Yesterday our computer system at work was painfully slow — so slow, in fact, that everything I tried to do was greeted by the dreaded spinning circle. If you work on a network, you’ve probably experienced it at some point. You’ve tried to save a document or move from email to Word when, instead of instantaneous responsiveness to your keystroke or mouse click, you see the circle with the light moving around the edge.
The circle is supposed to reassure you that the system is diligently working on the command you have sent. Instead, it immediately plunges every white collar worker into the blackest pits of despair, because you know that you are likely well and truly screwed. You realize that the spinning circle means you have probably lost what you were working on. And then, after a few seconds, the circle simply serves as a colossal unending annoyance. You can’t help but repeatedly pound the return key with increasing force in hopes of somehow getting the damn circle off the screen before it causes you to become cross-eyed.
On our system at work, the circle replaced the tumbling hour glass as the “looks like there’s a problem” icon. As between the two, I prefer the tumbling hourglass, but in reality neither the circle nor the hourglass adequately communicates the awful import of a frozen computer. Why not a depiction of vultures alighting on their perch, or a laughing, taunting death’s head instead?