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From UNIX to the desktop: a semiotic perspective on digital (r)evolution

Sep 29, 1999, 15:08 (5 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Jean-Marc Orliaguet)

[ Thanks to Jean-Marc Orliaguet for this link. ]

"From a semiotic point of view this paper discusses why indexical and iconic forms of interaction with computers are, in the perspective of digital evolution, reactionary positions, and why the only revolutionary approaches are to be found in symbolic modes communication..."

"The symbol...is a mode where the signifier is connected to the referent by arbitrary rules, chosen by pure convention and usage. As a result, symbols exist for themselves, free from any sort of motivation and necessity as present in icons and indices. For instance in UNIX, the command ls ( the signifier ) outputs a list of files in a directory ( the referent ), and even if the English verb ``to list'' is at the origin of the symbol ``ls'', it neither excludes other spellings nor makes this very interpretation a necessity..."

"By drawing an analogy with how violently people reacted against abstract art in the beginning of the 20th century and how users today react against non-iconic user interfaces, one understands why the amount of realism involved in iconic representations is a sensitive issue. Too little realism in icons will make sign interpretation ambiguous and if the icon fails to communicate its iconicity, it is interpreted as an arbitrary sign : a symbol. As a corollary, symbols can be seen as icons or indices that have failed to communicate their indexicality or iconicity."

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