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The Fine Print

Can you read this?

Apparently, it contains important (legal?) information that the automotive manufacturer wants (or doesn't want) you to know. I can't read it either. But that's only the half of it...

This morning I turned on the TV to find out what the weather was going to be like for the rest of the day, when I happened to catch a car ad. It looked like the typical ad, until I saw a blur scrolling in a window at the bottom of the screen. I quickly grabbed the remote for my handy dandy digital video recorder, and went back to review. Sure enough, there was text at the bottom of the screen. I paused the image to read what it said, but there was no chance. The text was simply too small. I'm sure you could blame the standard definition video signal, or the fact that it had been stretched to fit onto a widescreen TV, or that the very bottom portion of the picture contained the weather summary thus squishing the rest of the ad into the top of the screen, but there was no way I could read the text. In fact, I carefully advanced through each frame, and couldn't make out a single word.

The fact that I couldn't read this important notice was troublesome. However, I was willing to cut them a break, and say that perhaps on a better TV, with a better signal, the text would be legible. I'll speak with my wife later and see what she thinks about upgrading our TV set and cable signal. ;-) Even with those allowances, I simply don't think I'd be able to consume the content as it sped by my view.

Time for a little math...

By squinting my eyes and using the frame advance function to find the best image, I was able to discern that there were 10 lines of text in that little window. While it was on screen, the text scrolled another 10 lines, for a total of 20 lines of important content. By capturing an image of the screen, reshaping it to a standard 4:3 aspect ratio, and comparing it to other text, I was able to estimate approximately 39 'words' of text per line. With 20 lines of text, that makes 780 words. Some paragraphs ended before the edge of the screen, so we'll call it 750 words to be fair.

Again using my frame advance button on the remote, I was able to count 35 frames from the very first hint of text, to where the text dissolved and went away. (Note the 1 second time difference in these two images)  At 30 frames per second, that's just under 1.2 seconds of air time. Scale that up to a minute's worth, and you get 37,500 words per minute! That's the speed you would need to read at to be able to consume this message (again, assuming you could read the text in the first place). The English version of the incredibly long novel "War and Peace" is said to be 560,000 words. Reading at 37,500 words per minute would allow you to finish the book in under 15 minutes. Now that's a skill I could use!

I did some checking online, and the average adult reads at a rate of 250 - 300 words per minute, with an 80% comprehension rate. That means that our brilliant ad designers are expecting us to read at a rate more than 125 times faster than the average person! Unfortunately, the average car-buying consumer just doesn't read that fast.

I understand that it's probably filled with incredibly boring legalese that they don't really expect you to worry about. If that's the case, why bother showing it at all?


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