There is No Device

OK.

I know I’m not alone in finding memes like this one annoying, and mostly avoiding them.

There is no spoon meme from the Matrix

 

For the younger folks in the audience, it’s a scene from The Matrix.

For the even younger folks in the audience, The Matrix was a turn of the millennium film phenomenon much loved by many in our industry, in no small part because of its foundation on the fantasy that a pasty-faced (if, admittedly, Keanu Reeves) hacker is actually the chosen one: a weapon wielding, kung fu mastering, zen style saviour of humanity. Who gets the girl.

In one well known scene, Neo (Keanu Reeve’s character) waits to hear from the Oracle whether he is, as the talismanic Morpheus believes, “The One”.  Neo/One, geddit?

Many others, mostly children, await the verdict of the Oracle as to whether they may be the one, including a buddha-like (white, obviously) child (there are many increasingly grating ethnic and other stereotypes, and less than felicitous analogies and tropes in the film), who observes to Neo about his (the child’s) ability to bend a spoon with only his thoughts (no doubt a sly reference to Uri Geller, who convinced the CIA he could bend spoons with his mind) that the secret is “there is no spoon”.

Which brings me to Responsive Web Design. Or what I like to call Web Design.

Hang on, what sort of segue is that?

What is the connection between a scene in The Matrix and Ethan Marcotte’s synthesis of ideas and techniques we all know so well?

Well.

 

Based on the spoon boy men from the Matrix, my men which reads: Do not try to set device breakpoints, instead only try to realise the truth, there is no device.

 

Recently I read about a project that has been gaining some attention. Rightly so, for many reasons. But when it came to their concept of responsiveness, I was stopped in my tracks.

To the folks working on this project, “responsiveness” means “having breakpoints for all major devices”.

While, of course, they aren’t alone in conceiving of RWD in this way, it was jarring to see it put so bluntly.

It made me realise that it probably is the approach most people think of and take to a multi-screen world.

But it strikes me as oddly reactive, a never ending exercise in tail chasing as we live in a world of more and more devices for factors and resolutions and screen sizes and other capabilities – colour gamuts; is the device edge to edge; who knows what other future variables?

That way, as King Lear (who knew a thing or two about it) said, madness lies.

So how should we think about delivering our content, experience, app – whatever you call it, in a world of essentially limitless possible device configurations?

This is where “spoon boy” (as aficionadi of The Matrix know him) comes in.

When we imagine the device, we lose sight of the content. The content, designed well, adapts, or responds in Ethan’s term, regardless of the device. Our role is to ensure that adaptation suits the needs of the user of the device.

Which may mean a screen reader.

Or a mobile device, of varying sizes.

Or some not as yet developed AI-based summary-creating robot that finds articles you might be interested in based on your patterns of reading, summarises them, then reads them to you in a synthesised voice as you commute to work. In fact, it seems that Medium has just announced a feature not unlike this for their premium content (via Chris Messina) 

Who knows where this leads?

We do know that the more we imagine and tailor, the more we design for the device, the more complex and brittle our designs become. The more they need ongoing upkeep.

But, if we imagine our content as something fluid, which flows into the places it is displayed (or more broadly, made accessible – now, where have I heard this idea before?), then it is infinitely adaptable.

However our approaches to delivering content may evolve in the coming months or years, focusing on the content, not the container means it will always adapt, always respond. Always be accessible.

Because it is the content that matters, not the container.

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