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On the Humble Default 339

Hugh Pickens sends along Kevin Kelly's paean to the default. "One of the greatest unappreciated inventions of modern life is the default. 'Default' is a technical concept first used in computer science in the 1960s to indicate a preset standard. ... Today the notion of a default has spread beyond computer science to the culture at large. It seems such a small thing, but the idea of the default is fundamental... It's hard to remember a time when defaults were not part of life. But defaults only arose as computing spread; they are an attribute of complex technological systems. There were no defaults in the industrial age. ... The hallmark of flexible technological systems is the ease by which they can be rewired, modified, reprogrammed, adapted, and changed to suit new uses and new users. Many (not all) of their assumptions can be altered. The upside to endless flexibility and multiple defaults lies in the genuine choice that an individual now has, if one wants it. ... Choices materialize when summoned. But these abundant choices never appeared in fixed designs. ... In properly designed default system, I always have my full freedoms, yet my choices are presented to me in a way that encourages taking those choices in time — in an incremental and educated manner. Defaults are a tool that tame expanding choice."

Computers can figure out all kinds of problems, except the things in the world that just don't add up.