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Computing metaphors May 18, 2010

Posted by Mia in Uncategorized.

Good metaphors catch fire.  Less good metaphors fade away. Others may morph into more useful abstractions.  Still other ones will emerge.

Everyone is comfortable with the desktop and folder metaphors.  Long ago, Apple innovated by incorporating the use of familiar metaphors into everyday computing experiences.   Metaphors such as ‘the desktop’ and ‘folders’, ‘trash’ ‘cut, copy, paste’, etc.  and which are now ubiquitous. We can hardly imagine utilizing other metaphors for these functions, since these particular ones are so useful.

‘Cut, copy, paste’ are essential editing functions which need no introduction or explanation.  They constitute a highly functional suite of concepts we take for granted.  They are also are based on a paper/scissors/glue metaphor which has enormous utility. These functions could of course be replaced by other, far wordier alternatives, but it’s hard at the moment to see how replacements would be as effective, or compact, or universally understood.

Shall we do away with these familiar editing metaphors because they are rooted in a physical or even print/paper world?  Hardly.  Metaphors grounded in the paper-based world are very handy indeed, and will continue to be, until they are no longer valuable conceptually.

Probably few of us have used any ‘paste’ since we left kindergarten.  So when we’re editing a document, we know that using paste isn’t really involved.  But the metaphor works.  It sticks 🙂



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