Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Vocabulary: Skeuomorph

LightTorch

Skeuomorph is a derivative object that retains the design elements to a structure that was necessary in the original.

There are mechanical pencils with the same color scheme as a standard wooden pencil, yellow in its body and its eraser on top, bright beige. There are car body painting patterns that mimic wooden panels of yesteryears. But many of the examples of skeuomorphism designs live in the digital domain, because the familiar physical elements of the original object are meant to bring a sense of familiarity to the users. Electronic notes apps often mimic a physical notepad design, complete with a shaded side to represent what would have been the pad’s binding.

With iOS7, Apple ditched the skeuomorphism designs. Perhaps it’s time, as there is a whole generation of students looking for a small diskette icon to save their documents when they have never even owned a floppy disk. They would essentially be learning what that icon means from scratch because they are unaware of the design’s original meaning, like finding out that your favorite punk song was actually a cover of a rock classic. My friend has a son, who must have just begun elementary school at the time. When the boy got into a car that happened to have a cassette tape deck, he asked his father what it was for. Amused, my friend started to explain that it was a device to listen to music, when the kid interrupted, “I know, I know, it’s where the iPod goes.”

Then I thought about all the gestures that are in some sense obsolete, or will be obsolete soon. Pointing your finger at your wrist to indicate there isn’t time, or to hurry up, or “what time is it?” assumes the invisible watch on our wrist. That gesture would not have made sense to mean what it means before the invention of the wrist watch, and it won’t after we stop wearing an instrument that told time on our wrists. How long will we gesture with an upright shaka sign to say “call me” when our friends have canceled landlines and use headsets rather than handsets.

Those and other gestures may survive, though they may deviate in meaning a little, or parents may be caught empty handed when explaining to a child why it means what it means. There are proverbs and maxims that refer to rituals we no longer partake in, but have survived. I had to ask several native English speakers to find out why “getting your goat” means to making you angry or annoyed. The one who was able to tell me knew only because he had recently looked it up on the Internet himself: goats were used to accompany the racehorses before the races to calm their nerves. By stealing their goat, the horses presumably would do poorly in the race.

Skeuomorphs may be studied in the future as archeologists carefully examine the layers of burial sites, or how historical linguists follow our usage of proverbs.

Photo: A precursor to a light house, where a flame was placed in the basket and raised to signal the sailors, Skagen, Denmark.

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This entry was posted on June 21, 2015 by in language, Vocabulary and tagged , , , .
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