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The name of things

Linguistic relativity is the idea that language influences the way people think — the names we use can have a powerful effect on how we perceive things.

If we’re thinking of [designing] a lunchbox we’d be really careful about not having the word “box” already give you a bunch of ideas that could be quite narrow. Because you think of a box as being square and like a cube. And so we’re quite careful with the words we use, because those can determine the path you go down.

Sir Jonathan Ive on “Blue Peter”

Horace Dediu points out that the names we use for the supercomputers we have with us are from a different time.

The first step is to stop adding the word ‘smart’ in front of phone. The second step is to stop adding the word ‘mobile’ in front of computer

Horace Dediu (@asymco)

I wonder what my kids will be calling these devices in ten years. For me “computer” already seems a term from an earlier time: the time before everything was a computer.

The labels we use in web design can also subtly affect our perception. For example, talking about web pages can lead us to perceive and design them as static comps with fixed dimensions, no different from print design.

Creating layouts on the web has to be different because there are no edges. There are no ‘pages’. We’ve made them up.

— “A Richer Canvas”, by Mark Boulton

What other names come to us with the mental baggage of past association? By considering their connotations, we can at least be more aware of their influence on us, and avoid the narrow, predetermined path of the obvious.