Saturday, November 29, 2008

Iconoclasts in an Icon Saturated World

Being iconic doesn't carry the weight it used to. Icon is now just one more consumer choice among many (for those with the money) rather than a monumental or meaningful landmark. Perhaps computing played its own role in shrinking "icon" to the scale of a tiny character that merely functions as an switch to a technical program.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, that use of icon first appeared in 1982, and it really is nothing like the much older meaning of a small symbol or image, dating to 16th Century, intended to adorn. However, contemporary marketing also tends to dumb down and bleed out terms like "iconic."

A recent Wall Street Journal piece looks at the ways that developers cheat the meaning of icon as a "popularly recognized symbol of something larger than itself." Icons don't have to be great architecture, but they do have to be widely acknowledged and interpreted.  Developers remove the label from the public realm and they compress the time required for icons to become icons. In the development world iconic status is instant and claimed by anyone who can buy it. You can literally find an Icon in every city, and not because it is widely understood as enduring and larger than life. As a result of the reduction of icons, the rest of us now left to a look for new terms even if we must become iconoclastic and shatter meaningless images.

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