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.

Essay by Koert van Mensvoort

Boomeranged Metaphors

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.…

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'Are the advanced ranking systems found in Internet forums perhaps also applicable to the democratic voting process? Can I select a new avatar for myself at the plastic surgeon’s office?'

Koert van Mensvoort

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