Wordcount 318

Icon Fever
by Ronald Bruce Meyer
first published in "Seeds & Stems"
--a publication of the Maryland Apple Corps, Inc.--


I'm a teacher, so I often have to prepare my class notes. I admit I'm still learning my way around the multitude of icons I had to learn in order to interact with my word processor. Learn? I mused ironically: I thought the icons were supposed to be intuitive!

Well, it's not that simple. I can pretty much tell what the BIU buttons stand for. They're more like signs than symbols. I'm even reconciled to undo for undo, even though it's not at all clear just what that arrow is pointing to. But what the devil does print preview mean, anyway?

Now there are some who say that America is heading back to the days when writing was in pictures instead of in words. Just look at the multitude of icons on street signs, on consumer products and in shop windows -- don't get me started on VCRs! -- and you'll see what I mean. In the pre-literate Egyptian days the meanings of their mysterious symbols were kept a sacred secret (hence the origin of hieroglyphics: heroV, sacred, and glufein, to carve). Nowadays the symbols aren't even sacred.

Language itself is symbolic, as my college students have learned from me, but the new hieroglyphics were a good idea only when they were truly intuitive. Nowadays you need a short course to decode this shortcut. It's enough to give you a fever.

That's progress?

I'm not opposed to progress, but it seems to me that when an icon offers no advantage over text it's just razzle-dazzle. It's a pretension, not an extension, if there's no comprehension. Maybe it's time we went back to the quaint strings of letters we are so quickly forgetting. Instead of...

MS Word toolbar

...why not...

MS Word wordbar

...instead? The problem is not just in the computer field, mind you. It's everywhere. There is a tag on my bath towels (and you'll find it on yours, too) that says:

care symbols

...and I haven't a clue!

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.