May 18, 2009 0
Inertia is the only thing more powerful than self interest. As a result, default settings on the programs and web services we use are among the most powerful influencers of our behavior when we use computers. These defaults often have interesting unintended consequences.
Consider this: when Microsoft changes the default font in MS Office, the lives of thousands, nay millions, of trees hang in the balance. One page of Times New Roman 12 point text can hold 3,726 characters, or 292 words in a sample page of text.
Substitute Arial for Times New Roman and you can fit 2,944 characters, 252 words of sample text, which is roughly 79% of the total for Times New Roman.
Now try Calibri, which Microsoft just made the standard in MS Office 2007, and you can fit 3,300 characters, or 276 words, which is about 88% as much as Times New Roman.
Now think about a few consequences:
Millions of students around the world write papers every week whose length is determined not by word count but by page number. With Microsoft’s recent default switch, the majority of students who don’t ever change the default font in Word will now be writing papers that are around 90% as long as those turned in a few years ago. That means that a substantial number of trees will not be needed for papers and that students will have more time to do things like get in trouble or start billion dollar companies.