How did we choose our name?
The language-game of the web
I wish it was an easy answer.
In the early part of the last century there was a revolutionary philosopher named Ludwig Wittgenstein. One of his major assertions (if you can call them that, which you cannot) was that language is a game. Our words do not have specific, direct referential meaning, rather they are like pieces in a game. We try them out, we communicate because the pieces as they are used have effects, which are themselves, pieces in the same game. Words are defined only by their use, not their definition or meaning. His work was controversial, and misunderstood by his peers, but have become the foundation of much of modern thought.
When we were starting this business in 2002, it seemed to us, even at the early stages of the web, that it was a new dimension in this language game. It has been said by many web visionaries like Jeffrey Zeldman, that the web is a revolutionary change in human thought in the same way as the Gutenberg press was. We saw the web as an extension of the principles Wittgenstein first discussed in the 1920s and 30s.
But why “Slab?”
In his notebooks, which were posthumously published as “Philosophical Investigations,” Wittgenstein used an example of masons or stoneworkers asking about a pile of stones:
2. ... Let us imagine a language ...The language is meant to serve for communication between a builder A and an assistant B. A is building with building-stones; there are blocks, pillars, slabs and beams. B has to pass the stones, and that in the order in which A needs them. For this purpose they use a language consisting of the words ‘block’, ‘pillar’, ‘slab’, ‘beam’. A calls them out;
--B brings the stone which he has learnt to bring at such-and-such a call.
--Conceive this as a complete primitive language.
19. It is easy to imagine a language consisting only of orders and reports in battle.
---Or a language consisting only of questions and expressions for answering yes and no. And innumerable others.
-----And to imagine a language means to imagine a form of life.
But what about this: is the call “Slab!” in example (2) a sentence or a word?
--- If a word, surely it has not the same meaning as the like-sounding word of our ordinary language, for in (2) it is a call. But if a sentence, it is surely not the elliptical sentence: “Slab!” of our language.
-----As far as the first question goes you can call “Slab!” a word and also a sentence; perhaps it could be appropriately called a ‘degenerate sentence’ (as one speaks of a degenerate hyperbola); in fact it is our ‘elliptical’ sentence.
---But that is surely only a shortened form of sentence “Bring me a slab”, and there is no such sentence in example (2).
---But why should I not on contrary have called the sentence "Bring me a slab" a lengthening of the sentence “Slab!”?
---Because if you shout “Slab!” you really mean: “Bring me a slab”.
Obviously, it's confusing, as any good work of philosophical thinking is. However, we felt it was a perfect representation... oh no, not a representation at all, but a metaphor (and what is that?) for the emerging web.
We also saw the emerging web as the future of all media, and on that, I think there is now no argument.
So, not an easy explanation, but that was what we were thinking at the time. And now, it is only just what it is.
Ergo, Slab. Media.