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Icons That Don't Make Sense Anymore 713

Posted by Soulskill
from the techno-hieroglyphics dept.
theodp writes "The Floppy Disk Icon, observes Scott Hanselman, means 'save' for a whole generation of people who have never seen one. That, and other old people icons that don't make sense anymore — Radio Buttons, Clipboards, Bookmarks, Address Books and Calendars, Voicemail, Manila Folder, Handset Phone, Magnifying Glass and Binoculars, Envelopes, Wrenches and Gears, Microphones, Photography, Televisions, Carbon Copies and Blueprints — are the subject of Hanselman's post on icons that are near or past retirement age, whose continued use is likely to make them iconic glyphs whose origins are shrouded in mystery to many."
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Icons That Don't Make Sense Anymore

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  • Awesome! (Score:5, Funny)

    by rwa2 (4391) * on Sunday May 13, 2012 @02:25AM (#39983641) Homepage Journal

    Let's start a concerted effort to replace them all with emoticons and lolspeak! It's the only language the younger generation understands nowadays, and it will surely withstand the test of time, at least until everyone (or at least the majority of the world's population) speaks Chinese.

    file save: => 101010
    radio buttons -> mutually exclusive buttons: oooOoo
    clipboards -> tablets: [_]
    bookmarks -> googling: [I'm feeling lucky]
    Address books -> meatspace latitude: #
    Calendars -> evites: [why are you late!]
    Voicemail -> audiospam: (_o.O_)
    Manila folder -> tag: [_^gt;
    Handset phone -> smartphone: [_]-
    Magnifying glass -> antburner: --O
    Binoculars -> autofilter: >-
    Envelopes -> GPG header: -- GPG Block --
    Wrenches -> Text XML settings: <?xml?>
    Gears -> Binary XML settings: 0_o
    Microphones -> smartphones: [_]-
    Photography -> smarthpones: [_]-
    Televisions -> tablets: [_]
    Carbon Copies -> DRM: Unskippable [FBI WARNING:]
    Blueprints -gt; code: .cpp

    OK, that was easy, next!

    • Re:Awesome! (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 13, 2012 @02:40AM (#39983715)

      Did you design a linux GUI already? If not, you're hired!

    • Re:Awesome! (Score:5, Funny)

      by ifiwereasculptor (1870574) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @03:37AM (#39983987)

      Too hard. Why not just update the devices icons allude to, as to avoid any confusion?

      file save: => microSD card
      radio buttons -> monolith-shaped smartphone
      clipboards -> monolith-shaped tablet
      bookmarks -> monolith-shaped... eReader?
      Address books -> monolith-shaped smartphone
      Calendars -> monolith-shaped smartphone
      Voicemail -> monolith-shaped smartphone
      Manila folder -> microSD card
      Handset phone -> monolith-shaped smartphone
      Magnifying glass -> that one is still ok
      Binoculars -> also ok
      Envelopes -> microSD card
      Wrenches -> drawing of a $company employee
      Gears -> drawing of a $company employee
      Microphones -> monolith-shaped smartphone
      Photography -> monolith-shaped smartphone
      Televisions -> monolith-shaped tablet
      Carbon Copies -> microSD card
      Blueprints -> open source monolith-shaped smartphone/tablet

      • Re:Awesome! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anne Thwacks (531696) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @04:00AM (#39984059)
        You are missing the point:

        No one has the slightest idea what the icons are. Now that screens have higher resolutions, they cant see them anyway.

        What we need is drop down menus with words in and not that blasted Unity crap.

        • Re:Awesome! (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Patch86 (1465427) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @04:15AM (#39984127)

          To be fair, the Unity HUD thing is pretty nifty (the HUD, not the Dash- which is still not nifty). You hit Alt and you get a small text entry box. You type, and it returns every menu item in the programme you're using that matches the words. Surprisingly useful way of not having to deal with the drop-down menus.

        • Re:Awesome! (Score:5, Informative)

          by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968.gmail@com> on Sunday May 13, 2012 @04:16AM (#39984131) Journal

          Uhhh...except for devices with an "i" in the front of them frankly i haven't seen very many "higher resolution" devices, in fact when it comes to laptops if anything they are going lower resolution with most sub 15 inchers being 1366x768.

          And my boys were too young to remember floppies but that doesn't mean they don't know what the floppy icon means, they just don't call it a floppy but a "save icon". Just because the symbol BEHIND the icon doesn't mean anything to the younger generations does not mean the icon itself is bad.

          I learned just recently how important those icons are when I took on the task of teaching a computer illiterate neighbor how to use a PC. He can now do basic tasks in most programs because the same icons are used in multiple programs so all he had to do was learn those basic icons to know how to do those functions, whether on his XP desktop or Win 7 netbook. again he doesn't know the meaning behind the symbols but frankly that doesn't matter, all that matters is the icons are easily recognizable and similar across platforms and applications.

          So I wouldn't be so quick to just toss them aside, especially since i seriously doubt the majority of devices will have retina displays for quite awhile. Besides if we based it on modern devices there would probably be only 3 or 4 icons, an SD card, a laptop, a flash stick, and a smartphone. So many devices have consolidated that there really isn't enough relevant icons to go around IMHO.

          • Re:Awesome! (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Hatta (162192) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @08:46AM (#39985213) Journal

            What exactly does an illiterate person do with a PC?

        • Re:Awesome! (Score:5, Insightful)

          by kno3 (1327725) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @05:55AM (#39984455)

          No one has the slightest idea what the icons are.

          It would take quite the academic to not know what binoculars are. Seriously, almost everything in the world is a throwback/reference to something that nobody uses/knows what it is any more. Compared to the English language, these icons are stupidly up to date. Fact is, they become self referencing and everyone knows what they mean. I don't want a big long box that says Address book when I can click on an easily recognisable icon. Stop fucking about with a system that works perfectly because of some flawed ideology.

          • Re:Awesome! (Score:4, Insightful)

            by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @10:09AM (#39985683) Journal

            No one has the slightest idea what the icons are.

            It would take quite the academic to not know what binoculars are. Seriously, almost everything in the world is a throwback/reference to something that nobody uses/knows what it is any more. Compared to the English language, these icons are stupidly up to date. Fact is, they become self referencing and everyone knows what they mean. I don't want a big long box that says Address book when I can click on an easily recognisable icon. Stop fucking about with a system that works perfectly because of some flawed ideology.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_and_the_English_Language [wikipedia.org]

            Experts agree... the English language is fucked.

    • Re:Awesome! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by nschubach (922175) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @04:31AM (#39984173) Journal

      I still don't understand why we have to "Save" documents in today's computer age. What's wrong with Auto-save and Undo? Undo is a simply red arrow pointing counter clockwise. Redo is green and clockwise.

      Search icons are not necessary either. Have a text field with localized text "Search" that goes away when you activate the field.

      As far as I'm concerned Folders/Directories can just be squares containing other squares.

      • by mikael_j (106439)

        As far as I'm concerned Folders/Directories can just be squares containing other squares.

        Or, in a metaphor that works both in the real, physical world and on computers (as a reference to objects): A directory is an image of an open box with other boxes in it.

      • What's wrong with Auto-save

        In theory, a program could add a revision for every keystroke. But if you want to revert to a previous revision, it'd be tedious to find the right revision that way. In addition, it'd need to keep the hard drive spinning all the time to store all the diffs in case of power failure. Even in an application with automatic saving, the "save" button still has a purpose, namely to mark a revision as worth keeping.

  • "Old people icons" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 13, 2012 @02:28AM (#39983659)

    Old people are the only ones who need icons to map directly to physical objects they're familiar with. Younger people simply learn the meanings of the icons directly, and they can look them up on Google or Wikipedia if they're curious about the icons' history.

    • by mcrbids (148650)

      Came here to say this. We still "record" things even though we don't use records. Why should this be any different?

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) <mojo@world3AAA.net minus threevowels> on Sunday May 13, 2012 @04:42AM (#39984211) Homepage

      I think of them like Chinese/Japanese ideograms. Those characters are actually little pictures of things, corrupted over the centuries. For example, the ideogram for a person is ä, which started out as a little stick figure with two legs and a body but eventually simplified into what you see.

      A person with no knowledge of these characters might not be able to work out what they mean, but there are at least 1.5 billion people who understand them perfectly because they learned them. They can even figure out the meaning of other ideograms that are combinations of simpler ones, which is similar to seeing an icon of a bookmark with a magnifying glass and inferring that it searches your bookmarks.

    • by mapkinase (958129) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @04:50AM (#39984225) Homepage Journal

      This comment does not make sense. Both old and young people are using the icons the same way: the learn the meaning and then they recognize the icon in a different environemnt.

      I am one of the older people, I knew what a floppy disk is and I knew what saving is, but when I first time saw a floppy disk icon, there is no way I could have figured out why on earth a "floppy disk" would mean saving a file.

      Icons are conventions and it does not matter if recognize original object behind the convention.

      • by FatLittleMonkey (1341387) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @06:16AM (#39984545)

        Agreed, there was nothing that required the floppy icon to mean Save and not Open. (Or even File-Manager. Click on the disk to view what's on the disk, wouldn't that make sense?)

        What the icons mean is mostly arbitrary. But like the controls on cars, once the manufacturers standardised, it meant anyone who could drive, could quickly adapt to any new model. The current trend towards highly generic mono outline icons, different in nearly every program even on the same platform, is completely counter-productive.

        • by mapkinase (958129) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @07:01AM (#39984747) Homepage Journal

          >But like the controls on cars, once the manufacturers standardised, it meant anyone who could drive, could quickly adapt to any new model

          That's true, the usability of an icon is determined by two numbers: N and M and their ratio, where N is the number of times where icon means what most people expect and M is the number of times where icon means something else. And for situation you've described:

          >The current trend towards highly generic mono outline icons, different in nearly every program even on the same platform, is completely counter-productive.

          N=1 and M is not.

          Tip: use a tip (mouseover), that's what I do anyway. Without mouseover, to me the icons are just colorful decorative addition to the menu bars because the author was fond of Maya civilization.

          • by FatLittleMonkey (1341387) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @07:28AM (#39984853)

            Just how do you mouse-over on a touch-device? (They're plagued with those meaningless mono outline type icons.)

      • by fbjon (692006) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @01:14PM (#39986853) Homepage Journal
        Technically speaking, icons are not conventions.

        There are in fact two separate things going on here, the floppy disk is an icon representing exactly that: a floppy disk. But it is also a symbol for "save". It does not matter what the image is as long as we agree on it, because the symbol is going to be distinct from what it refers to anyway. Just like words in a language are symbols, distinct from what they mean: the word "tree" doesn't look or sound anything like an actual tree, but we have no more problem with that than with a floppy disk.

      • by Jim Hall (2985) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @02:49PM (#39987653) Homepage

        This comment does not make sense. Both old and young people are using the icons the same way: the learn the meaning and then they recognize the icon in a different environemnt. I am one of the older people, I knew what a floppy disk is and I knew what saving is, but when I first time saw a floppy disk icon, there is no way I could have figured out why on earth a "floppy disk" would mean saving a file. Icons are conventions and it does not matter if recognize original object behind the convention.

        Turns out, there is actually some scholarly findings about how older and younger audiences understand and use icons. I just finished up a grad course on information design, and it included research on this topic.

        For example, Charalambos Koutsourelakis & Konstantinos Chorianopoulos wrote in the Information Design Journal in 2010 [IDJ 18(1), 22–35] about "Icons in mobile phones: Comprehensibility differences between older and younger users." They selected icons from mobile phones, and tested older v younger audiences to determine how well they understood the intended meaning of each icon.

        In short: Koutsourelakis and Chorianopoulos found that comprehension of icons differs based on the age of the audience. Icons with a high-level of abstraction that do not have immediate real-life metaphors were often difficult for audiences to grasp.

        Koutsourelakis and Chorianopoulos did not comment on the qualities of successful icons common across age groups. However, their samples of successful icons suggest icons that provide a metaphor to real-life activities, and those with which users may have some prior experience, are most likely to be understood by both age groups. Successful icons across both age groups used a tools metaphor to represent “Settings”, and a depiction of an address book for “Phonebook” or a calendar for “Organizer”. Audiences in both age groups found these icons easy to understand

        If you're curious about their results:

        Top 5 best icons for younger users:

        1. wrench for Settings (C4)
        2. screwdriver + wrench for Settings
        3. mobile phone + screwdriver for Settings
        4. wrench for Settings
        5. spiral notebook with classic phone icon for Phonebook (B3)

        Top 5 best icons for older users:

        1. book + phone for Phonebook
        2. book with tabs for Phonebook
        3. spiral notebook with classic phone icon for Phonebook (B3)
        4. wrench for Settings (C4)
        5. picture of calendar for Organizer

        The 5 worst icons for younger users:

        1. picture of a PDA + stylus for Organizer (B4)
        2. mobile phone + circle "i" icon for Calls (A3)
        3. collection of folders with left/right arrows for Calls (E3)
        4. notepad with clock and phone for Calls
        5. collection of blocks for Applications (C3)

        The 5 worst icons for older users:

        1. collection of blocks for Applications (C3)
        2. picture of a PDA + stylus for Organizer (B4)
        3. mobile phone + circle "i" icon for Calls (A3)
        4. collection of folders with left/right arrows for Calls (E3)
        5. manila folder for Files

        So while I agree icons are conventions, and sometimes you just learn what an icon "means", people really do associate certain real-life metaphors with actions that are represented by icons.

  • Let's see now... (Score:5, Informative)

    by davester666 (731373) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @02:28AM (#39983665) Journal

    Microphones...still used everywhere, they've just changed their shape.
    Magnifying Glasses..still used to see small things, or did I miss out on the genetic change given people 20-10 eyesight.
    Binoculars...see Magnifying glasses [I suppose they are less common just because fewer people seem to be spending time experiencing the great outdoors].
    Televisions...um, what Universe is this tool living in?
    Wrenches and Gears...I guess once everyone now over 30 dies, civilization ends or everything has switched to using magnets

    • by HEMI426 (715714) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @02:36AM (#39983699) Homepage
      I'm somewhat scared that people have never had to use a wrench to fix anything. Most of the self-respecting geeks I know are also gearheads... No one is a musician any more? Microphones are unknown to most people? I agree...What Universe is this tool living in?
      • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968.gmail@com> on Sunday May 13, 2012 @04:26AM (#39984155) Journal

        I have to say having a mic there really threw me as well. it isn't just musicians, nobody has gone to a karaoke bar? Seen American Idol? been to a concert? Seen an interview?

        Maybe the guy had to stretch it for page views or something. Oh and radio buttons? only geeks and programmers call them that because dealing with average folks 6 days a week i can tell you they call those "single choice buttons", oh and the wrench they always call either the prefs button or the option button, nobody I've talked to calls it a wrench. But if he decides to write another one of these i suggest he talk to some actual folks and see what they say first as some of his choices are bizarre.

      • Re:Let's see now... (Score:4, Informative)

        by JazzHarper (745403) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @11:44AM (#39986257) Journal

        What Universe is this tool living in?

        Scott Hanselman is a principal program manager at Microsoft. (I am not joking.)

    • For the television icon, at least, it's directly related to the rabbit-ears issue - no one uses them anymore, and kids have no idea what that "V" over the television means.

      • by Hognoxious (631665) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @03:58AM (#39984053) Homepage Journal

        If it was just the rectangle it could mean tablet, screen, box, window.

        What it comes down to is that computers are becoming multipurpose devices with so many things being done in software, which means that if you implemented realistic symbols everything would look like everything else. That's is precisely what icons are not supposed to do.

    • TFS is misleading... the things you complain about are only complained about in aspects.

      <karma-whoring>

      Magnifying Glasses vs. Binoculars... he suggests that these icons should have been switched
      Televisions... he complains about the "rabbit ears" aspect of many iconic renditions

      The other two are just assuming that no one touches the tools anymore because they're not widely wielded anymore.

    • Televisions are the same as microphones - they're used everywhere, but they look nothing like the bulky box with the rabbit-ear antenna on top that adorns icons. And changing them to look like modern televisions wouldn't work, cause modern televisions aren't really iconic - most consumer electronic devices seem to be converging on a featureless black box (physical description, not poorly-understood process metaphor).

      Magnifying Glasses and Binoculars - I can't remember the last time I've used either of those

    • by EdIII (1114411)

      Everything you mentioned is debatable though as to whether or not it could be recognized for its function.

      A sextant would hardly be recognized today as being related to navigation. It's not like you could use that as an icon for Google navigation on a smartphone.

      Well except the wrenches and gears. Anyone technically inclined is going to to assume it either means settings, configurations, or basically anything that has to do with the low level function or repair of a program. Technology is going to have t

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      Ya, but maybe the author is only 12 and has never left the room to see the world? I also see clipboards (ie, pass any voter signup booth on the street), bookmarks (paper books still outsell electronic fluff by a zillion to one), calendars (even electronic ones are laid out in the same way and any school that doesn't teach this needs fixing), manilla folders & envelopes (ubiquitous), and on occasion blue prints.

      Now to be fair carbon copies are really old. However I doubt the concept is foreign to kids,

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 13, 2012 @02:32AM (#39983689)

    Borgified Bill Gates representing Microsoft?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 13, 2012 @02:35AM (#39983697)

    So what do we use? Should we have a picture of a piece of fiber for everything? Maybe a few ones and zeroes? This is a non-issue by a blogger without enough new ideas.

    • by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @02:45AM (#39983761) Homepage Journal

      Indeed, it's easy to complain, but difficult to offer real alternatives. Our world is increasingly non-physical such that there are few if any replacement images these days. So it seems you have 3 choices:

      1. Use old-fashioned ideas
      2. Use new-fashioned ones, which are either confusingly abstract or don't exist.
      3. Don't use icons, period.

      Most people recognize images faster than words (once learned), so 3 is out.

      So let's see what you have with #2 before we toss #1. Show them or put up.

    • by Dan541 (1032000)

      Exactly, even kids today who have never seen a floppy disk know what the icon represents.

  • by erice (13380) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @02:36AM (#39983703) Homepage

    Wrenches, gears, magnifying glasses, screw drivers. These are not obsolete tools. Kids still ride bicycles. Bicycles still have gears and near screw drivers and wrenches for adjustment and repair. Magnifying glasses aren't the most useful of items but they are still cheap and as often seen now as 20 years ago.

    • If you were into electronics (sort of literally), you'd consider magnifying glasses as pretty much "the most useful of items". Electronic components are unlikely to become bigger in the future and electronics are not exactly about to become obsolete, so the magnifying glass still will be with us for some time. Heck, you can't even read the type number on most microchips without some good light and a magnifying glass.
  • by isopropanol (1936936) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @02:37AM (#39983705) Journal

    But all the other ones are just plain wrong...
    Only the name is wrong with radio buttons...
    I, and most other people who have to take paperwork away from a desk, use clipboards daily,
    Books are still quite normal around here, especially if you've been to school,
    People still use address books and calenders, electronic devices supplement them,
    Voicemail icon yes, it is dated,
    Every office I've been in has had lots of beige folders,
    Almost every desk phone has a handset that looks somewhat like that, even VoIP phones,
    Physical magnifying glasses and binocuilars are still for looking for stuff,
    Most people around here still get at least bills in envelopes,
    If said 20-something has ever known anyone who took shop classes they should know what a wrench is (though what a wrench has to do with settings, I don't know),
    Microphones like that are still used in recording studios and on bar stages,
    Polaroids look like prints...,
    Might not know why it's got feelers, but it still looks like a TV,
    Last time I made a carbon copy, I was filling out a waybill... last Thursday (also a mimeograph machine does not do carbon copies, it makes mimeographs)

    • by MagusSlurpy (592575) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @02:51AM (#39983783) Homepage

      If said 20-something has ever known anyone who took shop classes they should know what a wrench is (though what a wrench has to do with settings, I don't know),

      Easy. Wrenches are used to break things.

      • by Mashiki (184564)

        Sad but true. Most middle and highschools have gutted their shop classes. When I was in highschool I was the last group to get machining, woodshop, basic fabrication and welding. And it's not like this was some ancient place, we had oxy-acetel, plasma, mig and tig. 3 types of CNC machines, and a computer assisted one. All gone the year after I graduated.

        As for the GP's comment on tape? Well, we still use tape backups as part of our offsite backup solution. We also use HDD's and an online cloud based

  • by billcopc (196330) <vrillco@yahoo.com> on Sunday May 13, 2012 @02:37AM (#39983707) Homepage

    Business plan for making $3.50 online:

    1. Be an ignorant hipster microserf excitable attention whore
    2. Write an ignorant article that makes you and your equally unenlightened followers giddy
    3. Submit to slashdot and hope it's one of those new moronic editors who reviews it
    4. Traffic
    5. ??? (hint: cinnamon-chai lattés until your head implodes)
    6. PROFIT!

    This site's getting so bad, it's making Gizmodo look good.

  • by Metricmouse (2532810) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @02:42AM (#39983725)
    The dollar sign is thought to be a slash through an eight representing 'pieces of eight', an older Spanish currency denomination, but everyone still knows what $ means. Icons that everyone is used to and that can be recognized as to their function should be left alone, for efficiency and a nice little piece of nostalgia.
  • Radio Buttons (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Moridineas (213502) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @02:42AM (#39983727) Journal

    I feel stupid saying this, but before reading this blurb (I refuse to click the link and give this guy hits), I never made the connection that radio buttons were from the old push-down / pop-up radio buttons.

    Which just goes to show, iconography or UI elements don't have to have a connection to something commonly used or known to be understood. I've been able to use radio buttons fine for decades without realizing what the historical antecedent was.

    Besides, who today hasn't seen a clipboard, bookmark, calendar, manila folder, magnifying glass, binocular, envelope, wrench or gears, microphone, photograph, or television? I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that in 50 years, all those things will still exist and still be commonly known. Most of those things are necessary as long as being a human still involves interacting with the physical world in some way. I don't think books will disappear, and I don't think tablets will end paper. Even if the devices themselves change (ie, binocular or magnifying glass into a unified electric optical device?), the analog remains.

    Address Books and handset phones are likely to be things of the past, carbon copies pretty rare (though still very common today), and blue prints probably in the dustbin of history. If we got rid of "carbon copy" what would we rename the CC field to? "Other addresses that this message should go to, but not be the primary recipient of?" And BCC?

    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @05:08AM (#39984271)

      You have to have SOME icon for things, there is no reason to change it arbitrarily to shit nobody understands. People know that the calendar icon gets you, well a calendar even if they've never seen a real calendar.

      Then as you point out most of them are not at all archaic. Manila folders still dominate filing cabinets at businesses, TVs don't look like they did in the 50s, but TVs are still everywhere and not dropping in numbers. Wrenches are same as they ever were and if you own a house, you either have a wrench or will have one soon enough.

      This was just an article written by some moronic 19 year old hipster who has fuck-all experience with the world. "Oh these are things I've never seen in Starbucks or my philosophy 101 classroom, clearly they are obsolete!"

      Also, funny enough, companies do update their iconography. Like in Windows it uses an icon that looks like a widescreen LCD HDTV to represent a TV (for things like HDMI outs in the sound panel or the like). They do generally modernize the look as time goes on.

      However ultimately it doesn't matter. If we recognize the icon as meaning something, we will continue to. Hell take a look at the icon for Steam. It is a black background with a strange white joint on it. It is just the logo Valve made for Steam. I don't know what it is supposed to represent, if anything. Doesn't matter, I instantly recognize it and my brain says "That is Steam." Same shit with any other icon.

  • FAIL?!? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Y2K is bogus (7647) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @02:45AM (#39983755)

    When I read the article I felt like the world at large has failed. With the resurgence of the DIY genre, why do the young ones have to be ignorant of history? It seems like the intention is to forget all that came before, so nobody can have an original idea. The irony is that many great, original, ideas are a rehash of some previous idea because it was the best way to do something.

    As someone who grew up using floppies, building computers, learning to program, and finally leaving that arena to explore a career in one of the oldest professions, metalworking, I have a particular spot for history and nostalgia.

    Just because every 14 year old kid has an ARM A5 processor strapped to them doesn't mean the lessons that were learned in the 80's, innovating computers and electronics, aren't just as applicable today.

    I feel it takes an appreciation for the classical trades and the way things *were* done, to truly appreciate what we have -- and apply the hard won principles of yesteryear to tomorrow.

    Sure, those icons stand for concepts that we rarely use today, but many of them were "obsolete" when they were invented. Further, what would we replace them with, what are the analogues today that people will unmistakebly associate those actions with? What, two fingers making a V? How about a curly swipey gesture?

    The world is full of things past and present, let's not throw them away because the "future" beckons "futuristic" notions.

  • Meh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wiegeabo (2575169) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @02:45AM (#39983757)

    This article might have been interesting if it had actually suggested replacement icons.

    But just pointing out that they're old?

    It doesn't matter that their old, everyone that uses them knows what the icons mean because they've 'always' meant that. And those that don't just use menus.

  • by goodmanj (234846) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @02:49AM (#39983773)

    It doesn't actually matter if a kid has never seen a reel-to-reel tape player. The thing about symbols is, eventually they can stop being metaphors and start to have meaning in *themselves*.

    Take for example the ampersand, &. It's a stylized, abbreviated form of the Latin word "et", meaning "and". You probably didn't know that, but you don't need to know Latin to understand that & means "and". The Latin letter "B" comes from the Phoenecian letter "bet" [wikipedia.org] which also means "house", possibly because the letter once looked a bit like one. At this point the symbol is so far removed from its origin that we're not sure, but nobody cares. The Japanese katakana and hiragana writing systems work in a similar way: they're simplified versions of characters derived from Chinese symbols, and originally represented a word that starts with a certain sound. But now they just stand for the sound itself.

    The same thing is happening with icons. 200 years from now, nobody will know what magnetic tape was, but so long as my new phone uses the same symbol for "voicemail" that my last one did, I'll be able to use it just fine.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 13, 2012 @04:02AM (#39984073)

      The same thing is happening with icons. 200 years from now, nobody will know what magnetic tape was, but so long as my new phone uses the same symbol for "voicemail" that my last one did, I'll be able to use it just fine.

      I don't care how great the iPhone 204 will be, I still don't think a dead man can use it.

  • What's new? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Steauengeglase (512315) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @02:52AM (#39983793)

    Symbols are passed on and re-purposed all the time.

    Just because the Medici family isn't all that these days doesn't mean the 3 balls aren't still the symbol for pawn broker.

    Or what about that cross for Christianity? These modern day kids haven't seen any crucifixions lately. How will they relate? Might want to throw out Lady Justice and her scales along with the Caduceus while we are at it.

    The bad ones will die off (voice mail is particularly unintuitive), the others live on just because they are distinctive. Abstract Square, not so much.

  • Agism? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @02:52AM (#39983795) Homepage Journal

    Where's the "And git off my lawn!" icon when you need it.

  • by XiaoMing (1574363) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @02:53AM (#39983799)

    What the shit kind of haphazard article was this?
    I can see how the fast pace of technological evolution can make other things seem glacial, but some of those things were a fucking stretch beyond measure.

    Does he think we already live in a paperless society?
    Because clipboards, manila folders, envelopes, and calendars all still exist and are commonplace.

    And taking issue with binoculars and magnifying glasses? I guess as a technologically advanced people, we've replaced basic optics with what, psychic powers to conveniently amplify the size of things for our comprehension?
    He goes on to make a statement about how they are confusing and whatnot (no they aren't, Sherlock Holmes used a magnifying glass to search for clues and shit), but how does that even deal with his preface of the article, which is about anachronism?

    And I can see how the phone's silhouette is one that isn't QUITE the most modern thing... but honestly what would you update it with? A little metal rectangle to represent the candy-bar phones we have now? Honestly the next best thing is probably the Motorola-Brick, which is iconic as a cell-phone, but existed concurrently with those phone silhouettes anyway.

    Other no-duh's include Studio mics (vs. what else would you use? A pinhole to represent the integrated mic in a webcam?), and who the fuck doesn't recognize a gear or a screwdriver as the innards of something?

    And finally, regarding

    I suspect my voicemail is no longer stored on spooled magnetic tape

    given http://searchdatamanagement.rl.techtarget.co.uk/detail/RES/1320101138_161.html [techtarget.co.uk] that article, I'm not so sure this guy even understands the world beyond just what he himself specifically sees and touches.

    Basically, he tried to justify a full blown article based on his observation of: Floppies, and Radio Buttons.

  • by blandcramration (2636571) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @02:58AM (#39983821)
    The person that wrote this acts as if no one under 30 has ever seen any of these objects; to say so is completely ludicrous. I'm 28 and I have used floppy discs since I was 7, I've spoken on a telephone (over a cellphone) for most of my life, I've driven an older car with radio buttons, and I read books and like to keep my place. To assume anyone under 30 doesn't use tools, remember when polaroid went out of business, or owned a calendar is completely ignorant. Does everyone over 30 automatically have specific knowledge of these things? Does this make everyone under 30 completely ignorant to anything produced prior to the 1990s? Fuck off.
  • Skeuomorphism (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sarusa (104047) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @03:01AM (#39983837)

    The term is 'skeumorph' - it's like a wheel with decorative spokes. The wheel no longer needs them for strength, but they're there because a wheel 'needs' spokes.

    The other obvious one is camera apps making a shutter sound.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skeuomorph [wikipedia.org]

  • Nothing new (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pthisis (27352) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @03:05AM (#39983841) Homepage Journal

    This is nothing new. We still talk about pencil lead even though it's been graphite since Roman times, bands cutting new tracks though wax recording is long past, calculus though we don't count with stones, and dialing phones though the rotary phone is nearly extinct. "Pump the brakes" has enjoyed a renaissance of popularity as a slang phrase despite antilock brakes being universal, and people still go balls to the wall or run out of steam.

    It's more important that these icons and idioms are standard and well-understood than that people remember their origins.

  • Icons are symbols (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hymer (856453) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @03:15AM (#39983875)

    Icons work because we have learned what the symbol means not because the symbol makes sense. Red Cross and the biohazard sign are examples of this.
    If you change the symbol you have to learn everybody the meaning of the new symbol instead of just learning children the meaning of the old one.
    Furthermore you don't have any guarantee that the shiny new symbol will be meaningful in a couple of years.

  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @03:43AM (#39984003)

    We maintain many symbols that don't make sense in a modern context anymore.

    They're symbols. We use them because they mean something. They are as useful as they are easily understood. If due to these modern changes people no longer understand what the symbols mean, THEN they'll be bad. But so long as people know what they mean they're fine.

    The objective is communication. That's the point of symbols. Until they're not understood they should remain unchanged. By all means, suggest alternatives and try to use them. But don't act like everyone else is doing the world a disservice by not following along.

  • Dolly (Score:5, Funny)

    by jones_supa (887896) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @05:59AM (#39984473)
    I had a chuckle a couple of days ago when I saw the VirtualBox "Clone" menu icon to be a sheep.
  • by mbstone (457308) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @06:20AM (#39984561)

    Or maybe by a "carriage return" followed by a "line feed." You see, the text I am writing, and that you are reading, is written in ASCII which is based on the Model 33 Teletype. On a Teletype, a carriage return character (0x0D) would cause the print head to travel all the way to the left; a line feed (0x0A) would cause a roll of paper to move vertically upward by one line.

    The modern experience of "going online" is derived from the fact that the Model 33 Teletype had a rotary switch that controlled an electric motor. This switch had three positions, "Line," "Off, and "Local." At my high school, one prepared computer programs in BASIC using "Local" mode so that the program could be punched onto paper tape, one character at a time, while the Teletype was disconnected from the computer system.

    Use of computer systems had to be paid for according to the amount of time used, measured in seconds or even milliseconds. Computer time was then too expensive for a user to be allowed to sit at the Teletype keyboard and manually enter keystrokes; instead, after the entire program was punched onto paper tape, the switch would be turned to the "Line" position and the paper tape reader would cause the program to be transmitted to the computer at the Teletype's maximum speed of 110 baud. This was known as "going on Line."

    Early microcomputer systems, like larger computers, used Teletypes as I/O devices and ASCII was used internally to store and interpret alphanumeric data. This continued long after users migrated from Teletypes to video display terminals, e.g. DEC VT-100, and then to the IBM PC as the I/O device of choice. Many special function keys from the Model 33 remain in use [asciitable.com] to this day, for example the Esc (0x1B), Ctrl, Backspace (0x08), Tab (0x09) and DEL (0x7F) keys. The DEL (Delete) code is 0x7F because hitting DEL would cause all the holes in that row of paper tape to be punched (get it, 0x7F). So if you made a typing mistake you could back up the paper tape by one character and type DEL, this would punch through your errant character and the computer would ignore the DEL character.

  • by wienerschnizzel (1409447) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @06:35AM (#39984633)

    Next week we'll examine the outdated gestures like the handshake and the military salute.

    Jeesh, do kids born after 1500 even know what these things mean?!

  • by WaffleMonster (969671) on Sunday May 13, 2012 @07:17AM (#39984823)

    While I am not able to remember when I last saw a floppy disk icon I appreciate and identify with your insatiable thirst for cherry picking and hyperbole.

    Radio buttons... Thanks for the education. I never gave it a second thought or made that connection because like yourself I'm a fucking idiot. Speaking of connections how does this label count as an icon that "does not make sense" anymore? What icon? And since when the hell do non-programmers (using term very loosly) even know radio buttons are called radio buttons anyway?

    'No, books didn't "keep our place when we turned them off."' Personally I use old movie tickets as bookmarks while debugging my punch cards.

    "I use folders because I use the 43 Folders organizational system"

    You admit even you use folders and yet this still makes your list of 14 icons that don't make sense anymore. Why is your nonsense even on slashdot? How much moola did it take to get ./ to sell its soul? Why am I wasting my time replying to this? I suspect its cause we're both fucking idiots.

    "The world's most advanced phones include an icon that looks like a phone handset that you haven't touched in 20 years, unless you've used a pay phone recently."

    What you really meant to say was "I have not had a job in 20 years"

    "Soon the envelope itself will go away and the next generation will wonder what this rectangle means and what it has to do with email. "

    Hate to break it to ya snail mail aint not going nowhere anytime soon. I'm drawn like a bug to headlights to origional point of this exercise.. "14 other old people icons that don't make sense anymore". I understand you may think the flux capacitor you ordered off ebay was sold as a "prop" only to cover for its amazing properties just as the xbox360 "box only" I ordered contained an actual xbox360.

    "If you don't know who Johnny Carson is, how could you know that this is a old-style microphone?"

    I know right cause if you like google "usb microphone" only modern futurastic usb era microphones appear and they look NOTHING like that icon.

    "Want to indicate Settings or Setup to a twenty something? Show them a tool they've never used in their lives."

    Now your just being rude and condescending. What I might have said previously in humor I mean sincerely now "FUCK YOU".

    "No one under 30 has seen a Polaroid in years but we keep using them for icons. Instagram sold for $1B with an icon whose subtlety was lost on its target audience"

    Ok so your under 30... now lets see if we can narrow the field with our "binoculars"... 12? 11?.. close?

    That instagram icon does not show any slots with pictures coming out of it. In fact it does not even remotly resemble a real polariod camera at all. The only resembelence I see is a misplaced iconic rainbow stripe. It actually resembles a nondescript film camera. Instagram uses such icons because nostalgia is the whole fucking point of instagram.

  • Seriously, 20 somethings haven't used a screw driver or or wrench? Instragram was made by young people largely for young people. Hipsters certainly know what a polaroid is. It's the thing that gives them wet dreams.

    It's very easy to sit there, assume every young person is an idiot and moan about icons using "out dated" imagery to describe their purpose but why no try and propose something better and more modern? I suspect it's not easy at all which is why it's easy to find people that moan about these icons but no one who can propose something better.

    We have centuries of information to reference. Assuming no one has seen these things and everyone just works with computers and electronic devices but that's not true. We still sell piles of calendars. We still use folders, pencils and cameras with lenses and we still use phones with handsets. Perhaps not every single person does but they've no gone away.

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