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Warning: this column may include warnings

Posted: December 26, 2013 9:07 a.m.
Updated: December 27, 2013 5:00 a.m.

If you’re like thousands of other people in Kershaw County, you got a Christmas present Wednesday that you don’t fully know how to work. Chances are good it was some sort of electronic device -- a new smartphone, iPod, video game or some other miracle of modern technology.

Chances are also good you still haven’t figured out how to work the device because there wasn’t an instruction book included. Electronics manufacturers have decided they’re going to save the money that booklets cost, putting the guides online rather than giving you a printed copy.

That doesn’t work too well. It’s a lot easier to learn how a device works with a booklet in your lap than it is to try to navigate a website. (Manufacturer’s warning: a lack of instruction books can cause loud cursing.)

The companies that make those devices -- who seem not to give a hoot how difficult it is for you to figure them out -- need to get in touch with automobile manufacturers, who have taken the extreme opposite position, making user’s manuals that are hundreds of pages thick.

Remember how you used to keep those books in your glove compartment? Not anymore. They won’t fit.

I have a friend who recently got a new car. When the salesman handed him his manual, he hefted it and nearly got a hernia.

The primary how-to book was 796 pages. The book for the car’s navigation system was 337 pages. The “quick start” book -- the one that’s supposed to give you all the info in just a few minutes -- was 89 pages. The service manual was 76.

In case you’re adding, that’s 1,298 pages of information, all to learn how to drive a car.

I have another friend who got an iPod Touch, which plays music, stores movies, has cool apps, connects to the Internet and provides a host of other functions.

There was no instruction book at all -- just a little 2-by-2 inch piece of paper which directed him to the Apple website, where he found a user’s manual that took a day or so just to download. It was filled with incomprehensible language.

Certainly there must be a happy medium somewhere, a system in which people other than Bill Gates can buy an iPod or a car and figure out after an hour or two, with the help of a basic manual, how to work them.

Maybe manufacturers believe we Americans are too stupid to understand brief, straightforward directions. Maybe they’re so scared of being sued that they’re taking no chances.

How else to explain the little cloth sack of silica gel that came with the iPod to keep it dry? On the outside of the sack it said, “DO NOT EAT.”

What’s that, you say? We’re not supposed to eat the sack of silica gel? Gee.

Remember that woman who sued McDonald’s a few years ago when she spilled her coffee in her lap and it was hot enough to burn her? She’s inspired a whole new level of warnings that have been conceived by corporate lawyers.

One brand of thermometer on the market -- not the weather variety, but the kind you use to take your temperature – says this on the box: “Do not use orally after using rectally.”

Got it.

And on the box of a certain sleeping pill sold in pharmacies is this: “Warning: May Cause Drowsiness.”

And on the package of one of those files used to sharpen chain saw blades is a warning to turn the chain saw off before attempting to do your sharpening.

Oh, well, I guess I’m getting a bit too worked up over this. But one thing’s for sure: I’m not nearly as mad as I would have been if I’d forgotten the instructions for that thermometer.

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