Technosophy: Strange Warnings

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.

About Gryphon

In his career - well, not so much a career as a series of interesting but usually ill-advised vocational choices, if we're being honest - Benjamin D. Hutchins has been a tech support grunt, an Internet operations tech, a small-town print reporter, a public relations writer, and a semiprofessional muser upon the random. Now he's working on several books (none of which, just to buck tradition, is the Great American Novel), eyeing the relentless march of personal gadget technology with bemusement and often suspicion, and wondering what's with these kids today, with their clothes and their hair and that stuff they think is music.His first book, Off the Top of My Head: Personal Reflections of a Small-Town Newsman, can be had here or here.
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  • Chris H.

    Leading Edge! Oh my goodness. I used to work for a huge Leading Edge dealer in San Diego. Small world.

    Were you there pre- or post-Daewoo?

  • Gryphon

    Post. Well post, in fact – I worked there for about the last year of the company’s existence. I think I jumped ship about a month before the Korean Masters folded the place up for good.

  • Chris H.

    When I started working for the computer dealership, in the back warehouse area we had the “Leading Edge” wall…a wall covered with stacks of Leading Edge Model D computers that needed to have parts RMAed or whatever. Took us months to wade through them all.

    Hey! Remember when Leading Edge shipped a bunch of computers with a virus? Dang, wish I could remember which one…May Day, maybe? It was some virus that was supposed to trigger on a specific day, I know that. Ugh, I’m getting old.

  • Gryphon

    Heh. I’m not sure I was there for that, but I remember the time the company shipped a new model without informing the hardware support department (where I worked) that one was even in development, let alone out there being sold. One of my friends got the first call on that one. “Okay, what model do you have? … Are you sure? You’re sure it doesn’t say ’486e‘? … Would you please hang on a second?” (mute) “Hey, do we make a WinPro 486d?” “‘D’? Not ‘E’?” “No, ‘D’. The guy’s sure it says ‘D’.” “I think I saw one in the QA testing lab last week.” “Dammit. Do we have any docs at all? ‘Cause they’re selling the friggin’ things at Fry’s.”

    That was one of management’s greatest hits, though it doesn’t compare to the time our support system killed a man…

  • Vince

    Ten quatloos for the use of the oft-seen but not frequently remembered brand “Fiskars”.

    You’re right about the ‘some idiot probably did this and sued us’ angle. Maybe they saw the word ‘cordless’ on the packaging and became enraged when they saw a power cord of sorts…

  • Glenn

    My father’s favorite lawsuit story was regarding a lathe in a machine shop. It had originally had a belt drive with a safety deflector surrounding it, but when that broke the owner repaired it by taking the deflector off and installing a chain drive. He’d then had an accident where something, don’t remember what, got caught in the chain drive. So he sued the manufacturer. And won of course, regardless of the fact that the chain drive was something he’d added, and he’d removed the deflector.

    American “law”, what fun!