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English Language & Linguistics

English Language


Computer metaphors

Though a computer itself is a real object, much of what it does and how it does it intangible, unseen and “virtual”.
People who work with computers therefore have invented metaphors to make something out of the invisible.
In the following examples some are successful, some potentially misleading and some unconvincing. What makes for a successful computer metaphor?
Collect other examples. Can you create some of your own?

The computer filing system is a metaphor based on the traditional filing of paper. So we have a filing system with virtual folders which can be labelled and coloured as well as being given certain attributes which distinguish them from the 3D world of manilla envelopes and metal cabinets.
A collection of these files is sometimes described as a resource bank or a databank.
Other words that could be used in some context might be: treasure chest, library, pool, box, shelf, catalogue, index, store, warehouse, collection, bundle, bag. Even the term “data farm” has been used.

The GUI or graphical user interface that replaced the old flashing caret or cursor is entirely a metaphor, with a desktop, windows, a mouse pointer and arrows to simplify the user’s experience of navigating around the computer.

Communications routes through which data is channelled may involve virtual pathways and breadcrumb trails though the actual electronic signals pass through real cables and ducts. In the Internet age we find so many pages on so many web sites that we may need a Portal as a gateway to a large number of sites. We may use RSS feeds that surface data on our interactive home pages, a gallery for our pictures and we can choose whether to save our files to a PC or to The Cloud or to archive them elsewhere. We may connect files using an alias and may hide ourselves behind an avatar (originally the appearance of a Hindu deity).

What use could be made of :
Delivery, raft, machine, workplace, studio, tool box, notebook, pencil case, paint box, tools, museum, the laboratory, the workshop?
What other metaphors do you know, perhaps describing virtual worlds?

When described using a metaphor, what is real and what is not?
Do metaphors succeed in bringing understanding to a virtual world?
If so, how successful are they?
Explain, with copious examples.



 See also