Life was a lot more positive when my grandfather was alive. If he felt ill, he simply had to pop into the local pharmacy, explain his symptoms, and they would sell him a bottle of liquid or a box of pills that were guaranteed to cure him. No prevarication or hint of doubt. The bottle or box would say that “Mr. Smith’s Patent Stomach Medicine is guaranteed to cure wind, bloat, queasiness, cramps, and sickness”. It probably even cured baldness if you rubbed it on your head, and was also useful for removing boy scouts from horse’s hooves.
Compare that to today. I bought a raincoat a while ago, but the label inside studiously avoids saying that it is waterproof. The material is only “water resistant”. So if I end up wetter than a white water rafter next time we get a few faint spots of rain, I can’t blame them. Likewise, my wrist watch is not longer “shockproof”, just “designed to minimize damage from accidental contact with other objects”. I wonder if bulletproof vests are now advertised as being “useful in minimizing critical injury from fast-moving projectiles”. And, of course, my anti-virus software will only “help to protect me against malware”. Like it will just pop up little windows full of soothing phrases the next time I get hit by some virus attack. How long do you reckon it will be before the File menu in my word processor program contains “Attempt to Save (with no guarantee of success in case of write protected files or disk errors)”.
And, of course, everything now has to carry more warnings and explanations than it does positive encouragement. Unlike Mr. Smith’s medicine, whose packaging happily omitted to mention the fact that it contained arsenic and might make you go blind, almost anything you buy these days seems to be adorned with reams of warnings and get-out clauses almost to the extent of putting you off actually using the product at all. All due, no doubt, to our society’s constant drive for “Elf and Safety“.
A typical example is when you see a TV advert for a new car. Some impossibly handsome young man drives through country lanes at 90 miles per hour, magically reappears in an Amazonian rain forest, does a couple of turns around the Sahara, and then is seen screeching to a halt inches from the end of the landing deck of an aircraft carrier. Meanwhile, the caption on the screen says “Professional driver on closed circuit – do not attempt”… just in case you decide to go out and buy one, and try this yourself. But imagine what it would be like if the motor car had only been invented last week, and they were now trying to sell it. The advert would go something like:
Now available, a wonderful new way to travel! Faster than any horse and cart, smoother than any stagecoach! More relaxing than any armchair! Now you can go wherever you want, whenever you want, and arrive in style!
Then, below the glorious full color picture, would be the small print:
Note: Driving at speed incurs considerable risk. May not always be faster than a horse and cart, depending on local surface conditions. Ride may be less comfortable than advertised. Does not imply that you will find the experience relaxing. Driving may be a considerable source of stress, resulting in a heart attack, mental disorder, and premature death. Does not imply that all routes are available for travel or that all destinations are available. There may be limitations on the time of travel depending on weather and road conditions. May frighten livestock. Requires considerable maintenance and will regularly require expensive spare parts. Cost may impact your credit rating. Ask your doctor if driving is right for you.
I don’t know about you, but staying with a horse and cart sounds like a lot better idea to me. And just think what the list of warnings would look like if you had just invented the PC…