Thank you for emailing me some How-To tips.  With all these new symbols popping up on webpages while simple menus are disappearing, I feel quite lost. It is as if the world suddenly changed all the symbols on traffic signs — I would be lucky not to have a head-on collision with a cement truck.

That was how I began a comment on a friend’s blog recently.  I was rather pleased with my clever analogy at the time, but the more I got to thinking about it, the more I realized that wasn’t clever.  It was quite simply, the unvarnished truth.

There was a time, before I retired, when the a favorite tech buzzword was “intuitive”.  Software developers wanted to create intuitive user-interfaces.  They wanted program functionality to be so straight-forward that user manuals would no longer be required.   They were motivated by the prospects of cost savings and profit margins and price points.  It didn’t take long before industry standards were agreed upon and implemented.

I’m retired now, so I don’t keep up on such things, but I have a hunch that industry standards still exist.  They may be thought up by someone at Microsoft or Apple or some other tech giant, but the little developers are quick to jump on the bandwagon and follow suit.  And new, improved industry standards suddenly appear before my eyes.

It has been said that the only constant in life is change.  It does seem to be true.  Depending on one’s on personal perspective, change may be for the better or for the worse.  Some changes I love.  Others I detest.  Most fall somewhere in between those extremes.  Mostly, I don’t mind change that serves a useful purpose, such as improving efficiency or intuitiveness or function.

Then there are those changes that I simply don’t get.  For example, if everyone is used to opening the Main Menu with the Esc key, there is no apparent reason to suddenly transform the Alt key into the menu opener.  (I know, this may seem strange to some, but before the mouse, we actually used keystrokes to access menus and execute commands.)  Came the day when the concept of a “Main Menu” was history and we had a Menu Bar instead.  That change made sense to me and was intuitive to grasp.  Now, we had one less mouse-click to get where we wanted to go and it was right in front of us at the top of the screen.  Easy to figure out without instructions.

Now, I find Menu Bars are disappearing, as well as words.  Suddenly, there are these symbols.  Sometimes, when I am lucky, if I mouse over a symbol, some words will appear in a bubble to tell me what the symbol does.  Other times, when I am reallyreally lucky, an actual menu will appear.  Some of the symbols are intuitive, like the little house that symbolizes Home.  And I get that the thingy that resembles a magnifying glass will probably give me a closer look at something.  But what’s with that box with an arrow pointing out of it?  My intuition says that’s a way to throw something out, but wouldn’t a trash can be a better symbol for that?  I’m starting to feel really dumb now.

symbol collage

But wait!  There’s more!

symbols 3

I didn’t even notice those little faded dots until someone pointed them out to me.

And what about

symbols 2

Do I now need to wander the mouse pointer all over the screen just in case some hidden menu might pop into existence?  How intuitive is that?



So I am left sitting here, befuddled, baffled, and bewildered.  What did I miss?


I think traffic signs and symbols are pretty much standard wherever there are roads.  I would recognize a red octagonal sign to mean stop, no matter the words that might also appear on the sign.  Diamond-shaped signs are for warnings.  A downward-pointing triangle means to yield.  And a big X means railroad crossing.

There is no reason to change the shape or color of a stop sign.  In fact, doing so would create mayhem.  So what is the reason for creating hide-and-seek menus?  Surely the coding to make a hide-and-seek menu has got to be more complex than placing a menu under a button with some text on it?

Wait!  I think I’ve figured it out.  This is a generation gap thing.  The youngsters have designed this new user-interface thing to keep us geezers from getting lost in the interwebz and/or figuring out what it is they are up to.  That must be it!


I bought a new mobile phone the other day — one with buttons, by golly, although they are getting harder to find.  It came with a user manual, too.  How wonderful!

It has two “soft” buttons that are really four buttons in disguise.  Press the top part of a button to do one thing.  Press the bottom part of the button to do something else.  What happens if you’ve got big fingers?  Or if you succumb to habit and aim for the middle of the button?  And it makes a difference how long you depress a button.  Wha???

When you turn on the phone, the keyboard is locked.  Nowhere in that manual — and I looked in the index — is there any mention of “lock” or “keyboard” or “unlock”.  This is supposed to be intuitive?  I punched buttons in various combinations trying to figure it out.  I did something, because I received my very first text message ever.  From someone I don’t know who wanted to know who the heck I was and why was I texting them.  Then another text message and another, each ruder than the previous one.  I have no idea how to send a text message, so finally I just turned off the phone.  What else was I to do?

I did finally figure out the magic combination of two buttons to push to unlock the keyboard.  There doesn’t appear to be any menu option to stop the phone from locking the keyboard whenever it feels in the mood, so I can only hope I never forget what the magic combination is.  And what if that irate texter was someone on the NSA’s watch list?  Scary thought.


I used to pride myself on being able to figure things out.  I used to think I was fairly intelligent and reasonably knowledgeable.  Have I really become this stoopid in recent years?


I just read something about square white signs mean Stop.  And octagonal signs mean Turn Here.

But which way???


5 thoughts on “Befuddled, Baffled, and Bewildered

  1. Even scarier, what if the NSA read your texts and determined you were a terrorist? Eeek!

    I think a lot of new stuff is created by people who are hired to create stuff, and they’re thinking “Well, I have to create SOMETHING, or they’ll find someone else!!”


    1. You are absolutely right, Wiley. At least half of the gizmos in existence now were created by nerds trying to justify their existence. I even read an article the other day that talked about how more and more people are suffering from anxiety because there are too many choices and too many changes. I’m reminded of the saying, “If a little is good, a lot is better,” except that it isn’t. Sometimes, a lot is simply too much of a good thing.


  2. Flickr has become very confusing on the iPhone app. A lot of trail and error with the new symbols. I don’t what I am doing often. I did use it on the go today for the challenge and somehow muddled through. But the extra time I was trying to make it happen I could have been experimenting more with the editing apps.


    1. Doesn’t it seem like we spend entirely too much time “muddling through”? And when I’m done muddling through, I often feel like I just wasted a good part of the day.


      1. Facebook does their changes more gradually. Although, sometimes it is like shopping at Costco…everything is moved around. Flickr and WU almost throw the baby out with the bath water. I had not used the Flickr app in awhile until today and was like you described…in a foreign country.


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