Cross-post: Intro (2)

By: Peggy Nelson
April 3, 2020

Cross-post is a series of occasional other voices, featuring posts from selected blogs and other writings across the web.

Our second participant in this series is writer, web designer, coder and activist Ethan Marcotte. If you’ve ever looked at a website on a phone and had it display properly for that device, resizing and reapportioning its display and organizational structure, then you have Ethan to thank. Responsive Web Design—a phrase that Ethan coined—is the idea and the practice that flexibility is a cornerstone of web design. And the metaphor collision of brick-and-mortar with information flows in that phrase is no accident.

The information superhighway, where one is invited to envision, say, the Eisenhower insterstates, might be better represented, metaphorically speaking, as Heraclitus’s favorite river, the one into which you cannot step twice. That river supports as many views as it contains fish, or wading humans, or boats, or molecules. Responsive Web Design ensures that each of those views, and any others that develop, will be able to see what rushes by.

The river metaphor also points to another aspect of Ethan’s work and interests, that of immersion.

These days, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. The tech industry is facing a veritable raft of ethical, moral, and political crises. Automation and industrialization are reshaping our world. And sitting in the middle of all that? You and me. We’re digital designers, we’re developers, we’re product owners. But each day, our work is changing—more quickly than it ever has before.

Here’s the question we have to ask ourselves: what do we want that change to be?

Ethan Marcotte, A reading list for the Word-Wide-Work

We’re immersed in tech, but what is that immersion? Are we soaking in hot springs, or drowning in a bathtub? Are we becalmed in the doldrums, flailing in the face of the perfect storm, or smooth-sailing from Hyannis towards the islands, wishing to catch Moby Dick for a selfie, but aught else?

The tendency is, whether one works in tech or just uses it, to just deal with whatever’s there and get on with it; some things work well, others less so, still others are new things we want to do with tools fashioned for old uses. But all of our digital tools are built, not just on code, or with silicon, but atop assumptions that may or may not be serving our ultimate, individual, or even immediate, purposes.

Ethan’s work not only builds solutions for design and code, he champions a new approach for the people involved, which is to say, all of us. He continues to innovate on and advocate for web accessibility, so that content and experience is not walled off from those differently abled: that idea of essential flexibility again. And he has been a vocal advocate for organizing efforts within tech, the nascent union movement for workers’ rights in the industry. Being good at logic should not mean you sacrifice basic labor protections, nor should it lull you into a false sense of entitlement that is not mirrored by the terms of your employment. Do we really want to prioritize flexibility in organizational structure over flexibility for the humans that compose it?

We live in a tech-infused world. We designed it, we built it. We get to decide what it looks like and how it functions. Ethan’s work reminds us that we have that simple, yet deceptively elusive, choice: we can choose to use our superpowers for good.

In introducing Ethan to HILOBROW’s audience we also intend to demystify ourselves. HILOBROW is not just its (always excellent!) content; it is its platform, it is the code that makes it run, it is the electricity and hardware that delivers it to you, and it is its people: contributors, readers, links and curators. We’re all in this together. Let’s make it into the thing—the system—the system of systems!—that works for all of us.

Ethan’s first Cross-Post for HILOBROW will debut tomorrow. Tune in!

We hope you will enjoy! And we hope you may be inspired to start blogging (again) yourself.


Ethan Marcotte’s website:
Ethan’s blog:
Ethan on Twitter: @beep