It’s a little scary how quickly I will hit the “I agree” button just to make all that contractual verbiage disappear
ive me three pages of fine-print legalese to scroll through and then ask me if “I agree,” and you know that I will. It’s actually a little scary how quickly I will hit the “I agree” button just to make all of that contractual verbiage disappear. (I suspect I’m not alone here.) Sometimes I wonder if the people behind all this online paperwork are onto me and have conspired to pad their message with lines of unnecessary additional text, designed to overwhelm me and ensure that I don’t even think of attempting to read it all the way through.
If I were trying to encourage people to read some truly important but utterly boring block of text, I’d start by announcing an e-contest hidden within the copy. (Congratulations! If you have read this far, text SNORE to…) That ought to keep people scrolling.
But I digress. And maybe I’m not a good sample subject. Because as much as I enjoy the art of the written word, my eyes glaze over when I encounter technical or legal writing. At my first computer job, my mentor handed me half a dozen three-inch binders, detailing the inner workings of whatever computer operating system was in vogue 30 years ago. Perhaps it was that technical overload that left me traumatized for life.
Legalese has a similar effect on me. I once flipped through my friend’s law school textbook and found it excruciating to slog through a full paragraph. When I encounter a string of compound words like “heretofore” and “inasmuch as,” I know that I am in way over my head. (I also know that these lawyer types must be paid by the hour and not by the word, or they wouldn’t keep cobbling multiword phrases into single words.)
At the DMV or the dentist, I find it ironic that my teenage children will always take the time to give at least a perfunctory read of the fine print of any legal document they’re asked to sign. But while I have a certain respect for the fact that these kids have the patience to do that, I still feel the need to apologize to the clerk, secretary, and the line of people behind us. “Sorry, he won’t sign anything until he reads it all the way through.”
Thirty years ago, when we closed on our home, I was in labor with our second child. We moved the meeting up a few hours because I promised the seller that I would attend. I sat timing contractions at the conference table in the bank, while the reams of paperwork were passed around and around and around. (Nobody was actually reading as far as I could tell.) “Mrs. Shulman, sign here, here, here, and here… and how are you feeling? Good. Now, just initial here and here.” I am sure that experience also contributed to my — can I call it a paperwork phobia?
According to Google, “Papyrophobiacs are afraid of seeing, touching, or getting cut by paper. Just writing on paper brings terror to a papyrophobiac’s heart.” Thank goodness, my issue is not nearly that extreme. Most of the time, I don’t even opt for paperless billing, preferring the hard copies to their ephemeral counterparts. My issue is more like “formaphobia,” the fear of filling out forms. While it may not be a bona fide clinical term, it sums up my problem nicely. I can’t deal with forms. Avoidance is one proven coping method. Passing said forms on to one’s significant other is another.
Like everything in life, this paperwork plight is evolving. In fact, the situation may actually be improving. The auto-fill option on electronic forms is a G-dsend when it gets things right, and a real hassle when it doesn’t. And when I recently encountered new technology at a doctor’s office that required a mere scan of my palm to pull up an impressively thorough profile spanning years of my medical history with a comprehensive collection of medical providers, including every facility I’ve ever been to, I felt like I’d entered the world of tomorrow. Kudos to the medical establishment for collaborating on this 21st-century concept.
Bottom line: I don’t do forms if I can avoid them. From government FAFSAs to school lunch forms and everything in between. And tax forms… just the thought of them can make me break out in hives. Whenever I can, I pass these along to my husband, who amazingly doesn’t seem to mind a bit, while I think I can safely say that I would rather have a tooth pulled.
Just tell me where to sign.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 818)
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