Icons and old eyes

Up until my early 40s, I never wore glasses. My vision was fine, both for reading and distance. Then what felt like overnight, I needed bifocals.

Well, it wasn’t really overnight. I went through that period of getting by without glasses, but having to hold menus at arms’ length. That sort of thing. Then I started getting headaches from eyestrain, working at a computer all day. So, I got my first reading glasses.

It was a very slippery slope from that point on. A little help quickly morphed into a lot of help and before I knew it, I couldn’t read without glasses. And since I probably spend 90% of my waking hours either reading actual print or staring at a computer screen, it was a quick jump to bifocals with a very weak distance prescription, just so I wouldn’t be taking the glasses on and off the hundred times a day I wasn’t looking at print – whether for 30 seconds or an hour at a time. My reading prescription was so strong, it was very uncomfortable looking beyond the print, even briefly.

So now, my vision really pretty much sucks. I’ve never been able to figure out how hard we should work in the optometrist’s office, you know? Should you squint and strain and guess at each letter on the chart, attempting to read lines you’d never waste your time on without your glasses in real life? It seems to me that they encourage that you do so.

Which brings me to part two of this little essay: icons. Icons and eyes. Is it coincidence that they sound a bit alike? I don’t know the origin of the word, icon. Although I did think it was associated with images in churches before becoming commonly used to indicate little pictures on our computer screens. I kind of see the leap – but only in the loosest possible way. Interesting choice by the computer folks. But anyway.

Even with my glasses, many icons are too small to make sense to me “as is.” I really need to see a larger picture to try to determine what the little design actually is before I can then associate it with the action it’s supposed to represent. I mean, that makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

For instance, I finally broke down and bought a Blackberry this spring. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be that connected, but in my business, it was becoming stubbornly archaic not to have instant access to my email, etc.

This involved learning new apps and recognizing a number of new icons representing apps both new and old. One that threw me and – I’m almost embarrassed to say – I’ve just today figured out is to tell me I have a voicemail message. You’d think that would be one I’d learn immediately, but usually there’s a huge notice in a block telling me there’s a voicemail and I don’t have to rely on the tiny icon that shows there’s one waiting from awhile back.

To me, the icon looks like the way film used to look for the old Kodak Instamatic cameras. If I remember correctly for that camera model, it was essentially two plastic cylinders connected to each other by a short expanse in the middle where the film would advance from one side to the other. If you know what I’m talking about and look at your own Blackberry (you must have one, or something similar, since I was quite possibly the last adult under 60 to get one, or something similar) you will see what I mean.

I have now figured out – an “aha!” moment, actually – that the icon is supposed to be a telephone receiver. At least I think so. Again, it’s so teeny, weeny, it’s all but impossible for me to swear to it.

But if it’s supposed to represent a phone, well . . . talk about archaic! When was the last time you spoke on a phone that has that kind of old fashioned curved piece with round speakers for ear and mouth? The kind that is attached to and rests on whatever we called the rest of the base where either a dial or push buttons were used to make a call? They probably still have them in phone booths, but who uses a phone booth anymore, either?

So it makes me wonder if kids getting their own Blackberries look at the voicemail icon and wonder what on earth it could be. They’re not familiar with old fashioned phones and wouldn’t know an Instamatic from an eight track tape player.

And on my desktop, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve clicked on Windows Explorer instead of Microsoft Outlook. They’re both sort of yellow with circles in the middle. I know one is supposed to represent a magnifying glass (at least I think so), but I’m not really sure what the other one is. I know it’s an envelope, but why the circle in the middle? Anyway, I have to keep them far apart from each other or I make the mistake regularly.

I tend to do that with Word and Excel, too. Yes, one is green and the other blue, but they both look like tiny pieces of paper, I guess, and as I’ve already said, my eyesight just isn’t that great, even with glasses.

I know I could change the size of the fonts and everything on my computer, but I think I’ll wait until I’m a little more feeble and perhaps have no choice. I could get one of those Jitterbug phones, but that would not endear me to my clients who have become accustomed already to me reading and reacting to their emails in a timely fashion, even when we’re traveling. Plus, although I’m not shy about stating my age, I don’t really want to carry around a phone that might encourage people to assume I’m even older than I am. Sorry, Jitterbug – but does anyone younger than, oh 80? – even use those things?

And this is almost totally off the subject, but if you ever watch “Seinfeld” reruns, don’t you have to laugh when Jerry answers his phone? It wasn’t that long ago  that portable phones were practically the size of shoe boxes.

I have to say, that despite my old eyes and myriad other shortcomings, I am so happy that computers and the internet have developed so rapidly in my lifetime. I love technology! I love blogging!

I can’t get excited about Twitter, but who knows what will be next? Very fun.

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