My brother also sent me an article about a Chinese couple who wanted to name their child "@" (to the consternation of the State Language Commission). Most interesting to me is the distinct likelihood that whether or not the authorities allow the unusual name, the record-keeping software they use probably won't.

More and more these days I've noticed that our choices, public and private, are limited by what our software allows us to do. Most software won't accept as input a name with strange characters, and none will accept arbitrary symbols like that formerly used by the Artist-Formerly-And-Now-Once-Again-Known-As-Prince. Using standards makes software development easier, but "simple to build into software" is not a requirement that human societies naturally conform to.

This phenomenon is especially noticeable when human interactions are mediated by software. For instance: wasting five minutes to get past an automated phone system to get a ten-second answer from a human; or ordering a computer from Dell and not being able to select certain components because they simply aren't on the list. Further examples abound, from data entry to transaction processing to borrowing a book from the library.

Once a computerized system is in place, human operators generally refuse to take any actions outside the boundaries prescribed by the software, giving the software's arbitrary constraints near-absolute power. No one wants to deal with software that's out of sync with reality because of some out-of-bounds activity, so no one breaks the rules and everyone endures their chains because at least their severely-curtained choices can be executed twice as efficiently.

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