Tuesday, 25 March 2008

The fine print

I’ve been reading a bit of fine print lately out of curiosity and because I’m sick of being burned after the fact by clauses I knew nothing about. Some of the clauses are so ‘out there’ you’d swear they’ve been added just to see if you’re paying attention. The fearless enthusiasm we show when waiving our rights shows how inured we have become to the power of those words.

The practise of actually reading fine print documentation has been actively discouraged over the years by the bulk and complexity of the language used. Plain speech is avoided specifically to frustrate the understanding and attention span of the average reader. Their acceptance of the stated terms will usually be made by default rather than informed consent for the sake of expediency.

The clever legalese ensures binding terms cover a corporation in as many ways as possible with the offender’s full consent. They know we will tick the box even if we don’t understand or agree with the terms to get the objects we desire. We seem content to be told how many of our rights we have signed away after the dreaded situation arises.

How we can defend ourselves though, when faced with such disclaimers as:

“Clauses 3, 4, 10, 11,” (etc), “survive cancellation or suspension of this Agreement (regardless of any other clauses that may survive cancellation or suspension).”

You can’t even cancel your agreement without this clause holding some power over you. Scary stuff.

Trouble is, if you read the fine print of everything you sign these days, you’d spend hours arguing the interpretation of the syntax or you’d refuse to sign. So what do we do? We blindly sign, putting our heads in the noose each time by admitting our understanding of a document professionally designed not to be understood.

What’s my point? Be wary, but don’t try to be too clever. Living in this world is already a tricky balancing act of faith and luck. So have a bit of faith in your good luck and keep your eye on that fine print.

(Like it? See - Secrets)


SuzyQ said...

I think that we should lobby the government (via something like www.getup.org.au) to force companies to write all consumer contracts in plain language.
That would include bloody insurance policies, telephone contracts and any web site conditions you have to agree to.

Girl of LA said...

I just had a bad experience with fine print recently. I took out a small cashier's loan, and since I don't have a car, I was running late to get the repayment back to their office.

Some hours later, they showed up to my house! Apparently it's in the fine print that if you're late and you don't come in at the exact time you say, they go to your house.

You obviously cannot run late. >:/