The Default Line

the default line becomes the norm

A fault line is the visible path of a fracture… a trace along the surface of the Earth caused by the rupturing of an underground fault.

Faults are caused by shifting of volumes of rock within the Earth’s crust… When pressure builds on a fault, it can result in a sudden, significant release of energy…


Even though they’re invisible to us, we acknowledge fault lines…

Ignore them at your own peril.

Respect the Fault Line

In areas with highly respected fault lines, such as the 750 mile long San Andreas in California, their location and activity can be of serious concern.

Indeed, we design things specifically with fault lines in mind.

We plan and design buildings, critical infrastructure, energy and water lines for towns and cities, etc. in a “hat tip” to their power.

Humans are smart enough to recognize and accept that faults are a condition beyond our control.

We may abuse the Earth… But the Earth has the option to abuse us right back.

Faults (and the occasional earthquake) are part the “Earth experience”.

The Default is a Setting

In contrast to a fault… The “default” is a setting within our control.

It is a condition of our increasingly technology-based world.

The default is present in all of our software and connected hardware. The default is defined by the manufacturer and is typically beyond user control.

While faults have no agenda, the default involves a business…

Defaults require economic considerations and making assumptions about cost/benefit, and assumptions about the “average” user of the software.

Unfortunately in some cases, default settings may even be an afterthought.

Like faults in geology, default settings are mostly invisible…

The default often involves a legal agreement, a contract by adhesion, and we may or may not even notice an “update”, let alone understand what it means.

After our initial connection, a passing glance at an end user license agreement… We forget about the terms and live our lives.

The Default Lives in the Background

The default is constantly “reset” or updated, usually in the background.

We set it to “auto-update”… So we’re not bothered.

Even seemingly insignificant defaults on the surface of technology, such as the wallpaper on an iPhone, are not a problem, as long as there’s an override.

But the default always has an impact on the user…

Defaults are most common in software, but human “behavioral” defaults exist everywhere you look:

  • The default food option at the rest stop on I95 is McDonalds, or Fritos and candy from the vending machine.
  • The default at the eyeglass store is paying 500% more to Luxottica for frames and lenses.
  • The default for retirees looking for investment options, 529 plan holders, 401K participants and CNBC advertising is managed mutual funds.
  • The default at the tap of your local bar is Budweiser.
  • Our default political parties are Republican or Democrat.
  • The default operating system for your office computer is probably Windows.
  • The default ice cream is vanilla.

I could go on…

“The Default Line” is a Moral One

“If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”

Most of our behavioral defaults involve almost unconscious choices.

But we can choose to override them…

  • We can invest in no load index funds.
  • We can choose to avoid McDonalds and Fritos by packing a lunch on a road trip.
  • We can choose to create a new political party or vote for an independent.
  • We can choose to brew our own beer.
  • We can choose Warby Parker.

But the defaults of the digital age are increasingly being made in the background, and for the most part, we have no idea what is going on.

  • The defaults are below the surface.
  • The default of interacting in daily life involves signing over the rights to our childhood photos to social media businesses.
  • The default of taking a cellphone picture is location tracking.
  • The default of Google Maps is a video of your house from the street.
  • The default of being online, anywhere, is giving up your personal information to third parties, who in return, give it to the government.
  • The default of having the right to be under close examination by the government without a warrant is three degrees of separation from a “suspected terrorist”.
  • The default for defending our country is killing people remotely with drones.

I could go on…

As technology is infused throughout everything from products to government, we have a moral obligation to consider location of “the default line” and its implications.

If the default line moves too far in one direction… We risk losing control to the default. The default exists on its own and becomes accepted.

But the outsourcing of our food, our energy, our lives (IMHO) is becoming unsustainable.

Asymmetrical pressure builds up beneath the surface. We freak out. The default line becomes visible.

The default line is now part of the human experience as we know it.

The location of the default line may or may not be okay… but I’m suggesting we check and consider the hidden implications of the default line.