Circles, my head’s going round in circles
— Pete Townshend
Circles, circles, everywhere I see circles. Right now, on three main things I use to access the world — Microsoft Vista, Firefox, and the iPhone — I’m always seeing circles, making me wait. Or, more to the point, letting me know that I am going to be waiting while an application or my email or a web page loads.
And they’re all slightly different: Apple has their rotating series of lines; Mircrosoft Vista has a rotating blue circle, while Firefox has a series of dots that chase each other. Extra fun: when you load a Firefox page on a Vista machine, you get both of their circles simultaneously!!
My question is simple: when did this happen? When did a rotating circle become UI shorthand for “your request is very important to us, please wait?”
And furthermore, who thought that it was a good idea? Because I’m not so sure that it is.
I can certainly see why somebody thought that it was time to get away from old-school icons like watches, clocks and the tumbling hourglass of death, but at least those icons had something to do with measuring time. Those icons were telling you that yes, you had to wait, but your wait was going to end.
Do you know what a spinning circle represents? Infinity! What mathematical construct is most closely associated with a circle? Pi. Which never ends. According to Wikipedia, they’ve calculated Pi to 1,241,100,000,000 decimal places . . . with no end is sight!
So, what are those spinning circles really telling us?
That you might be waiting for a long time. A long long long time. Forever, in fact. Especially if you’re on the AT&T Edge network.
In fact, that might be their new catchphrase: “Please wait for infinity while your page loads.”