Ian Storm Taylor is right, media queries are a hack; they’re just one tool that we need to make the web and our sites as universal as possible. We can’t afford to let ourselves or our clients think that they are a silver bullet, they’re only the start. We need smarter tools to enable us to create truly modular, interoperable CSS components. Making heavy-handed adjustments based on the viewport size works for page layout and components that fill the viewport but it’s not robust enough to handle re-usable modules used in different contexts.
From an authoring point of view it’s clear that using media queries for content-level micro-breakpoints is wrong because we must adjust to a global scope to use them. Tools like Sass get around this syntactically by allowing nestable media queries which is more author-friendly but still icky.
I don’t think it’s a huge jump to make selectors context-aware (Edit: Tab Atkins explains why it is). Level 3 CSS selectors already supports a range of functional pseudo-classes such as
:not() and level 4 is proposing extended functionality plus a new
:matches() selector. There have been similar ideas for adding media queries as selectors—which is neat—but I propose that the existing pseudo-classes be extended to support media query-like expressions, the only difference being that we are not checking media features but the space available for the matching element.
As has been the case with web development from the start, we’ve re-appropriated the tools we have (think table layouts, floats etc.) to suit our needs and extending existing functional selectors to accept property expressions (to me) seems like a neat step forwards.