December 4, 2008

There’s a new Blackberry in my pocket – now my phone and my e-mail will follow me everywhere. As part of the purchase I had to sign in three places and initial in 5 or 6 more, I lost track. It was the kind of legal paperwork my father taught me to read before signing, but honestly these kinds of agreement forms are so ubiquitous and lengthy that for most of us our eyes glaze over. Renting a car? Downloading software? Getting prepped for surgery? Sign here and initial there. Does anybody read it all anymore?

Feeling a little guilty about my neglect of the paper forms at the store, I actually read the user agreement on the mobile screen before clicking the “I agree” button. The bulk of the terms are basic common sense that should go without saying –the company is not responsible for damages if you use the device in the commission of a crime, you are responsible for what you download, etc. The company will also collect your personal data and pretty much do what they want with it. I have to agree to the user agreement, but the company reserves the right to change it whenever they want, and it’s my responsibility to check their website every once in awhile to see if anything has changed.

When did we become a society that silently accepts the necessity of signing off on obvious divisions of responsibilities and signing away our rights to object to our treatment? Do all those user agreements and release forms really do anything to make life better, more fair, safer? I doubt it, and yet, I go along. I fear the next generation won’t even think to stop and think about it. Sigh . . . . .