Descriptions of the Nondescript

Anachronisms and Prejudices Are Automatic

If we continue to advance technologically, we will certainly create anachronisms that have lasting visibility. A common example is the floppy disk icon which is used to signify the "save" operation in many applications even today. Many young people have no idea what this is a picture of when they first start using computers or computing devices, but they quickly learn it means "save" nonetheless. Eventually, someone older tells them that strange square is a picture of a floppy disk --- a storage medium from the Days of Yore, and they both chuckle about how quaint those old computers were.

Technology won't stop doing this to us. In fact, we're going to be seeing this more and more frequently. It will soon seem absurd to adopt an anachronistic icon like this for any purpose, because we'll all have this silly floppy disk icon as a symbol to remind us what happens when people think only skeumorphically when they're considering the design of an icon for a common operation. This sort of thing --- icons for software applications --- isn't the only example, of course. Airplanes have icons for various features of the cabin like restrooms and smoking and seatbelts that are already seeming aged but not yet outmoded. Cars definitely have images of some already obsolete devices icons: an oil can for the oil pressure, for example.

We're living in a world that changes faster than any of us can actually incorporate into our thinking, no matter how proactively we embrace change. We have habits of behavior, perception, and reaction that aren't appropriate for the world we actually live in. Some of these are deeply ingrained by our thinking, often by childhood and youth experiences. I grew up in Southern Mississippi, where many people have built in innate reactions to various racial stereotypes, for example. Even though most know they're wrong and want to eliminate those reactions, they persist as remnants of learning that was inappropriate at the time, but nevertheless is still stuck in their minds.

I have encountered this over and over as I move through my life. I see young boys standing around on a corner with jeans halfway down their asses and backwards baseball caps on their heads. My reflex is to be wary of them --- to assume they're up to no good. What they're doing there on the corner is collecting money to help pay for the cost of a medical treatment needed by a little old lady in their neighborhood who has no ability to pay. I'm constantly ashamed of my prejudice, but I have it nonetheless.

We do the best we can with what we have. Humans evolved in hostile situations that ingrained in us quick reflexes based on judgment that bypasses conscious thought. If you see someone who is very large and exhibiting a scary body posture coming toward you in a dark alleyway at night, you're going to be led by these ingrained reactions to flinch or even try to fend of the coming attack --- only to discover that you're seeing someone's silhouette who is wearing a dark hat and cape, moving quickly to get to a taxi they see behind you.