Change is inevitable. Nothing is fixed, and that includes our understanding of things.

Sex and Gender: People

Here’s a simple question: Do you know what your sex chromosomes are?


Back in primary school we all learn that “everyone” has 26 chromosomes (except for the people who don’t), and that two of them determine your sex. Two X chromosomes means you’re female, one X and one Y means you’re male. It’s simple and easy to remember, and it’s “just basic science,” and it’s also wrong.

You could have two X chromosomes but one of them has the SRY gene, causing the development of male sex characteristics. You could have a Y chromosome that lacks SRY, causing the development of female sex characteristics. You could have a Y chromosome with SRY and also androgen insensitivity syndrome, causing the development of a female-typical body plan but male gonads which are trying as hard as possible to express themselves as such but the rest of your body just won’t listen as it continues to adhere to the platonic ideal of female beauty standards, and you only find out when you get diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Or maybe you have only a single X chromosome, or multiple X and Y chromosomes.

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Or your body could be partially male and partially female for any number of reasons, such as hormonal fluctuations while you’re in the womb, or one of the many transitory fluctuations of genetics that result in chimerism.


And let’s not forget that the brain is part of the body, too! Even ignoring the socially-constructed aspects of gender, the gender-as-neurological-development aspects are incredibly complex and not even remotely understood at this point. Pretty much all that we know is that there’s so much that we don’t know.

As we learn more about ourselves, our understanding of that gets more complicated, and categories break down. Everything gets cluttered and confused and chaotic, and that chaos is beauty.

Do you know what your sex chromosomes are? Unless you’ve had an actual karyotype test, you’re only making a guess based on an oversimplification of outdated science.

Names and Identifiers: People

Names are identifiers for people. For roughly half of the population, that identifier is assigned to them at birth, and never changes.

In many — but not all — cultures, part of the identifier is one’s family. But what does that even mean? People can change their family. They might get married, or divorced. They might be adopted. They might eschew their family of origin, and join a found family, or even start their own. One’s family name may change.

One’s given name may change. They might have come to realize that the name doesn’t suit them, for whatever reason; they could be transgender, they could be trying to escape a history of abuse, they could be trying to forget something terrible, or they could even just not like the sound of it.

They could have immigrated from another country and decided to assimilate, or their name might be difficult to pronounce or spell in their chosen country’s language, and they might have decided it was simply easier to choose a new name that’s easier for people to deal with. And later they might decide to insist on a name which reflects their culture and their identity.

One’s name in total might not even be what they go by in everyday life. Some people might not even be known by a name that was ever their legal name, and when people learn that name for whatever reason they decide to just keep with the nickname because their “real name” just sounds wrong.

Growing up I had neighbors where the parents immigrated from China. They adopted American names; the father became Eugene, but his original name was Tse-Yao and everyone called him T.Y. They had three children, who they named Arthur, Andrea, and Patricia. Arthur always called Andrea “Mae-Mae,” a nickname which means “little sister,” and she ended up always going by that moniker, never responding to a name which might as well have been “Bob” or “Larry.” If anyone ever asked about “Andrea,” none of her friends would even know who that was.

Patricia wanted a nickname like that too, so Patri-sha became Sha-Sha.

I still keep in touch with them. To this day they still go by their childhood nicknames in everyday life. Mae Mae even took on her husband’s last name when she married — but she’s still Mae Mae.

As far as I know, no government entity has ever recognized those as their names.

(But at least Facebook does.)

Names and Identifiers: Data


Fundamental to modern network systems is the URI, the Universal Resource Identifier. This is a string of typically three parts: how to get something, where to get it, and the thing to ask for. In more technical terms these are the scheme, the domain, and the path.

None of these parts are fixed.


How to get something can change. Once upon a time, we used Gopher and FTP for hosted content, and before we had blogs we had finger and .plan files. In the mid 90s, HTTP took over. In the 2010s, encryption became all the rage and many sites switched to HTTPS. But HTTPS has its own set of tradeoffs and some sites, for whatever reason, remain accessible via both HTTP and HTTPS; two distinct URLs both with the same content, meaning, identity.

Where to get something can change. People might move from a shared domain to their own domain. People might change their domain; maybe their registration lapsed, maybe they lost it for legal reasons, maybe the domain registrar collapsed, maybe they simply grew tired of the domain and decided to switch elsewhere. Maybe someone has a pile of domains which all lead to the same content that’s still accessible at different URLs.

What to ask for can change. Maybe a publisher changed content management systems, and the new one uses a different URI schema. Maybe the path is based on the title, which gets changed due to a typo or an update in information, or maybe it got moved to a different category in the site, or maybe an entirely different site. Maybe the path includes query parameters whose order doesn’t matter. The website might automatically forward requests for old URIs to new ones, or it might not. It might just serve up the same content from both the old and new paths.

A piece of content might live at one URI, or at multiple URIs, and those URIs can change.


Also, usernames aren’t globally-unique.

Sex and Gender: Data


Back in the early days of the web, pages were just pages; they contained some combination of text, images, audio, and links to other pages. There was no classification of what kind of data it was, it was just data and it was up to the reader to interpret what it was.


Then social networking happened, and “pages” became “posts,” which were part of a “timeline” or “feed,” and the posts could be text or photo or video or a repost of someone else’s post, with or without commentary, and our human instinct to categorize things into distinct buckets took over. And reactions to a post can be a form of a post as well, as a “like” or a “favorite” or a “bookmark” or a “star,” each with different connotations and different understandings based on context and emotion.

How do you acknowledge something unpleasant but where you don’t know what to say? If something bad happens and you post about it, what does it mean when someone else “like"s it? Are they acknowledging that it happened and saying that you are seen? Or do they like that the bad thing happened?

What does it mean to repost someone else’s post, with commentary in the form of a photo? What does it mean to like someone else’s repost of a third post — are you liking the post, or are you liking that it was reposted? What if you want to repost someone else’s post while indicating that you liked the post in the form of reposting it? How can that be different from reposting someone else’s post while indicating that what they posted is something important but not particularly pleasant? Does it even make sense to like a repost without liking the original post?

How do we deal with the fractal tree of possibilities when it comes to intents, to actions, to interpretations?


So many systems are built with simplifying assumptions in mind, but those assumptions fall apart as the systems actually get used.

Change is inevitable; design systems to embrace change.


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