Here's the Scoop: April 21, 2010

Read the fine print...if you have time
Tuesday is software download day. Nearly every week, I am presented with an automatic e-mail from Apple asking whether I’d like to download any of the assorted software updates being presented. As a general rule, I have no idea what purpose is served by the updates. But, if the changes are for software I regularly use, I install the upgrades.

Before I can begin using any of this “free” stuff from the company, though, I have to “agree” to the terms presented. This is very easy — simply stare at the small print for a split-second, decide I’ve got better things to do, and click the “agree” button. Simple. Easy. Scary.
What did I agree to do?

Most likely, I agreed not to sell this software and bunch of other technical stuff. I trust Apple, so I’m not terribly worried that I’m going to do something with the company’s software that’s going to upset them. I doubt that Steve Jobs and a crew of huge guys in black turtlenecks will storm my house looking to break my best typing fingers because I violated an agreement I had not thoroughly reviewed.

Just skimming it
But I’m not so confident about what may happen with all the other agreements I sign without, ummm, what’s the word — reading — these documents.

Don’t be shaking your head in disgust. I’m certain that most of you do the same thing. You sign up to buy a product on the Internet or to purchase a car or something similar and, well, there’s a good TV show on so you take the salesperson’s word for what you’re signing.

I’m sure there’s a small group of folks who read every last line of such agreements. These people are called nerds. Of course, they are cautious, smart nerds and probably never have to deal with the problems created by having signed off on a sketchy contract.

It’s not that I don’t hang out with nerds. I do. I probably qualify for this description with some of my characteristics. But not when it comes to reading those pesky agreements that contain lots of words written in very tiny type.

I recently commented to a true nerd friend about having signed off on countless agreements over the years without ever actually reading one. He was shocked.

A few days later this fellow asked me to sign some paperwork for a job he was doing on my behalf. I scrawled my name and forgot about it — until I approached my car the next day and found it surrounded a huge pile of cow manure and filled to the brim with packing “peanuts!” I was taken aback for a moment, until I spotted my friend nearby, smirking.

“I guess I’ll start paying a bit more attention to what I sign,” I responded knowingly.
“I was going to include the severed goat head that you also approved,” he explained, “but that seemed like it a baaad idea.”
— Brian Sweeney