journal index

Software and Branding

Written February 21, 2021

I've been thinking, lately, about the relationship between branding and computers.

Stylesheets

It started with a thought about CSS and the barriers to entry to entering the internet. When you want to share something on the web, you might "post" it onto some sort of service like social media, Medium, or whatever else. In doing so, your creation becomes "content", and is transformed and formatted to be a part of that service's brand identity. Or, you can host it yourself, creating your own HTML and CSS, and in doing so you create a brand identity for yourself.

It's uncomfortable to think about my personal page's look as "branding" and not as, say, a personal creative expression, but the function of contemporary society is to entangle everything in this ethos of consumption whether we want it to or not.

In contrast, when you share a document via gemini, you have no control over how it will be formatted. There's no stylesheets or page layout, only text. It's the reader's choice to arrange and theme their reading, not the writer's.

I've been daydreaming of a world of computers without brand aesthetics. A time when I can go about my day-to-day, learning from people, doing business, and playing a part in communities without constantly churning through these market-driven visual paradigms.

Names

The modern relationship to names is something that's bothered me for a long time. Here's an amusing tweet that happens to encapsulate the contemporary way of thinking about names:

[the invention of names]

MOM: Off to feed my newborn.

DERANGED BOG MAN: Have you bound its identity to an arbitrary series of sounds yet?

pentfuma@twitter.com

"An arbitrary series of sounds." What's interesting is that if you look into history or outside of contemporary culture, names are anything but arbitrary. Names are a way of disambiguating, of giving a person context: a role in the community ("Tailor", "Smith", "Baker"), a mark of otherness ("da Vinci" as "from Vinci" only is meaningful outside of Vinci), a connection to a parent ("o'Connor", "Bjornsdottir"). Those first names that seem like just sounds today can be traced through history to originally have been a word or phrase ("John" comes from Hebrew "יוֹחָנָן", or "Yochanan", meaning "God is gracious").

This doesn't just apply to people. Let's say that I'm growing a garden. If I were to talk about the process of growing it with the people in my life, I'd talk about "my garden". And those people would talk about "Clarity's garden". If the garden were a communal effort, we might call it "the community garden" or "the garden in Riverside Park". If I decide to build myself a simple clay furnace in my yard, I would call it "my furnace".

But, when I built software for midi sequencing, I named it "Luna". What prompted that?

There are cultural norms around how we talk about software. Software is distributed via app stores and package managers which require names to be unique in order to distinguish between the selection and protect copyright. The names chosen are often designed to be distinctive & catchy. In effect: there's a direct link between the material concerns of mass reproduction and giving things "distinct" names.

Looking at names for people again: the modern western conception of the first/middle/last name was invented as immigration law and social security created demands for the "legal name"—a tool for the state to track and manage individuals as part of a mass-scale impersonal bureaucracy. Being trans gives me a very personal stake in this dynamic.

So, I've been experimenting with resisting this. I've been referring to the tools I'm building as what they are (most recently, "site generator") instead of giving them an easily distinguishable name.

Site Generator

It feels weird to do! I don't know if I like it! There can be a charming human quality to naming things. But also, I'm finding that I'm starting to think about my projects a little differently as a result: less as a product and more as a project. I'm hopeful that this experiment will, at least in some small ways, make the work I do resistant to scale and incompatible with platforms of mass distribution, encouraging a more localized view of my world and my work.