Metaphors we live by [4]

Interesting! See also:

💡 George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, 1980.

Try to imagine a culture where arguments are not viewed in terms of war, where no one wins or loses, where there is no sense of attacking or defending, gaining or losing ground. Imagine a culture where an argument is viewed as a dance, the participants are seen as performers, and the goal is to perform in a balanced and aesthetically pleasing way. In such a culture, people would view arguments differently, experience them differently, carry them out differently, and talk about them differently.

💡 Marius Comper, ‘How do metaphors shape political influence?‘, 4 March 2014, re. James Geary’s I Is an Other, 2011.

The term “greenhouse gases” is a case in point. Cultural Logic did hundreds of consumer interviews around the subject of climate change and hardly anyone spontaneously referred to greenhouse gases in their responses. When specifically asked about the term, few could explain how it related to global warming. Perhaps this should not come as a surprise, since few people have any direct knowledge of greenhouses these days. As a result, when prompted, subjects in the Cultural Logic study typically described greenhouses as “nice places where plants live,” according to Grady—hardly the right connotations for a discussion of global warming. Which suggested to the folks at Cultural Logic that “greenhouse gases” is an unhelpful metaphor. So they alighted on a more productive one—”carbon dioxide blanket,” which has the virtue of explicitly naming the offending gas (CO2) but the drawback of suggesting that its embrace is warm and cuddly.

💡 Tim Hwang & Karen Levy, ‘‘The cloud’ and other dangerous metaphors’, The Atlantic, 20 January 2015.

And in all our talk about streams and exhaust and mines and clouds, one thing is striking: People are nowhere to be found. These metaphors overwhelmingly draw from the natural world and the processes we use to draw resources from it; because of this, they naturalize and depersonalize data and its collection. Our current data metaphors do us a disservice by masking the human behaviors, relationships, and communications that make up all that data we’re streaming and mining. They make it easy to get lost in the quantity of the data without remembering how personal so much of it is. And if people forget that, it’s easy to understand how large-scale ethical breaches happen; the metaphors help us to lose track of what we’re really talking about.


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