When you swear that you have read and agreed to the terms and conditions of some online service, what are you agreeing to?

We have taken up this question before, and Dr. Boli hopes it will not spoil his readers’ fun to reveal here at the beginning that his opinion has not changed.

EventBrite is a popular ticketing service used by many organizations, including the City of Pittsburgh Environmental Services to schedule appointments for electronics recycling. If you have an old television that has died and passed on to a better life free of reruns at last, it is necessary to have the carcass recycled, and you must set up an appointment to have the chauffeur drive it to the recycling center.

In order to get the ticket for your recycling appointment from EventBrite, you must agree to three separate legal documents. Two of them, taken together, add up to 17,363 words, which would be, at a commonly accepted average adult reading rate, an hour and a quarter of uninterrupted reading. The third document does not exist: the link leads to a generic landing page, and the document cannot be found by searching for its title on the site. But you must agree to it anyway.

Let us ignore the phantom document for the moment and assume that, being a figment of our imagination, it contains no words at all. We are still required to agree to 17,363 words.

How does this compare to other legal documents?

The Constitution of the United States of America, including the secretary’s attestation of the corrections, is 4,498 words.

It takes almost four times as many words to state the conditions for receiving a recycling appointment as it took to set up the entire machinery of American government.

Ah, you say, but the machinery of American government was defective, and the Constitution has had to be amended more than once.

The Bill of Rights, including the preamble, is 828 words.

The rest of the amendments, from XI up through XXVII, including their dates of ratification, are 2,698 words.

The Constitution with all amendments, as well as the attestations and other matter, comes to 8,024 words. That is still less than half what we have to agree to in order to receive a recycling appointment from EventBrite.

And that is under the assumption that the third document, which was not available for us to read but to which we still had to agree, contained no words at all. We may be permitted to doubt that its language, when it exists, would be as terse as all that.

The fact that courts take these agreements seriously is all the evidence you need that our justice system has been sold lock, stock, barrel, and infantryman to the capitalists. These are not agreements: they are conditions imposed at will by private organizations upon people who cannot choose to refuse them. (Recycling electronics like televisions, for example, is a legal obligation.) The correct term for imposing conditions in that way is slavery, and it would be healthier for our political discourse if we simply said what we meant.


  1. KevinT says:

    With all the ravines around Pittsburgh, it would be easy enough to avoid entirely the recycling agreements. Your TV could join innumerable couches, Bud Light and IC Light cans, tires, and other detritus of modern life. The only requirement is that one’s chauffeur be discreet.

  2. Belfry Bat says:

    I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that some 99% of the words, or clauses, are there specifically to stave off the merest hint of a possibility of any lawsuit along any lines which Some Other Software Company has already lost; viewed from this angle, we’re probably looking at Chesterton’s “small laws”, although i quite agree it’s in very poor form that they insist on our acknowledging that such precedent exists and promising not to use it.

  3. Fred says:

    Of course in the future with VR we will have to walk down an endless hallway with the terms and conditions printed on the walls before accessing any website or program.

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