How many times have you heard this warning “Be careful, it’s going in reverse” since you first learnt to drive? So often that it is difficult to remember, because it became too common when you drive. This is the power of “standards”: they help us understand and assimilate things without further analysis. This is an important challenge we face in informed decision-making processes.
Imagine the FIFA World Cup with every country having different rules, different sizes of goals and different number of players. Imagine traffic lights with no logic and being different in every country or city. Even image different restroom signs in public places when you have an “emergency”. Imagine the number of car accidents that would occur if, in another country, cars displayed a strong red light (like the brake lights) when they are going in reverse. Just imagine this type of situation for a minute and think about what would happen without these “invisible” standards which can already be considered part of our global culture.
Apart from being an almost unnoticed help, they prevent us from having excessive information we should unnecessarily know and process. And every time our brain processes useless or “non-critical” information, we are devoting time, resources and energy we could use or direct towards a positive or innovative direction. This is the foundation of the principles and concepts of neuroplasticity.
In the world of scientific and technical information, in different areas of science, different standards exist which are used for designing databases, developing information applications or sorting information using indexes that enable categorization and retrieval of large amounts of content. These significant contents would be or would have been impossible to “retrieve” without these standards and would have left hundreds of researchers and decision-makers without “weapons” in their decisions, works, or projects. If you lived in the time of the first text processors, you would probably remember how difficult it was to share simple documents in different text processors having “different standards”, Word, Sidekick, WordStar, WordPerfect, AmiPro, Write, Notepad, etc.
As a professional for knowledge management and use of information technology in Public Health, I can guarantee that without technical standards, organizations and groups especially devoted to it, it would be practically impossible to properly co-exist in this Information Society. Besides, access to information and knowledge sharing would be a high-risk and uncontrolled, almost useless, task.
Some time ago, I decided to take a course to become a professional diver, with license to dive to a depth of 30 meters. You cannot imagine how difficult it was for me to learn that the “thumbs up signal”, commonly and internationally used to express “approval” or “OK”, is used in diving to tell your partner that “you want or need to ascend”. I spent several days diving thinking that my partner was telling me that he “was really well” before I learnt that he “wanted to go up because his tank was running out of air or that something was wrong”.
I am certain that you have probably never considered that the steps of a staircase are all the same size. This makes us walk “automatically” in any staircase of the world, without the need to look at every step when we go up or down. And believe me, when you come across a staircase that is different, you immediately realize it. And no one has ever taught us this because “it is part of our culture”, we have incorporated it in our daily living as we grow up and develop.
The same happens even with sounds. Or else, listen to these sounds and let me know what they remind you of ….
My daughter inspired me to write this post when last week, in the parking lot of a mall, she told me: “Dad, be careful, it’s going in reverse” warning me to avoid crashing another car.
And there is something I cannot help thinking: if we can make global agreements for things like these, without even thinking about them, why not doing it with much simpler and less complex matters…