Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Iconic Changes

I saw a "do not put in garbage" icon on the back of a TV remote today and noticed that it depicted a tub with wheels at one side so it can be tipped up and rolled, not the Oscar-the-Grouch style ridged metal can that I expected. I guess that's what garbage cans look like today. The only one on my street that doesn't look that way turns out to be in use as a planter. not a garbage can.

That startled me. Usually icons depict what something looked like one generation of technology earlier. The "telephone" icon depicted a dial long after pushbuttons were ubiquitous. The airplane silhouette signposting a small airport has the rounded wings and stabilizer of a 1940 Piper Cub and the jet pointing the way to the international airport is probably a B747. The children on the pentagonal blue school crossing signs look like refugees from the 1950s. What would the children look like if they redesigned that sign today? I hadn't realized that the wheelie bin had already become so ubiquitous as to define garbage in an icon.

There's an easy reason why the wheeled bins are so popular in real life, and that's that a big tub of garbage is really heavy. In the old days you kept your garbage cans just inside your property line, by the street. You took out individual bags of garbage and carried them through the garden and/or garage to dump them in the bin, and then on garbage day you dragged the heavy bin to the curb. There was a reason that taking out the garbage was traditionally Dad's job, and that was that Dad had the best chance of deadlifting a hundred pounds of cabbage and pizza boxes. Nowadays anyone can roll the bin all the way from the kitchen to the curb. Progress!

The same sort of thing has happened in aviation. Most jobs no longer require the pilot to roll and load fuel drums, and even when they do, there is usually technology like forklifts available, so as long as the pilot can lift 50 lb suitcases into the baggage compartment, she doesn't need to be superhuman.

Mind you, the woman who won't take out the trash in this cartoon is a supervillain, so that argument shouldn't apply to her. She's just lazy. Or evil. Now I'm wondering if the reader who drew the line at mocking Indiana Jones will interpret this post as feminist. He probably gets people calling him "chauvinist" when he's doing nothing more than describing the world from his point of view. Vive la difference, right?

Also, please ignore the political content of this CNN piece and look at the northern community depicted. It's very familiar to me. A hundred and fifty people, mostly if not all native in extreme isolation in a cold northern location. They look like they're doing okay, though. The camera shows houses with siding and real windows, kids in school who look pretty healthy, and can name a neighbouring country; sober adults with opinions, someone doing something with trash other than leaving it where it lies. I'm sorry to say that I've been in communities lacking this much. I suppose their very isolation is protecting them from drugs and alcohol.


Scott Johnson said...

My favorite "previous generation" icon is the one used on oil pressure gauges. To me, it looks more like a gauge that measures the level inside a gravy boat.

Lord Hutton said...

The video link doesn't appear to be happy (maybe that's just me)
Wheeled (Wheelie) bins. I have to keep my two in the cellar. Great fun to drag out each Tuesday!

Anonymous said...

It's you, Lord Hutton. Or at least your browser &/or settings. My paranoid noscript/adblock firefox plays the javascript embed.

The kids in the video are enough reason to fast-fwd through the old Palin drama. I like the way the girl covers her face and laughs, after correctly answering the question on national TV. ( I imagine a covered blush.)

As far as isolation helping... I don't know. Interesting idea. Maybe the telling isolation is no TV, and I imagine, no internet, So they're protected from US.

Anonymous said...

Try this one (no peeking):

Describe a STOP sign.

You said "A red octagon." Right?

Now describe a yield sign.

How many said "A yellow triangle?"

There's an age cutoff in there somewhere around 40 I think. Amazing how an older memory still sees the yellow triangle despite years of evidence to the contrary.

dpierce said...

Some iconography related to changing times and garbage cans. It would be funny if it weren't necessary. [click me]

Chris Prosser said...

OMG, when did yield signs turn red? I'm only 35...