Reflection on Meaning & Representation
We live in a world of symbols. From traffic lights, toilet signs, and the alphabet, humans function through giving things meaning. In a way, I think it’s due to the fact that humans need to simplify things to make sense of the world, else there is just too much stuff to keep in our heads all the time. But on the other hand, I feel that humans tend to forget how to do so for certain objects that have become so ubiquitous, questioning them seems pointless. Unless it is presented to us in the context of literature or pop culture, we don’t go about thinking in such a way on a daily basis.
I think symbols can only be known through frequent use and exposure. For example, the menu icon. In the literal sense, it is just 3 lines. For people who have never seen it, it will have no meaning and they will not know how to interact with it. It is only after seeing someone else use it to open up a menu or is taught by someone else that we know the actions needed to create the event we want, opening up a menu. After interacting with this symbol for a while, we forget to question it and just view it as a menu icon, a thing that has also been and also will be. I think this thought process is really harmful to the dynamics of the not-known and the knowers. I see things played out sometimes when I see younger generations try to teach an older generation how to use a piece of technology. The younger will be impatient and flabbergasted that the older don’t know what something does, while the older will be ashamed and frustrated that they don’t understand. It only drives a wedge between these two groups of people.
I think most people know symbolism the most from their school literature classes. Whether it’s through novels, movies, or paintings, we have been told these things hold meaning beyond the literal. The ring in Lord of the Ring symbolizes power and lends to the story’s theme of addiction to power. Harry’s scar is a living symbol of this mother’s love and thus also symbolizes the story’s theme of love. At school, we are taught to look for these signs and interpret them for higher meaning. But outside the context of literature or pop culture, I don’t see many people doing such things on a daily basis, which is a shame. I find it really interesting and surprising when I take the time to do it. However, I also realize that like said before, humans are already overstimulated, and trying to think about all the themes a symbol might represent is exhausting. But as a thought exercise to myself, I want to analyze 2 things: the Macbook and the symbols of gender.
What are some symbols of socioeconomic status? Historically, it would depend on what that culture values. In landowning cultures, it would be how much land you owned. In cattle herding, it might be how many cattle you had. So if we were to flip it to the present day, what would these things be? The first thing that comes to mind for me is the Macbook. Not only are they expensive to buy, but they are also extremely expensive to repair and are infamously built to be obsolete after a few years. I find this fascinating, as if you were to look at a specs-only aspect, there are many other laptops with the same spec, or better, at a lower price. So what makes this laptop so worthy of this status? I definitely think it’s up to branding. Apple has done a phenomenal job making their products associated with celebrities, the creative industry, the laptop of choice for the software industry, and the feeling that if you own this laptop, it will help you to create things that people like. Another visual I also think helps is how recognizable the design is. While other laptops seem to look alike, the Macbook is distinct. If you were to look out in a crowded cafe, of course, pre-pandemic times, you can immediately locate the people using Macbooks. This makes the Macbook also associated with people who are different and maybe even “special”.
Whether it’s the colors, articles of clothing, or language the world is gendered. Personally, I find this unnecessary and sometimes harmful. However, no matter how much people try to move away from it, it still remains. To this day, people throw a fit if a man wears a pink dress. What is interesting is that a lot of these symbols only came to me rather recently in human history. Pink and blue for girls and boys were only solidified in the early 1900s. Before that time, there was no color for gender, and even if there was blue it was for girls as it was the color most associated with the Virgin Mary. Also, all children before the 1900s wore dresses and men historically have worn very ornate fashion if they could afford it as it represented wealth. The fact that it has changed so drastically and people complain now whenever a man dresses extravagantly or “feminine”, I find it completely stupid. But not only do I find it stupid, I think it can be harmful as it has given fake credentials for people to get angry when someone is different. I find these types of symbols more harmful and good to human society