Filtered for blue in history

20.05, Monday 31 Jan 2022


Pink for a girl, blue for a boy. Hey, so once upon a time it was the other way round, right? That’s what they say. Was it really?

Alex Mitchell deep dives into colour in #feministfriday episode 375 and digs out actual references. Fascinating. Read it.

SPOILER, the association was ambiguous in 1923: There seems to be considerable support of each colour for girl babies and each for boy babies (from the Altoona Tribune.)

…and honestly it is pleasing that there was no agreed-upon association, historically, versus there being gendered colours any which way.


Elise Blanchard at Mozilla provides a history of links in hypertext applications, such as the web itself:

Why are hyperlinks blue?

(Or at least: that’s the default colour set by web browsers, before websites add their own style.)

Here’s the moment for browsers: April 12, 1993 – Mosaic Version 0.13, from the release notes:

Changed default anchor representations: blue and single solid underline for unvisited, dark purple and single dashed underline for visited.

And then a follow-up from Blanchard: Revisiting why hyperlinks are blue.

…which digs even further back into hypertext research:

Ben Shneiderman developed the highlighted selectable light blue link, which was implemented by graduate student Dan Ostroff. In doing so, they, as well as other students, tested many versions in controlled experiments.

“Red highlighting made the links more visible, but reduced the user’s capacity to read and retain the content of the text… blue was visible, on both white and black backgrounds and didn’t interfere with retention,” Shneiderman shared with me.

I love that the testing is cognitive: blue is good for reading and retaining.

BUT, I would want to push even further back. Why does blue make sense for hyperlinks?

I’ve talked about this before (2005): blue is the colour of a television tuned to a dead channel; it’s the colour of the open sky. It’s the colour of potential.

So of course the hyperlink, a leap into the unknown, should be blue.


I love that hyperlinks, by default, go purple if you’ve previously visited the linked webpage. It maps onto the cognitive sense of “recognition” that we often (but not always) automatically feel when we see a person that we’ve talked to before.

What would it mean to see purple auras when you glimpse a person you’ve talked with previously? How many familiar strangers would you pass on the street that otherwise you wouldn’t notice? An app for future augmented reality smart glasses perhaps…


Why do police cars and ambulances have flashing blue lights?

The use of the blue emergency light originates in Germany during World War II. As a result of the ‘Verdunkelung’, a black-out measure for aerial defense from 1935, cobalt blue was regulated to replace the red color used until 1938 in emergency vehicle lights. Due to the scattering properties of the blue color, it is only visible to lower altitudes and is therefore less easily spotted by enemy airplanes.


Blue Monday by New Order was released in 1983. It is the best-selling 12” single of all time (Wikipedia) and was composed on a prototype-level homebrew “step-time” sequencer in binary code.

Synthesisers had been around for a while, but this track absolutely busted open the potential of the instrument and bridged us into dance music.


Watch this: Orkestra Obsolete play Blue Monday using 1930s instruments (YouTube).

(The elapsed time between Blue Monday till now being almost as long as the 1930s to Blue Monday, which is… alarming.)

I don’t know about you, but that video reminds me just how WEIRD electronic music really is.

All those repetitive beats!

In particular: popular music didn’t sound like Blue Monday when those instruments were around.

Why not? It could have been done, per the video.

Is it that music emerges from cultural templates? Was electronic music in the 1980s, with its looping sequences and transcendent states a cultural anticipation of the upcoming Information Age, all streams of binary signals and virtual realities, some kind of Jungian synchronicity with the world at large?

I don’t think so. We could make the same argument for the 1930s, had Blue Monday emerged then, the beats representating peak industrialisation and the drumbeat of impending war; the psychological effects of the music reflecting the hedonistic escapism of the time.

Instead perhaps music is an exploratory probe, each track a scout through the dynamic space of possibility suggested by the instrument as a specific thing. Blue Monday as a natural unfolding of the synthesiser itself.

So to invent entirely new music, invent new instruments?

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