I teach New Media at a design school. Its a great job. The only thing
that poisons my professional life are numerous analogies I read every
day in articles on digital culture and computer related topics.

The most popular analogy contemporary authors use to explain the
computer’s development and its role in our life is one to cars. In
this blog, car and other metaphors and comparisons will be collected.
The examples will be in Russian, English and German, annotated and
commented in English.

I would be happy to receive your feedback and examples as well.
Please send in quotes from online or offline texts, old or new, not
necessarily automobile related. Analogies to nature, film history,
Darwinism and economic theory are appreciated. And please write to
secret-info.gif if you come across an interesting article, book, text
on digital culture

What’s wrong with car metaphors and analogies in general?

Many of them are evil by themselves. When you do not have weighty
arguments, when you are too lazy to look for an explanation or are not
able at all to explain or grasp something, you can use an analogy.

To compare computers with cars in particular is wrong because it’s
a huge simplification, the role of of computers in society and
individual life is more complex than the role of cars.

The notion that today everybody has a computer and a car and “once,
cars were new as well” are not enough to put an equal sign in between
two phenomenas.

One of Marshal McLuhan’s most famous quotes is:

    When faced with a totally new situation, we tend always to attach
ourselves to the objects, to the flavor of the most recent past. We
look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards
into the future… – (The Medium is the Massage)

This insight from the late 1960s becomes more annoying each day. Maybe
it would help to regard it as a neutrally observed fact instead of an
instruction on how to deal with new situations.

Also, computers are not so new anymore. Most misunderstandings and
clumsy metaphors about computers do not appear because the computer
is an unknown thing, but because a lot of knowledge about it is not
present and metaphors have become the main mode of interaction with a

In 2004, in her introduction to the 2nd edition of “The Second Self”,
Sherry Turkle made a wise remark about the popular cars/computers

    It takes as a given that people once knew how their cars,
televisions, or telephones worked and don’t know this any more,
but that in the case of mechanical technology, such losses are
acceptable. It insists however, that ignorance about the fundamentals
of computation comes at too high a price.

Olia Lialina

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