Skip to content


October 19, 2012

If you’re a text messager you probably already know there’s an app which allows you to insert cute little icons into your messages. A picture is worth a thousand words after all, and when you only have 160 characters to work with an icon can convey a lot of meaning in a small space. But beware! Meaning is easily obscured, especially when you only have a few hundred icons to choose from.

For example, a few weeks ago I received a message from my sweetheart with an elephant appended to the end. The message itself was rote: it’s dark out, I’m working on dinner, call me later. But what did the elephant mean? I had no idea and therefore lacked insight on how to respond. I scanned through the available animals and settled on a donkey – maybe because it’s an election year. But a donkey didn’t feel like enough. I wanted to add something personal, a touch of artistic license perhaps; something that said I get you.

Except I didn’t. Inspiration continued to elude me. At first I added a set of smooching red lips, but it occurred to me that could be interpreted as ‘kiss my ass.’ Not what I was trying to convey. I replaced the lips with a heart. Hmmm… ass love? We weren’t deep enough into the relationship for such a suggestion. Goodbye heart. In the end I simply sent the donkey; it seemed the safest response, but made as much sense as the elephant had in the first place.

It’s odd, with so many methods available, how hard it can be to communicate clearly. Here we are 136 years into the age of the telephone; we can chat instantaneously across the globe, attend college online, watch our grand-kids grow up in different cities, perform banking and business transaction remotely, and network with social groups around the world. And yet we seem no closer to understanding each other.

What did that damn elephant mean? And why was there an elephant icon in the first place? Or a donkey, for that matter. What situation could possibly arise in which it was absolutely necessary to use a picture of an animal instead of typing the paltry letters which comprised its name? It seemed like a case of information overload.

To draw an analogy, let’s examine my daughter’s Lego collection. Over the last year she’s collected so much that there’s no room on the table to build anything new. I actually lost interest in Lego because of how it’d turned into a consumer event rather than a creative activity. Then, a couple of months ago, we hosted a party. She was concerned that other kids would break her buildings so we stuck her favorite ones in the attic for the day. They haven’t come out since. She hasn’t asked for them once. And there’s still too much Lego!

Similarly with icons. Some of them are useful – the faces in particular. You’re actually able to convey emotion with them (hence the term emoticon), but I would be just as happy without the plethora of animals, buildings, vehicles, flowers, food items, clothing, gear, signals, symbols, and such. Give me a thousand words and speak clearly, thank you very much. Or take a picture of something real.

When I asked about the elephant she replied, ‘I like elephants. They’re cute.’ That’s when I realized I may have been over-analyzing the whole situation.


From → Rants

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: