Agreed, but it's the only sane advice you will get
The reasons you have to look at the utf8 flag sometimes is because some of the code (mostly CPAN modules) do not use the provided sane advice.
If you want to read/write text in a portable manner, or convert between text and binary (integer) representation of characters, you have to specify what encoding you're expecting. If you don't, your code will only reliably work on 7bit ASCII text. And that'll only work on most platforms. That's the executive summary, and that's really all there is to it.