“Standards Angst”

Part of my job is to monitor discussions of various internationalization and Web standards, and I’ve noticed that whenever any group tries to agree on a standard – it gets real ugly real fast.
Indeed one of the most flame-prone Listservs I’m on are the international tech lists. XHTML isn’t too far behind and sometimes the people on the accessibility lists can be a little touchy. I myself have been known to get heated in defending the Mac over the PC (I try not to start a fight though).
Some of my favorite discussions include
* Grilling – Charcoal or gas?
* XHTML – STRONG tag or B tag?
* Language – Which of 2-3 Cornish spelling systems to use?
* Punctuation – P’s and Q’s or Ps and Qs?
* Blackwork Embroidery – Backstitch or Double Running? (if you don’t know, don’t worry)
* Metric system or Imperial measures?
* Mac or PC? (for heaven’s sake only ask one person at a time)
I got so overwhelmed (and annoyed), I was forced to a coin the term “standards angst” to refer to the phenomenon of getting nasty over a somewhat minor point in procedure. I’m sure there’s a better, more technical term for this, but darned if I know what it is.
FYI – I’ve also seen “standard angst” used in reference to obsessing about getting your product 100% standards compliant.
My anthropological question is … why?
There are cases where the stakes are pretty high. For instance, if the US ever goes “hard metric” (all metric, all the time) we will have to buy new thermometers, reprogram weather reporting devices to read centrigrade only and invest in new set of drill heads and nails. This is probably why the US is still “soft metric” (we tolerate metric use in certain contexts which we understand).
Other high stakes standards include Unicode and spelling system (especially if you want Microsoft to program you a spell checker).
But frankly, other cases are very low stakes. If it’s your grill, I believe you have the right to choose whichever one you want. In fact, I understand both their pluses and minuses – charcoal is great for steak, but gas may be better for chicken and pork. Maybe you really need to know and use BOTH.
So again…why?
Is it that:
1. Your identity has gotten tied to the one method via family tradition or personal experience? For instance, Baltimore (my hometown) is the home of McCormick’s spices…so clearly it is the best product out there.
2. Is it an in-group vs out-group issue? Stitchers who can stitch on fabric with small holes almost invariably feel superior to those who cannot.
3. Do you just detest the other way that much? There are times when the other way is just plain WRONG HEADED!!!
Taking a breath now.

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