October 14 – World Standards Day

Posted on October 14, 2015

Today we acknowledge and celebrate “the world's common language.” And, no, I'm not talking about Mandarin (the language spoken by the most native speakers in the world), nor English, which is the most common language counting total speakers (native language and second language and students of it as a foreign language).

No, World Standards Day isn't about oral languages at all – and it's not about sign languages, either.

Instead it is about standards like:

“What size should debit cards, and ATM card slots, be?”

“What does the telephone country code 1 mean?”

“What symbol means Euro?”

“What sizes should lightbulb sockets be?”

“What do the wash and care symbols on clothes mean?”

Thanks to the International Organization for Standardization, the world has a lot of symbols and standards used in almost every industry so that we can buy and sell things all over the world, so that we can travel far and wide, so that we can communicate with many more people, more easily. These are voluntary standards that companies adopt because doing so is a win-win – customers' lives are easier, and the company has more customers AND happier customers.

It would be hard to imagine living in a world in which each lamp manufacturer makes light bulb sockets of a different dimension. You could only buy lightbulbs created especially for the lamps from that one company! What about if battery-run gadgets had battery slots of thousands of different sizes. You would have to find the special batteries made just for that one Mattel Company toy. Yikes!

Different countries have quite different forms of currency. Paper money can be as large as 8½ by 14 inches (215 mm by 355 mm) or as small as a postage stamp, and coins are found in various different sizes. But it's pretty nice, now that so many of us use plastic, that there are standard sizes of credit, debit, and gift cards, and that the machines that use the cards can use slots of standard sizes as well!

Can you imagine have phone numbers with no country codes or area codes? It would be even harder to give, dial, and memorize phone numbers if every person in a particular community had a unique 11-digit number with no rhyme or reason behind ANY of the digits!

And how challenging would it be to build or fix machines and electronics if there were no standard sizes of screws and transistors and so on!

If only ISO had existed early in the 1900s, we wouldn't have such different
sorts of plugs and sockets in use all over the world - and even different voltages!





 
Okay, we get it – standards are important. Now...what is this organization?

The world seems a whole lot smaller
now. Millions of people travel outside
of their own country; people communicate
easily and cheaply and instantly with
others half a world away.
The International Organization for Standardization started in 1946 with delegates from just 25 countries. They met in London and made an effort to provide coordination and unification of technologies throughout the world. There are now 162 member countries in the ISO. The Central Secretariat of the organization is located in Geneva, Switzerland, and the ISO has published more than 19 THOUSAND standards in many different industries.

The group does not create standards out of thin air. Instead, when a need arises for a new standard, let's say in a new kind of industry or for a product that is being bought and sold all over the world for the first time, the ISO consults with experts from all over the world to develop appropriate standards through a consensus process. Consensus means agreement—the experts come to an agreement for a new standard through discussion, perhaps compromise, maybe even through a vote.

By the way...

In case you are wondering why it is ISO instead of IOS, remember that in many languages the formal name of the organization would be translated into slightly different names, the organization decided to standardize its acronym regardless of the translation. So the organization is always ISO, everywhere, no matter what the long form of the name maybe be.

One reason for ISO as opposed to IOS or OIN or any other acronym is that isos, in Greek, means “equal.” Nice, huh?

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