Boomeranged Metaphors

Transferring meaning from virtual reality into physical reality

We use metaphors to introduce unfamiliar technologies: the horseless carriage, the electric candle. Analogies place novel developments within existing structures of meanings and relationships. For digital natives, the online realms may become more familiar than aspects of the ‘real’ world. Warfare is like a first-person shooter, New York is one of many Sim Cities, and peer groups are best understood in terms of how they relate on Facebook. When analogies are transferred from the virtual to the physical world, the traditional flow of meaning is reversed. The metaphor has boomeranged.

Boomeranged Metaphors

ESSAY BY Van Mensvoort
May 31st 2009

At the start of the digital era, metaphors from everyday life were used – in what was then the new computer environment – in order to make otherwise incomprehensible technology acceptable. Terms such as the digital highway and the desktop metaphor with its windows, folders, buttons and trashcans made the computer world accessible to almost everyone.

By now, of course, the digital environment is accepted almost everywhere and we see how proven concepts from the digital realm are gradually seeping into our physical environment. We call this phenomenon a ‘boomeranged metaphor’.


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