Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why not just leave it blank?

I'm occasionally amused by people giving out useless information - FAQs that answer questions that nobody would ever ask, advertisements that are full of useless-yet-exciting statements, that sort of thing. It seems like people could have saved themselves a lot of trouble by just not writing anything at all.

To be honest, the inspiration for this post struck me when I looked at a cereal box. On the side of the box, in fancy letters, it proclaims, "Excellent source of six vitamins and minerals." Now, this seems to invite a few questions, like: Which six vitamins and minerals? What does it mean to be an "excellent" source? and, Are you sure you're not actually describing rocks? Had that particular sentence been replaced by a blank space, I don't think the box would have been any poorer for it.

Or, let's take another example, which I can see without even getting up. On the box of Band-Aids on the shelf next to me, it says: "Greater comfort and flexibility for better protection." First, I'm not really sure how the latter follows from the former, but even before that there's another issue. "Greater" compared to what? Since they don't say, what we have here is another completely meaningless sentence.

I think it might be fun, if I have a dull afternoon sometime, to grab a Sharpie and go around crossing out all the useless sentences that somehow end up on things. Maybe it's not exactly a productive use of my time, but I think it'd be interesting to look around afterward and see what's left. Plus, imagine how much cleaner the world would look if you only had to look at information you actually cared about.

5 comments:

Kiriska said...

Well, to be fair, a lot of information on packages have implied meanings. Your Band-Aids, for example, suggest they are "greater" than a previous edition of their product. Those are just widely accepted assumptions, but I do agree that the "greater comfort and flexibility" doesn't necessarily lead to "better protection."

Cereal boxes know that most people don't really care what's in their cereal as long as it's good for them. Vitamins and minerals are widely accepted to be good for you, and most people would just leave it at that. I assume that they're also listed in your nutritional facts. I would assume that "excellent" equates to "sufficient" as far as vitamins and minerals go.

Lastly, I guess you're kind of right about useless information in FAQs and profiles, but those are there for the self-indulgence of the people filling them out rather than the people reading it later. Most people secretly like talking about themselves.

P. Static said...

Well, sure, there's an implied meaning, but it's pretty thin. :/ And really, it's kind of moot - can you imagine any situation where you'd want to know the nutritional content of cereal, for instance, where you wouldn't just check the nutrition info on the other side of the box? I'd say that, if there's no situation where something would be considered useful, it's fair to call it useless. XD

Frank Church said...

The Church is 50% better than the temple. We also are proud to say we hardly ever turn in confessing parishioners to the police. At The Church, we believe in civil liberties.

You know, I never really pay attention to stuff like "Pure Electrolytes to support your body's complex electrochemical network" (that's from a bottle of water in my room) - I mostly assume it's BS/don't care because I'm inured to advertising. (Also, my random rants tend to be about stuff like Joe Lieberman.) Anyway, said bottle of water is currently filled with genuine Delaware County tap water. Fresh from the basement bathroom, it is. So if I happen to die tonight, you can probably blame the water.

wildflowered said...

Invariably, the one place I actually need bandaids is on my knees, where they generally tend to do no particular good.

Æther said...

Might I point out that useless information is proven to be 20% more appealing than no information at all? Hm...like the advertisement on my bus ride to campus for Jack Daniel's that says "What the bottle won't tell you a sip will." Doubtless I don't need to sip it to know anything at all. The whole idea is that it's catchy and gets your attention. The assumption is probably that most people don't even think about these things in detail.

Also, you totally know that I have by now defeated you many times in your Hiro game that proves how nerdy we really are.