A picture in place of a word is called a rebus. In children’s books, a rebus is considered an early education device, helpful for youngsters to associate a thing with a word. Adults are thought of as mature enough to make do with the words themselves. At least, we used to think that but not so much anymore.
Pictures are taking over for words in many areas. For instance, when my very first office copy machine was out of paper, it simply said “out of paper.” The last copy machine I used at my office flashed a picture of whatever the problem was. A lightning bolt signified a paper jam. A bottle meant it needed toner. “Out of paper” was represented by a square that was supposed to be an empty paper tray. Is that easier than just saying “out of paper”? I often had to get out my manual to discover what the icon meant. Is that a time-saver? And don’t you have to be literate to read the manual to find out what the picture means?
I used to have a Chrysler that began showing a picture of what looked like a square split in half by a line. I had no clue what that represented. I worried and wondered about it. Was my engine not combusting? Was my radiator not radiating? Was my battery not charging? (Naturally, I didn’t actually do anything about it because the car still ran).
Then one day, the service station attendant (that right there tells you how long ago this was) asked if I realized my washer fluid container was empty. Well, of course, I did because I hadn’t been able to wash my windows for ages. Once he added fluid, my little light went off.
“Oh, well,” I thought, “I’ll know the next time.” But that car was gone long before the next time and I have no idea what kind of little picture my current car shows me when my washer fluid is empty.
There are so many icons on modern-day computers that they boggle the mind. I probably only know what a twentieth of them mean. There’s one that appears to be a little bucket pouring fluid onto a skinny rectangle. When I move the cursor up, the word says Shading. Really, a picture of a bucket, fluid and a rectangle is easier than the word “shading”?
Bathrooms in public places often have pictographs of either a man in short hair and pants or a woman with long hair and a skirt. How outmoded is this? If you go to a mall, how many girls do you see in jeans and spiked hair? How many young kids are there who’ve never seen their mom in long hair and a skirt? Is it really that difficult to decipher the words men and women?
We have also decided that a circle with a slash is a better way of saying no than saying no (cigarette with a slash!) and a picture with a I “heart” something with a symbol is better way of saying love than saying I love my kids/my cat/Texas/I.U./Green Bay Packers.
Of course, I “heart” words and I feel comfortable with them so I see our use of pictograms as a step backward rather than forward. We complain today that so many of our children are not well educated. Reading is essential in the education process so why make it easier for kids not to have to deal with even basic words?