Methinks the cabinet doth protest too much

Duting my initial survey of the office I now work in, I came across this box:

No sandwiches, either.

I have honestly been having a really hard time putting into words precisely how this sign made me feel. It’s been bothering me. And after literally hours of musing on and off, and several failed attempts at writing it up, I realized it was simple — I felt deeply and abidingly suspicious that there were in fact some fuses in that cabinet. And I felt compelled to tell it that okay, okay, whatever, I believed it.

I mean, why would a cabinet that didn’t have fuses in it need a sign saying so?

In fact, come to think of it, why do we put signs on things at all?

We label things when two conditions are satisfied:

  1. There is a cost associated with people not knowing the information
  2. The information isn’t plain to see

For example, take “CAUTION: HIGH VOLTAGE”, and other warnings. The cost of not knowing about the high voltage is a potentially lethal shock. And electricity is invisible. Sure, let’s let people know about that.

With something like “Recycling: Plastics and Glass Only”, the cost of not knowing is recyclable materials might be put in landfill or inappropriate materials might contaminate the recyclables. And it’s not possible to know where some bucket will be carted off to without some indication. So that makes sense.

But this NO FUSES business? Granted, unless you have x-ray vision, you wouldn’t be able to tell without opening the cabinet that there were no fuses in it. But what’s the cost of someone not knowing that in advance? In order for it to make any sense, there has to be some consequence to being wrong about the presence or absence of fuses in that cabinet. So it’s possible that there used to be people who were desperately looking for fuses all the time, and they couldn’t afford the precious seconds looking for them in the wrong place. But then why don’t I see that sign on everything that doesn’t have fuses in it?

Or maybe there are many more people than I would think who under no circumstances want to see fuses. Like maybe fuses killed their parents. And that sign is just to let them know that it’s totally safe to open that cabinet without their having to confront the painful past.

Of course those two scenarios are absurd. Consequently, failing to come up with a way to reconcile that sign’s message with the two requisites for rational signage, I cannot take it at face value. The most obvious conclusion is that the sign is trying to deceive me. Because fuses were in high demand in that office, but the fuses in that cabinet were already being used for something important. So in order to keep people who would go to any length, no matter how nefarious, from stealing fuses that were already in use, someone put up a sign that claimed that cabinet had none. Crazy? Definitely. But, not as far fetched as what I’d need to believe to think that there really weren’t any fuses in there.

Maybe the sign is trying to be sarcastic. What do you think? What could possibly explain that sign? Oh, and no, I haven’t yet checked inside the cabinet.

UPDATE: after much urging from the peanut gallery, I went ahead and investigated the oh-so-innocent sounding box. What I found was surprising.

9 thoughts on “Methinks the cabinet doth protest too much

  1. I think the cabinet is full of spring snakes. You know, some guy (like you) walks by, thinks (squinting suspiciously), “Wait a minute. Why would that cabinet say it has no fuses unless it actually has fuses and wants to hide them?” Then, when you open the cabinet, out pop the spring snakes! Joke’s on you!

  2. Open the box!

    (I am reminded of the mysterious box trailer that Tim saw parked on the street near Yale one time with the cryptic warning sign “CAUTION: HORNETS”)

  3. The cost:
    When something electrical blows, there is inevitably a search for the associated fuse or switch. Frequently, the precise switch or fuse, is unlabeled and elusive. Example: My parents’ apartment has many intricacies (electrically speaking), poor labeling, and a poetic absence of order or common sense. If I were looking for the right fuse, and couldn’t find it, and saw a box like the one here in the pic, I would appreciate knowing that that NO FUSES were inside before I went ahead and opened it. Granted, opening the box usually isn’t such a big deal. Unless it is closed with screws, locked, or if there is just a bunch of crap conveniently positioned in front of it which would need to be moved before opening it (like at Mom and Dad’s). It seems to me that is the cost. Somebody probably wasted their time at one point and took a moment to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. I recommend that you open it and make sure, and then amend the sign to say “There are no fuses in this cabinet. Really, trust me, I checked, August 2009.”

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