Tyranny by default

Tyranny by default

I got this in my mind since a while. I do not like when I have a default preselected on any choice I have to do.

And I think, it’s bigger than the fact I just do not like it. But what are those default choices that I’ll rage about in a while? It’s all the configuration choice you see, all the already opted-in check-boxes, all the radio buttons already selected on the ‘by default‘ configuration options.

 What’s a default?

Those options are chosen not randomly (else, they won’t suggest anyone). They are the one that ‘most people choose’ but no one here is most people. Take the public furniture for instance. They’re tailored for a standard human of average 1m70 tall. Which correspond to the average size, but is then, probably, the size of 1% of the population. So, this ‘most people fitted’ thing is fitted for no one in the end. They could have build a public bench tailored for 1m30 or 2m10 tall people.

The thing is, in the case of public bench, there’s a lot of people ‘around’ 1m70 tall (from 1m60 to 1m80) and those people will accommodate so, in the end, only a small share of the crowd will have problem with it. It’s because the meatspace is a non-discrete space.

In the wonderful world of cyberspace and software, we are in a discreet space, with a limited number of options. When you setup your system, you have to make some choices, mainly because you need one tool to do one task. Maybe you’ll need a backup tool and a test tool. But you do not need ten web browsers.

When you’re setting up your system, and you’re confronted to a choice like this:

Choose your web browser:

  • browser1 (default)
  • browser2
  • browser3

And if you have no more information, you’ll just go for the default one, because it’s more convenient.

Let the other decides

But, by doing this, without having a think process, balancing the odds and evens of each solution, you let the guy who made this choice make this decisions for you. The ‘default choice‘ then go from the ‘what most people want’ to ‘what we have interest for you to choose’.

When you go on Facebook, the default is, basically, everything is public. This is not what most people want – or they’re won’t be any privacy issue related to Facebook -it is what Facebook want. When you go on youtube, they will asks you if your location must be used to identify the video you might want to see.

They try to lure you in the fact that they know what suits you best. They want you to stop thinking about the problematics around choice and just click on the ‘I agree’ button. Providing a default choice, or a default configuration, is giving the possibility to someone to be lazy and to not think.

And yes, every time they can, people will choose the easy way. This is why we have governments which decides for us what’s good or bad after all.

But, by removing each and every occasion to have no choices but think, people will finally have an habits of not thinking and just clicking ‘Next’ without even reading what are their choices.

If people were really thinking about the implications of the default configuration made for them in a lot of modern system (from Apple’s product to Google’s engines, from Ubuntu default config, to the Skype system) I think the privacy issues raised by social networks such as Facebook or Twitter would have been addressed earlier.

And this is a tyranny. This is a small group of people imposing their choices and interests to a vast majority of other people. It became worse because, then, a majority of people will share the same default configuration, and then the minority of users that do not want to use those settings will be ostracized.

To make things worse, the ones who decides what are the default will add more and more default choices everywhere they can. You would not accept that, the day you’re going to vote, someone gives you an already filled-in bulletin to just ease the process of choice, that is unacceptable, right?

Then why do you let people doing the same with your privacy? Or with your communication system? Or your friends?

The default and the stereotypes

Yeah, I know, the transition sounds ugly. But there’s no such thing as a smooth transition.

So, what are stereotypes? They are kind of default identity. I’ve already wrote a part about the default identity claiming that there’s no default identity in the cyberspace. But there is.

People tells me that I look like a hacker. They expect a cute girl to be an easy one without a brain, they consider the physically different people as strangers and invaders, they think Anonymous are only 14 years old script kiddies in their room.

I do think this is a natural process, it’s how our brains work. But it’s not a reason to keep this process that way. I mean, if we should keep this behavior because it’s natural, we’d better go back collecting plants and hunting big mammals to eat, while leaving naked in a cave.

So, when you’re making a default choice about someone, you’ll stick a stereotype on them. You’ll recall of them has this brand of person and you won’t think about who they really are.

When you consider someone using a stereotype, you do the exact same thing as when you’re not making a choice and use the default one: you refuse to think. And, wince you’re going to use this stereotype in a social situation, you’ll enforce the stereotype in the person identity, enclosing them to the point where they can’t act differently of the stereotype you’ve build upon them.

Decide by yourself

So, I’m not saying that you must spend thirty hours a day to speak and discover everyone. Just that, when someone told you that this person is an asshole, or that this one is ‘hawt’ or whatever, the ones telling you this are doing the same that the ones telling you that you must share everything on your wall with everyone in the world.

It’s not that the stereotype is true or false, it’s just that you should made your idea about this person by yourself.

And it’s the same for software.

Or when you buy a computer that is sold with a pre-installed system.

You have a brain. Use it as much as you can, before someone tries to forbid it.