Floppy Disks and Save Icons

save, icon, button-5433916.jpg

I saw a post the other day where a user was asking “Why does the save icon in Excel look like a vending machine with purchased drink in the slot?” Having squinted at the icon long enough, I sort of see what they’re seeing.

Older users will obviously see this as a floppy disk, used to indicate we’re saving information to a disk of some kind. Once upon a time, that disk may have indeed been a floppy disk, but these days, it’s often not even a disk at all – it’s a solid state storage device. Yet the icon persists.

What does the younger generation interpret this as? Are they increasingly seeing this as an abstract symbol that just means “save” or “store” for reasons they don’t know or care about?

Is it time to come up with a new symbol for save? What would that even look like? Or are we going to stick with the floppy disk concept, but have it slowly evolve into something that everyone recognizes as save, but looks less and less like the floppy disk it once represented? I can imagine it being redrawn countless times over decades, increasingly by people who never used or saw a floppy disk. Small adjustments, like a visual game of telephone, until we’re left with an abstract squares-within-a-square icon that no-one recalls the origins of. If I jump to the year 2075, am I going to see a picture of a vending machine and puzzle over why the tooltip says “save”?

I can see the posts now: “Today I Learned – the save icon used to look like a magnetic storage medium, popular in the late 1900s”.

Or maybe saving as a concept will fade with time as storage types grow and change. Maybe the things we create on the computer will have a continuous timeline that we can scrub back and forth through, spinning off a new branch from an earlier version if we want. Everything persists until we tell it not to. There’s no explicit saving. Maybe then the floppy disk icon can rest.

floppy disks, ancient, disk-5150361.jpg
It slightly hurts that this image was tagged with “ancient”…

When I upgraded my PC, about six years ago, I was sad to see that the new motherboard no longer had a connection for the 3.5″ floppy drive. I was sad about that, but also realized it had probably been over 10 years since I’d used the floppy drive for anything anyway. Still, it felt like something was lost.

It was also a pain in the butt, because I soon realized I had boxes full of old disks in a cupboard that I really ought to do something about. Only that “something” now required me to get an external floppy disk drive that connected via USB in order to rescue anything of value from those disks before the disks themselves are no longer readable. I’m assuming they have a limited lifespan.

Apparently, no one is making new floppy disks anymore. There are stores online that still sell disks, but these are packs of new old stock, or collections of recycled disks, erased, tested, and repackaged. A dwindling supply to a dwindling number of people that still need or want them.

This pointless meandering brought to you by the “get off my lawn” department.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *