Icons to the rescue

Over the years of doing my share of household chores, I’ve learned to read the care labels on garments carefully. I’ve learned that wool garments don’t like hot water and they shouldn’t be tumble dried either. The tiny print used on those care labels make it extremely difficult to read. It doesn’t help that words start fading after several times through the wringer. Even with a careful inspection of the label, sometimes I notice that my clothes have become tight. Did I gain weight or did the garments grow feet and sneak back into the hot water pile from the cold water pile?

There is a bright side to many of these care labels: the use of hieroglyphics, more commonly referred to as “icons” (aka symbols). Having an icon resembling a clothes dryer with a big “X” through it can’t be misunderstood: no tumble drying.

I believe in the appropriateness of using Power of One devices like tablets and smartphones, instead of desktop or laptop computers, for many use cases. It is especially appropriate when learning digital literacy. But just like a care label has limited real estate, when compared to desktop and laptop computer monitors the screens on tablets are limited.

That is why one of the first things the students in our Discover Digital Literacy! program are introduced to is the mindset and curiosity to associate icons on their tablets to something they do in the real world. For example what can a magnifying glass icon possibly be representing? Yep, to search something. Remember how Sherlock Holmes is always depicted holding a magnifying glass on the trail of a killer?

Or what does a pencil icon in an email app tell us? Maybe tap me to start writing a new email? Remember, each icon is trying to tell us something and conditioning yourself to be curious about what it can possibly do if you tap an icon is a good way to start your journey to digital literacy.

So if you make it a game to guess, tap and see what an icon does, in my opinion, it will be easier to remember its function later. The only irreparable or costly damage you can inflict on your tablet is if you throw it at the wall out of frustration.

Remember the VCR players or even Walkman cassette players of yesteryear? Do you remember some of the icons on the buttons such as a right-facing triangle representing the action to start playing the tape? To this day that rightward-facing triangle depicts play so you already know what the right-facing triangle will do when YouTube or a website presents it – yep, play the video and watch it on the tablet!

Road to digital literacy is just another road – well traveled as technology continues to permeate into every nook-and-cranny of our lives – but still just another road like the one you always walk on!

Tak Sato

Strategist with over 25 years of experience. Holds Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science and Executive MBA from Cleveland State University.

As founder and strategist for the Center for Aging in the Digital World, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit empowering seniors through technology, and founder of geek with a heart with the service mark "Hand-holding You in the Digital World", Tak helps people utilize appropriate technology in their personal and professional lives.

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Volume 9, Issue 20, Posted 9:47 AM, 10.17.2017