I’m a card-carrying Luddite, and by “card” I don’t mean the kind of digital ID you put in a virtual wallet or display on a cell phone. My Luddite status can be established simply by the fact that I watch a lot of DVDs, which remain my preferred way of enjoying movies.

I do hope that DVDs will be with us for years to come, though I’ll admit to having doubts about this. I’ve heard rumours recently that some studios are thinking of abandoning the format entirely. It seems like everything is moving to streaming. But recently I’ve found even my love of DVDs is starting to be undercut by my inability to understand the language of icons. Evidence is here supplied by the “menu” to the DVD I recently watched of the three-part series they made out of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End.

What do these symbols mean? OK, the first you pressed to play the movie. I got that. The second? I don’t know. And I still didn’t know after I clicked on it. It took me to another page that I couldn’t understand the purpose of. I thought it might be scene selection, but I don’t think that was available anywhere. At least I couldn’t find it. The third button was for accessing the DVD’s special features. But how would you get that from an asterisk? The fourth looks like it’s meant to control sound settings, but actually it’s for languages. Which turned out to be superfluous since there was only one audio track and it was English. The fifth was for subtitles, though the only subtitles available were in English. Still, it did allow you to toggle whether you wanted them on or off (if you couldn’t do that from your remote).

Years ago, or really decades ago now, I remember the despair in some circles that arose when it was revealed that more and more automated services were being designed for people who couldn’t read even the simplest instructions. Meaning that menus were entirely controlled by buttons marked with icons. It now seems that, at least in some cases, we’ve lost written instructions completely, to be replaced by visual prompts and cues that are both unnecessary for overcoming language barriers (this particular DVD has no language options other than English) and confusing.

It’s a brave new world, and I’ve been left behind. Childhood’s end, indeed!

3 thoughts on “Iconography

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