Navy Gives Up ALL-CAPS Messaging, 160 Years After It Began

By Alexis C. Madrigal
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Marcin Wichary/Flickr

Last month, the Navy personnel chief sent out a note on behalf of Fleet CyberCommand with an important message: ALL-CAPS COMMUNIQUES WERE NO LONGER NECESSARY.

Since the middle of the 19th century, Naval messages have been typed in just the upper-case, Navy Times reported, but that era finally, mercifully, came to an end. Though not everybody's happy about it.

"You have a lot of folks that have been around for a long time and are used to uppercase and they just prefer that it stay there because of the standardized look of it," James McCarty, a messaging program manager at Fleet Cyber Command told the Times.

My question was: Why use all-caps text at all? It turns out that it's a vestige of the machines that were once used to create and send messages. The Navy was an early adopter of teletype machines, which used a five-bit character to represent letters. The so-called Baudot code only gave them 32 options (2^5), as you can see here, so each and every character was precious. In those limited circumstances, why would you have two identical libraries of letters differing only in case? Well, you wouldn't, and so they didn't.

Of course, we no longer have those limitations and haven't for decades, but in tech, old habits die hard.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/06/navy-gives-up-all-caps-messaging-160-years-after-it-began/276794/