We joke about the “graphic design is my passion” creations users built when given choice in the 90’s and 00’s. From Windows Media Player skins and custom operating system icons + themes to Myspace and GeoCities pages, so much of what people created could easily be seen as a collection of horrendous Frankensteinian monsters that were each welded to others.
But that doesn’t mean it was bad and the more I reflect now the more I want that choice and personal freedom back.
Computers and devices are more homogenous than ever. Over the years, Windows has worked hard to strip out user customisation or make it more difficult. It’s rare now to see a cursor trailing halfway across the screen and ending in a wand from Cardcaptor Sakura that changes to a Diablo pointer when hovering over a clickable element. iOS was famous for it’s lack of UI customisation, and most major Android distributions followed suit as time went on. The web applications we interact with daily became rigid and many over the years (such as Twitter) slowly took away our backgrounds and colour choices and animated GIF avatars.
In all fairness, the last few years have seen some changes - but all in a corporate controlled way. You can choose from the four fonts available for text in Android or you can set the theme colour and style (there are three of each, mix-and-match fun!). It’s true that most operating systems on both mobile and PC can still be customised with sufficient motivation and some small hacks, but it’s something that the OS designers make more difficult than it once was.
I run in a lot of niche tech circles and I know there exists a bastion of people who desire and run wild with user customisation. From the hall-of-mirrors endlessness of Linux customisation, to rooting phones, to running one’s own website with whatever terrible theme they concocted in a manic cycle, it’s beautiful to see creations that express a user’s choice, a user’s feelings, and their unique sense of style and aesthetic. I think this trend is growing beyond my circles, and perhaps that is why the big providers are once again allowing limited customisation on their terms, to prevent people shifting away to platforms that allow full individual creative freedom.
It is fine if users don’t want to customise their environments. Having a single constant interface between work and home does make shifting between them easier, but I think people should be allowed to explore that as an avenue of creativity and see if it changes how they feel about using their devices.
I want to push myself further in having systems that express my creativity in my personal tech and online spaces. I want to cultivate more of my weirdness and embody it in how I use technology.
Most recently, setting up my switch panel to control my PC was a lot of fun. Reaching over to flick a physical switch to open Discord and then mid-call flicking another switch to open up my favourite game feels cyberpunk. It feels fun and unique and mine.
I still use Windows as my regular operating system because I’m gamer trash and a lot of that requires Windows. But even something as simple as shifting my taskbar back to the top (remember when people used to do that?) makes my home PC feel like mine. Maybe I should run further with the Windows customisations and theming, re-explore the wonders of Rainmeter and the like.
While not entirely “customised”, I run my own website (you’re on it now) and host a Mastodon instance for my favourite international/interdimensional megacorp ScorpInc. I run my own GitLab server, RSS reader, email server, music streaming setup, and movie streaming setup. I think this still connects with my desire - running things that are for my friends and I that we control and can customise further if we want.
I want to do more of this.
I’d love to try dual booting with Linux as a desktop operating system and try more customisation there, or see if I can run Windows as a VM with GPU passthrough.
I want to continue filling up my switch panel with functionality and then maybe get something else. Logitech/Saitek also produce the wonderful looking Radio Panel and Flight Instrument Panel and I think I could customise them to have more function on my home network. Having near-real-time displays of my device usage or notifications seems like fun.
I’d love to continue my work with Blender and the Saitek X52 interface for it that I’ve been slowly working on, as it let’s me explore different devices for user interaction instead of just a mouse and keyboard.
Another project I haven’t posted about yet is my OLKB Planck keyboard that I’ve been tempted to rebind as a specific 3D rendering keyboard to help me with my Blender stuff.
What else could I do to customise my tech life?
What do you want to do to customise your tech life?