From symbolism to symbols

There is a moment, in the First Sex in the City movie, where Carrie realizes that Big isn’t coming to their wedding venue (because he is a ridiculous man child, obviously, who only showed devotion when he could buy his way out of it BUT I DIGRESS) Carrie, panicking, asks for a phone. Samantha throws her an iPhone. She looks at the screen, covered in the first generation of apps, and says, simply, I can’t use this. I don’t know how.

Thinking of that scene, it seems so quaint. How could anyone be so clueless as to not be able to use a smartphone? How could anyone have lacked the intuition to grasp the technology, driven as it is by pictures and icons? It is a moment made for empathy from the audience, as if to say, see this confusing technology? It’s OK not to understand it! Even sophisticated New York women cannot efficiently use this newfangled geek device from Silicon Valley!

Now, at the age that the character was in that movie, I think, how did we manage to grasp all this technology? How is it that most of us swam so smoothly into the tide of all of this change? All of these smartphones, all of these computers, all of this digital existence? How is it all of us, all of my generation, managed to transition from the first days of a text-only Internet, to the bright icons, shapes, colors, all of the wordless material that makes up the apps and pictures on our phones? How did our brains transition from having the information, in the format of words that we were used to for centuries, and just suddenly seeing it flow through in a completely different interface every few years?

Look at all these tiny pictures!

In the world of today, I feel fortunate enough to be from a unique generation. I remember A World Before the internet, but only barely. I am still able to see the internet as something miraculous, a conduit that allows for a flow of information and communication we never could have imagined in the past.

That, however, was words. The smartphones are all about images. They are a new way of looking at information, full of symbols. There are the pleasingly aesthetic squares of apps, the shortcut sentences of emojis, the flash of lights on the phone itself to represent a message from another person. My phone speaks to me in a code of shortcuts.

This is why I had to delete the Facebook app off my phone: the notification icon babbles at me otherwise.

How did the Xennials all learn this so quickly, changing the way we interpret information in so few years? How were we poised for this absorption of information? Words alone, I get – Western culture prizes ourselves on our ability to absorb words and change them into images and emotions in our brains. We have done that collectively for half a millennium, since the printed, widely distributed word accelerated the ability to read. The Internet as it was in 1995 makes perfect sense to me. The way we choose to communicate now though, it goes around the words. It is a direct transfer of simple information, including emotions, without the need to take in words and change them, in our brains, to a concept.

πŸ†πŸ†πŸ†πŸπŸπŸŒπŸ₯’πŸ₯’πŸ₯’πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ†πŸ†πŸ†

Pretty sure this means something filthy IN PHONE SPEAK

Maybe this is how we moved so quickly to smartphones and this image and metaphor laden technology. It isn’t that we went forward, it’s that we went backwards. Most of what is done in smartphone communication is images and symbols because it is too cumbersome to pull together a coherent set of words. Going without words entirely may be more efficient on this device, but it strikes me as lazier .

I’m actually typing this on a smartphone, using it as a small computer. It isn’t efficient, but it’s how I write on the subway. The concepts I’m trying to express, I want a reader to interpret through the nuances of words. There are no cookie cutter symbols that can replace original paragraphs. Maybe there are images, but I’d rather forces a reader to create those themselves. It’s effort for both the writer and reader this way.

Oh and that smartphone Carrie caught in the movie? Thrown to her by Samantha. Who is ten years older than the other girls. Proving, of course that anyone can learn this nerdy new tech, especially when it helps them run their successful small business. And I am sure the writers would have forced a gratuitous use of a series of sex icons like the ones above in lieu of dialogue on the extremely well spoken and articulate Kim Cattrall if the 3rd movie had taken place, proving my point about laziness as well.

One response to “From symbolism to symbols

  1. Pingback: happy 20th to impressionable women everywhere | Jillian's Blog

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