Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 2, Number 2/ February 1, 1995 / Page 11


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From Wed Jan  4 03:13:00 1995
From: Peter Bachman
Date: Wed, 04 Jan 95 03:12:39 -2400
Subject: Letter to the Editor

I really enjoyed the January issue of CMC Magazine. I'm mulling 
over the metaphor" article ["The Last Link"] and wanted to kick in my 
2 bits over the metaphor debate. To drop out of the meta-metaphor level, 
and down to the rubber to the road metaphor level, I'm getting tired
of this highway stuff. Al Gore's dad begat the Interstate to quickly
move military material around, and the Autobahn was designed for the same

While the original scientists on the ARPANET proved that CMC in the form of electronic mail was the "killer app" -- and exchanging data in a post nuclear scenario was probably less of a killer app -- our metaphors have been suprisingly slow to update. Popping up to the meta-metaphor level again, I think this is why we are discussing the geography of the metaphors (local, global, national etc.).

Calling the information stream "Route 66" or "Peoples Ave" describes it as well as an address describes your house or the people who live in it. Sure, some addresses are more swank than others, and we could probably make some demographic assumptions on what that rivulet happened to set in motion in your mindscape, but, overall, it probably does not sum up the relationships between people that the net represents.

This is why I felt inspired to join in the great "Name the Net" contest with the winner being featured in the 2005 Edition of the OED. Right now I am losing out to "Information Superhighway" and "Infobahn", and I am quite bummed. However, with George Brett and Jean Armour Polly making "surf the net" into a national buzz phrase, I think that by putting "Info Hyphae" into the public domain of netspeak, I'm doing my small part in advancing the metaphor design. Hyphae is of course web-based, and attempts to sum up the somewhat gentler, organic form of communication that is taking place off the macadamized path.

The nature of the hyphae exists in its almost fractal distribution, the slender threads moving beneath the surface, or the structure of a honeycomb; the weave of the telecommunications fabric; the unsteadiness of the connection wavering between quantum levels; in short, a subtle kind of communication that is more like Barlow's "Internet as a slime mold" concept.

Most of us can pick up on the connection to Jaquard's loom as being the pattern for the modern computer. But we tend to look at the punch cards and the instruction set -- and ignore the output of the generation of patterns in the fabric -- as if no one had ever tried to record history in a tapestry or embody a concept in the design of a piece of cloth! With the highway metaphor we ignore the pattern we are making in CMC. Thanks for your efforts in the magazine. The authors have a very advanced outlook on where we are heading. Kudos!

Locke sank into a swoon;
The garden died;
God took the spinning jenny
Out of his side.

(W. B. Yeats quoted in McLuhan's Understanding Media) ¤

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