Welcome to 2022. Justice in emojis and computer icons has made great headway. In 2015 we finally first got our emojis of color; in February of this year we got our pregnant man emoji; and we have now almost entirely gotten rid of the confusing “floppy disk” icon, that creepy retro-tech visual from a time before women and People of Color were invited into personal computing.
Now it’s time to have a conversation about getting rid of the cogwheel and tool icons. Here’s why.
Just outmoded — or old order symbols?
Like the floppy disk, most of us millennials have no lived experience with these physical brute force devices — and in fact, they stopped having a modern application in our digital world at just around the time we decided to start critically examining White Supremacy. This makes these icons potent symbols of the old order.
Picture this. You want to enjoy your Ben & Jerry’s Americone Dream and watch a contemporary movie. You’ve just about settled in with your bucket of dairy based self-care when the protagonists wander near a garage or workshop.
BAM! You’re suddenly in the middle of a full-on mansplaining incident centered around an oil rag equipped white working class male inevitably inhabiting the space. He’s waving around a wrench — his royal orb symbolizing the rule of his tool kingdom — while talking about the 1960s muscle car he’s working on and conjuring up ever more banal middle class America sentimentality.
You know the scene. It’s Hollywood’s biggest trope.
The wrench is irredeemably tied to our idea of the white working class male, and indeed to his self-conception. The wrench is the white working class male’s identity. And Mr. white working class male, I needn’t tell you, is irredeemably tied to Trumpism and ensuing White Supremacy.
Thus we have a direct link from White Supremacy to symbols that needlessly surround all of us in our daily life.
How many of Earth’s 7 billion people are muscle car fanatics?
Icons reimagined by modern demographics
The fact is we wouldn’t accept a little Black boy having to click a burning cross every time he wants to access settings on his phone. Why, then, do we stubbornly hang on to the wrench and the cogwheel?
We don’t — and that’s key! The continued inclusion of these old order icons in modern UIs is coasting on inertia and laziness — that’s the way it’s always been. All it would take for us to conquer and replace them is a coordinated push. What are they going to say to oppose our push? Nothing, is what. They’ll be relieved someone did the job for them.
Old order icons are not even good symbols for their use case. Settings, for example: to change functionality in an app. I can immediately think of a better symbol for change, and so can you.
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