Can Metaphors End Up Stunting Innovation?

“We still haven’t truly understood that click and link are as fundamental today as read and write.”

I generally think of metaphors as beautiful mechanisms capable of pushing forward our thinking and ability to conceptualize things.  When I think, talk and write about hip-hop education, a big part of it is not literally about teaching rap, DJing, graffiti or dance, but it’s looking at hip-hop’s evolution as a metaphor for what could/should happen in education (such as the potential of educators sampling different methodologies and curriculums).  I believe that looking at a school like an album or a record label, could give us new, important ideas.

I know this is a much explored belief.  George Lakoff has gotten props for popularizing the idea that metaphors are not just linguistic devices, but rather that they are conceptual and, in fact, that the very “development of thought has been the process of developing better metaphors.”

I guess if that’s the case, then it stands to reason that we should never get too comfy in our metaphors.  If we do, we are actually preventing the development of better metaphors/more sophisticated thoughts.  An interesting article went up on Mashable today about how this plays out in the way we think and talk about the web.  The author of the article, Venkatesh Rao argues that we have been stuck for far too long under the “tyranny of the document metaphor,” using words like: “page, scroll, file, folder, trash can, bookmark, inbox, email, desktop, library, archive and index” to describe the objects and actions we use online.  Rao argues that we need to “liberate the web, conceptually” from the metaphors of books and documents.  He suggests that, ”Understanding the rhetoric of the hyperlink may be the most essential challenge we must meet before we are able to move our thinking forward and accommodate our digital ambitions.”

Check out the article and let us know what you think…

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