Thursday, November 21, 2013

Miscellaneous: Signs of the Times (literally)

In Sebastopol, California I recently saw this sign in front of a small shopping center. I had to look at it carefully to decipher it. In fact, I had to stop and get out of my car to get a good look at it and to understand what it was trying to tell me (I've isolated it from its background here, but this is a photo of the actual sign at roadside).

I mention it mainly because it's new (I've never seen this type of sign before) and because it uses a symbol (top, center) that underscores how important computers and wireless technology have become.

But is this a good sign? The knife and fork are easy to see--and easy to interpret: Food available here. The coffee cup, indicating a coffee shop, I assume, makes sense too. The icon at the top is relatively familiar now to anyone who uses the Internet--wi-fi available here--but the dot and waves would have mystified many people not too many years ago. The glass started me wondering. I've decided it's specifically a beer glass (because it's squat and appears to have a head) but that it's probably intended to indicate alcoholic beverages generally, without suggesting hard liquor (which presumably would have called for a cocktail glass icon).

The bass clef seems an odd choice. It suggests music, naturally, but are we to understand this as indicating a place to buy recorded music, a place to listen to music, a place to make music? And why a bass clef? Is the music here typically of a low pitch? I suspect the G-clef is much more familiar to most people. I remain uncertain about the intention here, and I wonder if this sign is a Sebastopol thing? It appears to be a bona fide road sign, as opposed to a privately commissioned advertisement for the shopping center or its tenants. Has anyone seen one of these anywhere else? Let me know in the comments below.

The sign above seems very modern, the locomotive sign pictured at left, in contrast, is a vestige. This sign may on rare occasions alert drivers to a possible encounter with an actual steam locomotive, but mostly signs like this one persist at rail crossings that for many years have seen nothing but diesel engines (or no engines at all). The steam locomotive sign is a kind of fossil, a leftover that reminds us of obsolete technology. Nevertheless, we interpret the image as a warning about possible train traffic, even if it's a more modern kind of train traffic we're likely to encounter.

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