In reading Rebecca Johnston’s “Salvation or Destruction: Metaphors of the Internet,” I found her argument about how examining the metaphors we all use to discuss a phenomena can shape how we understand it to be compelling. As someone who studies discourse in the world, usually through social semiotics (multimodality), I suppose I’m a person who is ready to believe that how we discuss the world shapes how we see and understand the world. I’m also predisposed to think that how we use language shapes who we are in that world. But, I’d never thought about how this all played out in how we think about the Internet before. So, this article was a treat.
There is one section that I’m most interested in today, and that is Johnston’s findings that some of the more salient metaphors have to do with how the Internet is often seen as a physical place. Today I’m giving a webinar that attempts to wrestle with how place itself might matter in how we teach online courses, so her discussion about how some see the Internet as a physical place rather than a virtual space was intriguing. My point is that we all come to the Internet from our own, particular, very real places, then we connect to one another in non-physical virtual spaces. But, it’s intriguing to think about how the metaphors we use to understand those spaces might help us to see them as more physical than virtual. Perhaps this is one of the main appeals of the Internet, especially when it comes to connecting people to each other.
I’ll give a case in point. A couple of days ago, I reconnected with a dear friend over Skype. She was at her house, I was at mine. But, when we were talking with one another, it felt like we were together in the same physical space. We were simply having a chat over a cup of tea like we’d done so many times before. The physical spaces were shared over the virtual spaces in a way that made the virtual more physical. Or, maybe, though this will muddy the waters, perhaps it just made the physical less salient. But the metaphor of having a chat over tea held true, making the physical and the virtual less important. In other words, we held onto having a chat and how we did it didn’t matter. That’s the power of metaphor in helping us to understand our space and how we connect to one another in it.
Anyway, this is just one metaphor that Johnston discusses in her piece, which is full of a rich discussion of the metaphors we use to discuss the Internet. I suggest you check it out.
What metaphors do you use for the Internet?
Sometimes I really admire how other people make their arguments multimodally. In the case of this slideshare presentation by Jesse Desjardins called You Suck at PowerPoints: 5 Shocking Design Mistakes You Need to Avoid, the mix of the beautiful images along with his narration make an all-too-true point about how most Powerpoint presentations are ghastly. It’s well worth making it through all 61 slides. I could see using this in any class that is requiring presentations. I could even use this in my Instructional Technology course where we discuss presentations as a way to teach (or at least to not bore others). How could you use this set of slides?
And, let me geek out a minute and wonder if he created his slides using InDesign. I’m thinking yes. What do you think?
(copyright: @jessedee on Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/jessedee/you-suck-at-powerpoint)
Though I’m a bit behind on the course itself, I’ve recently begun a Coursera course entitled E-Learning and Digital Cultures. In this course, they expertly blend print-based readings with popular culture video clips. In this post, I will discuss briefly how the clips they’ve chosen inform my thinking about Utopian and Dystopian views about media. Through the multimodal nature of these clips, the viewers can see and hear these ideas debated.
Of the four films chosen, my favorites were Bendito Machine III and Thursday. Both of these animated shorts, explore how we relate to technologies, with the dystopian Bendito Machine III showing how our fascination with technology can become ritualized and, well, worshipful and the more ambiguous Thursday showing how technologies both disconnect us from nature and connect us to each other. The vivid colors of red and black dominate Bendito Machine III making it more ominous and forbidding, signalling our love of technologies as dangerous and dark. The muted yet bright colors of Thursday highlight how our lives with technologies are a mix of dependance and freedom. Both share the feature of using noises rather than a narrative voice which let the images serve as the dominant mode (the images carry the functional load, in other words, through showing the meaning), though sound itself is quite dominant as a mode in these clips, serving to complement the images and heighten emotions.
Through their modal choices, both of these texts show how complicated our relationships with technologies can be, and how those complications both define and shape us. This makes the debate worth having as we learn how to work with and against new technologies and the new selves we are producing/co-producing with them.