So I’m watching a DVD and the usual legal disclaimer – “The views expressed in the commentary do not reflect the views of the studio, etc.” – comes on the screen. Whatever. Such a warning label seems unnecessary, but what do I know? Maybe there’s been a rash of lawsuits over DVD extras. Then the same legal warning comes on in French. Another 15 seconds pass by. Then Spanish. By the time all the warnings are complete, I’ve wasted 45 seconds of my life, and this doesn’t even include the requisite FBI copyright warning.
Granted, 45 seconds isn’t a lot of time. But multiply those same 45 seconds by the number of DVD’s watched everyday and you’ve got a significant amount of wasted life. And for what? So Paramount doesn’t have to worry about some offended customer suing them? That seems like a terrible tradeoff, at least for the consumer. My leisure time is being whittled away by nervous lawyers.
Or what about airport security lines? We impose these strict regulations – no liquids, take off your shoes, belt, etc. – without really considering the cumulative effects of such regulations. The screening process is a minor inconvenience for each individual, but when you do the math the inconvenience quickly adds up. Is the risk worth it? Perhaps. But it seems like we don’t even take the small burden imposed on lots of people into account.
Or what about mandating MRI screening for breast cancer? Last week, the American Cancer Society issued new guidelines recommending an annual MRI scan starting at age 30 for women at high risk for breast cancer. While this plan will certainly help detect some cancers that conventional mammograms or ultrasound wouldn’t detect, it will also generate an inordinate number of false positives. As a result, more women will have to suffer through needless biopsies and the intense anxiety of thinking that they may have breast cancer. (They also have to pay the ensuing bills.) Now perhaps mandatory MRI’s for women are worth the increase in false positives. But my worry is that this sort of personal “inconvenience” wasn’t even taken into account. (It’s very difficult to quantify anxiety.) We are so obsessed with the worst case scenario – a studio getting sued, someone smuggling a bomb in their shoes, not detecting the malignancy – that we don’t even consider the hassle caused by our attempts to avoid the worse case scenario. I’m sure that, in certain circumstances, the mass inconvenience is entirely justified. (Wearing a seatbelt, for example, should be mandatory.) But I’m not convinced that I need to see that warning label every time I watch a movie, or that it really makes sense to ban tubes of toothpaste over three ounces from carry-on luggage. Daniel Kahneman said it best: “Worst case scenarios overwhelm our probabilistic assessment, as the mere prospect of the worst case has so much more emotional oomph behind it.”