Saturday, February 07, 2004

Sign of the Times

The US State Department has issued an edict banning its longtime standard typeface from all official correspondence and replacing it with a "more modern" font. ...In an internal memorandum distributed on Wednesday, the department declared "Courier New 12
" -- the font and size decreed for US diplomatic documents for years -- to be obsolete and unacceptable after February 1..."In response to many requests and with a view to making our written work easier to read, we are moving to a new standard font: 'Times New Roman 14'," said the memorandum.

1. They were still using Courier New? Dude, that's practically stone age. I handle something like a hundred student papers a term; I've not recieved a paper in Courier since before the millenium. If any of us had any confidence in the military complex left, the behind-the-times, out-of-touch implications here should about kill it.

2. Is comprehensive font standardization really necessary? I'm sure it improves efficiency, but a narrow lens of presentation implies a narrow lens of interpretation and technique. If the medium is the message, the State Department might do with some loosening up and diversity training -- we might have found a place still in need of that old "thinking outside the box" lecture chestnut.

3. And if the medium is the culture, too, than a close read of the semiotics of each font might be illuminating. For example, the squared boxiness and widely spaced characters of Courier might connotate a culture of CIA-esque narrow military precision and exclusion, while tall proud and densely arrayed Times New Roman, while a big too big for its britches at 14 point, seems more like the debonair high culture, formal jet-set diplomancy we'd wish of our State and its Department.

Some of this isn't news to the folks at State: according to the font-change memorandum, the new font "takes up almost exactly the same area on the page as Courier New 12, while offering a crisper, cleaner, more modern look." But I'd point out that their language is pretty empty, semantically speaking -- since crisp and clean are only metaphoric, rather than literal, it's not clear how we're supposed to interpret them; similarly, modern by definition only refers to current social mores, themselves complex, overlayed, and ever in flux.

Also, there's something about the word edict that doesn't really lend itself to trusting relationships.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:50 PM |

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