“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.” Metaphors and Analogies in Technological Writing


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@sidraSidra Ijaz

Cyber nerd | Research Analyst at InvoZone.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other word would smell as sweet.

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called”

– Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

Analogies have always been writers’ favorite medium to use.

They give life to both literature and prose. Being a tech writer myself, I like to use analogies – they help me to make my piece more interesting and easy to follow.

In this article, I have explored the use of metaphors and analogies in tech writing.

A few weeks back, I came across an argument about ‘data is the new oil’ on a discussion forum. A few interesting articles were also shared by the participants in the discussion. Apparently, the metaphor seems quite fit to describe the data, as it is first refined to be used as a ‘fuel’ to business.

However, people who disagree with this analogy argue that oil is not renewable, while historical data doesn’t lose its value after usage in a certain business case. 

According to Bernard Marr:

“If we are going to think about data as a power source or fuel, then it would make more sense to consider its similarities with renewable sources like the sun, wind, and tides. There is an abundance of it – more than we can ever use – and rather than fencing it off and reducing the supply, we should think about how we can make it more widely available to everyone.”

Metaphors and analogies help in delivering technical knowledge in an understandable and interesting way. Though experts may argue whether the analogy does justice to the technical term, however, it helps in raising some awareness for non-tech and newbies. For example, “data is a new oil’ conveys that data is useful for businesses! Hollin Collins describes the significance of metaphors in her article The Power of Analogy in Technology:

“New technologies are hard to convey. Marketers in technology have the challenge of describing new concepts and making them understandable to consumers and business people. I find analogies to be powerful communication vehicles that overcome the challenge, making the unfamiliar familiar.”

Here is a list of a few interesting analogies and metaphors for emerging technologies:

Artificial Intelligence

AI has been explained quite artistically in this Hacker Noon article:

“The strange loop mirror: When I think of AI I think about the machine looking back at you, seeing you much like a distorted mirror does. AI-first companies like Facebook and Google are looking back at you with years of self-images, questions, and thousands of data points in terms of likes and other interactions. It’s a strange mirror with a kind of memory that gives you an x-ray into your self-image. When the AI in this mirror is making me feel seen, it’s doing me a service in the maintenance of being human, which is to tell my story. The more limbic resonance in us, the more engagement. We really like being mirrored! There is a loopiness to this because it’s self-reinforcing and therefore giving rise to phenomenons such as filter bubbles and saturated biases in our egos.”

Cloud computing

“Cloud computing is like plugging into a central power grid instead of generating your own power.” OK, don’t like that one? There’s always the thermostat analogy” – Reuven Cohen

IoT

Here is a selected analogy for IoT from this interesting article:

“The IoT as the Apotheosis of Connectivity: Dali’s famous painting “The Apotheosis of Homer” depicts the epic poet’s ascension to the divine. It was a common scene in classical art. This reflects the original theological meaning of the word ‘apotheosis’, which is to elevate something to a divine or holy status. I use the term deliberately (if advisedly) here. The suggestion behind this first metaphor is that the IoT represents an elevation of connectivity to a sacred status. This is perhaps the most basic metaphor for the IoT. As Greengard puts it, the IoT “extends connectedness far beyond computers and into all the nooks and crannies of the world”  (Greengard 2015, 16).”

Blockchain

“Imagine a huge vault from a bank. The vault is filled with rows of unlabeled deposit boxes. However, each deposit box has a glass facade, allowing everyone to visualize the contents of the deposit box, but does not access it.

When a person opens a new deposit box, it receives a key that is unique to that box. Making a copy of the key does not duplicate the contents of the box. And in the same way, even though you have the key, the box is not technically yours. You only have the ability to access what’s inside of it.

This is fundamentally the concept of cryptocurrencies based on Blockchain.” – Lunes Platform

Enjoyed the above analogies, right? Let’s wrap up this article with another masterpiece from Shakespeare:

“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!”

– Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

Previously published here.

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