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They're Designing Stuff We Don't Need

Please Don't Save Me From Myself

It’s not only government with their helmet and seat belt laws, but all of the manufacturers, too.  And sometimes they overdo it, like salad greens in tough plastic bags permanently sealed for freshness.  Or medicine bottles that are child proof as well as elderly proof.  They believe they are doing us a favor by designing things for idiots. My answer is, don’t do me any favors.

I know what you’re going to say, the manufacturers don’t want to get sued.  But some of their built-in safety features are down right annoying.

Take the beepers in our automobiles… please.  They squawk like dumb birds if you leave your keys in the ignition, or the headlights on, or if you haven’t buckled up, or the door is open, or who knows what.  What’s odd is that my car is strangely mute when I try to drive with the emergency brake on.

I endure those idiot sounds in my car because often the warnings are helpful (and, frankly, because I don’t know how to disconnect the noise maker.)  But sometimes I want to leave the keys in the ignition with the door open, like when I have to retrieve the parking lot ticket I dropped.  Or I don’t want my seat belt on while driving through the cemetery.  Or maybe I want to leave the headlights on because… well, just because I want to.  So why can’t they give us a “shut up already” button?

I once had a VCR that was very thoughtfully designed.  For example, it was smart enough to pluck the time off some channel to set its own clock.  Another thing it did was it wouldn’t let you do anything to it while it was recording.  But one time I realized I was taping the wrong channel and wanted to stop it.  I tried every option, pushed every button, but it still kept taping.  I couldn’t even turn it off. So I pulled the plug, and indeed it stopped.  But when I plugged it back in, like some single minded soldier, it devotedly started to record again.

Several years ago, my daughter had a marvelous camera that doesn’t allow her to take a picture if the focus and lighting aren’t just right.  That’s fine, except when her nine month old baby took her first steps in bad lighting.  Why not a “take it anyway” button?  This same camera, with its impeccable requirements for quality pictures, on one occasion let her click a dozen prize winning photos without telling her that there was no film in it.

Elevator buttons

Even elevator buttons seemed to be designed to protect us from something—like changing our minds.  They work fine most of the time.  But why didn’t anybody at the elevator company ever think somebody might want to undo a button.  Didn’t they ever push a wrong button?  Why must I stop at the fifth floor when I’m the only one in the car and am headed for eight?  Why can’t I undo all the floors some little twerp pushed just as he ran out of the elevator?

If manufacturers are afraid of being sued how come they still make round door knobs?  Think about this—you’re at home putting on hand lotion or washing your hands, or greasing a cake pan.  All of sudden a smoke alarm goes off and you race to the front door and discover round is pretty but not useable.  Same is true in public buildings.  You can’t get into the stairwell if you have sweating palms.  Lever type handles should be the standard.  Not only are they safer but when your arms are full, you can actually open the door with an elbow, or a nose, or some other body part.

But I digress.  We’re talking safety features that lock us out of individual choices.  Like gasoline mowers that have a cutoff bar that must be constantly grasped to operate.  Or power saws that have a double button for start up.  What if you can’t squeeze two buttons because of a prior power saw accident?

Take the newer shower facets that have temperature protection.  The engineers assumed that there would never be an occasion when anybody would want scolding water coming out of the shower head.  Well, I say if I want to create a steam filled bathroom, it should be my choice.