cutting the transformer off the charging cord with a pair of scissors? Who looks at any electrically powered device and thinks, You know, if I had a pair of Fiskars, I could just lop that sucker right off of there? I suppose you could argue that a child might do it, but there again – any child capable of operating scissors should already know both A and B, and any child incapable of grasping those two points should certainly not be roaming around the bathroom with scissors.
I’m all for basic safety precautions with our household electric devices, but come on, people.
Benjamin D. Hutchins is an author, public relations writer, and semiprofessional muser upon the random. His other nonfiction writings can be found here and here.