Column Date 2006-10-25

Talking to people with small brains

Do you ever get the funny feeling that people think you’ve got a small brain and are, well...sort of stupid?

It happens to me all the time.

It happened recently when I saw a Lexus ad telling me that they’ve invented a car that essentially parks itself – there’s no longer any need for not-very-smart-or- coordinated people like me to waste my time even trying to parallel park anymore: the new Lexus will do it for me.

I also feel dumb when I see a warning printed on styrofoam cup of coffee to warn me that “Hot coffee can cause burns.” (Coffee is also not good for acid reflux, which I assume will also soon appear on the cup.)

Or when the protective seal on a food package says “Do not eat if seal is missing.” (Umm...if the seal isn’t there, neither is the warning, guys. I’d really have your marketing department look into this.)

Or when the label on the toner for my computer printer tells me : “Do not eat toner.” (“Once the tomato sauce is simmering nicely, add a touch of HP jet-black toner...”)

Where will it all end? Are these warnings meant just for the mentally impaired among us? Or are they there on advice of mentally-impaired counsel?

I can see myself getting into a new car to find a warning that “This wheel is to be used for steering only.” Or “Air bags are safety devices. They are not meant to be inflated to carry groceries or other packages.”

Or “If you begin sweating profusely after eating these Jalapeño peppers, it may be due to the hot peppers, or you may be having a heart attack. Dial 911 immediately.” I guess that gets the pepper growers off the hook.

Then I started looking at all the troublesome little things in life that industry might focus on, instead of selling me a car that parks itself.

I figure there must be some useful things they can build to make me feel empowered rather than dumb.

How about a computer that automatically fixes itself when you push a button labeled “Go back to the way you were yesterday.”

Or a sign with moving type I can put on the rear bumper of my car that has a variety of messages, from “You’re driving too close,” to “Your brake is the pedal on the left,” to “Back off, idiot!”

And I think some company could make a fortune on a computer program that scans all that tiny type in warranties and disclaimers, examines it, and spits out what it really means – in simple, easy-to-understand English sentences.

Seems to me that by making us feel good about ourselves, by helping us master some of our problems, and by assuming that we all have brains, smart companies could earn our loyalty and our money.

(By the way, my wife is very proud of me: I kept my blood pressure down by not mentioning a single politician or political party in this week’s column. They’re way ahead of the curve: they’ve been treating us all like imbeciles for years.)

©2006 Peter Tannen