Providing the illusion of control tends to make things, especially electronic things, needlessly complicated.
We know we're all just specks in a mammoth universe, but somehow having a cordless drill with 20 different settings makes us feel more in charge of our own destinies.
That's why every product comes with excess capability. I was watering the flowers the other day when it occurred to me to contemplate the hose nozzle. It has, like, 18 settings, which I think include Mist, Shower, Jet, Warehouse Fire and Non-Lethal Riot Suppression. That seems like a lot of settings for pansies.
I have a folding ladder that can contort itself into positions I can't imagine ever using. When would I need a ladder that forms the shape of a W? If I entered a ladder spelling bee perhaps?
I can't stop global warming but I have a car with "climate control." That's a rather big promise. Rising sea levels may inundate the East Coast, but I'll still be able to drive through a submerged New Jersey at a constant 72 degrees. Who wouldn't be comforted?
The entire infomercial world is based on the illusion of control.
The tools all carry the promise of being so versatile, you would never again need the assistance of another human being.
The kitchen appliances all promise to finally eliminate the inconveniences that have made getting nourishment such a chore for the whole of human history. So if you survive the apocalypse, you can go right on making fruit smoothies at home.
Providing the illusion of control tends to make things, especially electronic things, needlessly complicated. So I had to develop a strategy that I call the Rule of Three.
The Rule of Three states that no matter how many thousands of features a device offers, you probably really only will use three of them. Everything else is hype.
The camcorder, which came with a thick manual and a CD and directions for finding an online tutorial, looked hopelessly complex until I realized that for 99 percent of what I need to do, three buttons will suffice: Power, Record and Playback. Generally, when I break out the camcorder, I'm filming a birthday party, not directing Daniel Day Lewis and Meryl Streep in a remake of "Gone with the Wind."
I have a dishwasher that offers me six different ways to clean dishes, including Power Wash (for Type A personalities, I presume). There's also a Delicate Wash, in case I want to throw in a load of kittens with the dinner plates.
In all the time I've had the dishwasher, I've used exactly one setting: Eco Wash. I don't know what it does that Power Wash doesn't, but it implies that I might be able to save the planet while spraying baked-bean residue off a casserole dish.
That makes me feel like I'm in control.
-Joe Blundo's column So to Speak appears in the Life section of The Columbus Dispatch. Visit his blog at Dispatch.com