Re: [Evolution] Evaluating Evolution- some basic questions [about the forced hyphens in signatures]

I'm really trying to understand what is so objectionable about the
hyphens for some people.  I don't really understand.

Let me answer your request for explanation with a completely fictitious
story - an off-line corollary, if you will - to explain why it's
objectionable to me. Indulge me.

Suppose there's another inhabited planet, far far away, called "Dirt".
Dirt is eerily similar to ours in most respects, including language,
culture, and technology - but with a few small differences. For example,
on Dirt there is a group of respected English-language academics, who
regularly meet. They call themselves the ERFC - the "English Rules
Formation Committee". When this committee meets, it usually focuses on
matters of concern only to academics - such as what size font should be
standard for English-language academic papers, how wide margins should
be on those papers (14 millimetres or 15: it's a much-debated question),
whether the Dewey-decimal system should be used for filing in English
language libraries, and so forth.

Generally the ERFC sticks to matters that only academics could care
about ... such that outside of academic circles, the rest of Dirt's
citizens are largely unaware of the ERFC, and pay no attention to them.
This situation worked well enough for all concerned, until one day in
2004, when the ERFC meets, and in subsection 4.3 of edict number 3676, a
small item is included. This item states that any letter "i" in a
person's signature must not have a dot / point above the "i", and that
instead it had to be one of those little cutesy small circles that you
sometimes see above the letter "i" - so a little 'o' above the 'i' was
now the only acceptable form of the letter "i" in a signature, by
official ERFC edict.

The rest of Dirt's citizens yawned. They were used to ignoring the ERFC,
and the ERFC had no official jurisdiction over them, and ERFC had issued
edicts before that had been safely ignored (that all mail must be
transported by carrier pigeon being one humorous example). Besides, the
general population comprised 99% of the users of signatures, and
academics only 1%. In academic circles however, it had been the fashion
to include a cutesy o above the i for some time now, and the last few
academic holdouts rapidly changed their signatures following the ERFC
edict, lest they be seen as Luddites. For just as in other groups,
academics were followers of fashion, and no academic wanted to be seen
as unfashionable, lest it hurt their chances of getting funded come
grant time or cause them to be ridiculed by their peers. Furthermore, as
on our world, the academics mostly communicated with other academics,
and they also somewhat overestimated their own importance and were
certain that their way was the right way. Taken together, these factors
produced two distinct signature "cultures": an
i-with-a-cutesy-o-above-it in the signature (common in academia and with
English language technicians), and a normal i in the signature (as used
by everybody else).

Now there was one other difference between Dirt and our world, and that
was the focus of technological innovation. Unlike our world, the focus
of technological innovation on Dirt was on pens. That's right: pens, the
things you write with. But not the cheap Biros of our world, oh no. To a
Dirtian, that would be a relic of the old way of doing things, much as
we might view an abacus as an interesting toy, but no comparison to a
spreadsheet. And Dirt's pens truly were extraordinary, with the things
they could do. You could write a word, misspell it, and it would beep,
and if you squeezed the pen in just the right way, it would go back and
auto-correct the word so that it was now spelled correctly. The pen also
remembered everything you had written, so if you repeatedly used a word
outside of the common dictionary, it would learn that word, and would no
longer beep every time you used it. If you were addressing a letter, it
would search through all the previous addresses you had written, and it
would auto-complete the rest of the address once you had written enough
letters, thus saving you lots of manual writing. And if you were on
holiday, you could write one postcard, and then it would remember that,
and then you could put the pen above all your other postcards, and it
would fill them in with the same message, thus saving you having to
write them out. And if you were at a party, and you met a cute girl, she
could write out her phone number with your pen in the air, and it would
remember that phone number for later. Yes, the people of Dirt truly
loved their pens, and people became very fussy about their personal
preference in pens, and got quite upset if they ever lost their pen.

Of course with this love of pens, it required many pen makers, each with
different models with different strengths and weaknesses. There was the
"PenSoft" company, with their top-selling "PenLook" model (this pen was
seen as having lots of features, but was pretty pricey, and if you found
a bug it was simply impossible to fix it, and getting your personal
information out of this pen into another company's pen was a complete
nightmare). There was "PenOogle" with their "PenMail" model (which was
seen as especially useful if you were on the move, because it didn't
store any information on the pen itself, but rather communicated with
"the great big stationary cupboard in the sky"). And then there was a
group of people who want to make a free pen, that anyone could tinker
with, and they wanted it to be good, and this group was called "Penome",
with their "PenVolution" model, which was aimed at letter writers and
people who wanted to keep information organised. And some of the great
things about PenVolution (or PenVo, as it was sometimes shortened to)
was that it had an active community of users, you could report any
problems you found, and the pen makers (who had many demands on them and
were very busy) would try and help if they could, and then every six
months a new model of PenVo would be released, and you easily upgrade
your old pen to the new pen, at no cost, and get all the great new

Of course, PenVo was not perfect, everybody understood this, but it
steadily got better all the time, with new features and bug fixes, and
the users were generally happy with their PenVo pens. However, there
were a few features that annoyed some of the PenVo users some of the
time, and one of these that caused some debate amongst its users relates
to the ERFC edict mentioned previously. That is because PenVo had this
feature, where if you signed something, it would automatically change
any letter "i"s with a small dot, into letter "i"s with a cutesy little
circle above the i. For the academic or technical PenVo users, this was
great behaviour, and they loved it: it kept them to compliant with the
ERFC, and it ensured that they would never make a fashion faux-pas by
using a non-cutesy i in their signatures, and besides everybody they
communicated with used it, so what was the problem? The ordinary users
of PenVo saw things differently though. To them the cutesy-o-over-the-i
looked out-of-place and unprofessional in an adult's signature.
Furthermore, they didn't think it was any of the pen's business how they
signed things - it was after all their signature, their personally
identifying mark, and it should leave it as it was, thanks very much.
And some of them felt that they had been signing things since long long
before the ERFC ever told them how to draw an "i", and that they were
perfectly happy with their signatures, and the ERFC should butt out and
concentrate on the things that only academics cared out. And
furthermore, the ordinary people looked at the correspondence they
received from their friends and workmates, and none of those had
signatures with cutesy-o-over-the-i, rather they all had normal looking
"i"s in the signatures, every single last one of them. And their friends
told them that none of their pens had forced them to change their
signature. So some of the ordinary people started to resent this
behaviour being forced on them by PenVo, and asked for it to be changed,
or at least given the chance of turning the cutesy i off when they were
certain they didn't want it. And some of the ordinary users shared tips
with other users like "I write a letter 'j' in my signature instead of
any 'i', and then I use correction fluid to cover up the bottom bit of
the 'j', that way it looks like a normal 'i' and then PenVo doesn't try
and mess with it". And the academics and technicians were horrified that
normal users would try to outwit PenVo's signature function like this,
and were still baffled. What was the problem they said? And the ordinary
users tried to explain that it was cultural, and that you couldn't
enforce a technological solution to a cultural problem, and that
ordinary people just simply did not want the cutesy i's and that trying
to force them to use them in their signatures was not going to work, and
that it would be easier all-round to put them out of their misery and
let them turn the cutesy signature i's off.

Communicating this normally didn't seem to get the ordinary Dirtians
anywhere, so maybe a story might help? It'd have to be changed though to
try to not cause offence, so instead of being set on Dirt it should be
set somewhere else imaginary, let's call it "Earth", and instead of pens
it would need something else, maybe really fancy adding machines,
and ...

-- All the best,

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