Simulacra explained through MS Word

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In the chapter Simulacra and Simulations of his Selected Writings, Jean Baudrillard offers an analysis of simulacra — a representational image without an original — which I believe can be applied to icons. In particular, Microsoft Word’s stupid save icon:

simulacra of a diskette

As Baudrillard explains:

These would be the four successive phases of the image:

  1. It is the reflection of a basic reality.
  2. It masks and perverts a basic reality.
  3. It masks the absence of a basic reality.
  4. It bears no relation to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum.

Using Baudrillard’s explanation, let’s describe the life cycle of the save icon in MS Word:

  1. Clicking this icon indicates you are saving your file to a 3.5″ floppy diskette.
  2. You are saving a file, but you’re more likely saving to an internal hard disk, and not a floppy.
  3. Floppy disks are supplanted by Zip disks, until removable media’s decline around the end of the century. No one uses floppy disks.
  4. Files are saved to hard drives, stored in the cloud, or on Dropbox. The only removable media in regular use is the USB stick. The floppy disk icon remains a symbol only of itself.

And this is how Word’s save icon became a simulacra — to represent nothing.

Sony does make an Operating System

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John Gruber of Daring Fireball recently wrote on the “pathological” level of herd mentality in the PC manufacturer industry — with Apple as the notable exception — and chided similarly large companies for giving up and letting Microsoft be the only OS game in town.

It should be embarrassing to companies like Dell and Sony, with deep pockets and strong brand names, that they’re stuck selling computers with the same copy of Windows installed as the no-name brands.

But here’s something Gruber missed: Sony does make an OS. It’s running the PS3.

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