The blog for internet scientists and digital mavericks

How metaphors shape the digital society

Cloud, Big Data, Piracy, Virus are common terms in the debates about digital technologies. At the same time they are methaphors that originate from other fields than technology. What normative or political baggage do they therefore carry? How does this vocabulary shape the emerging digital society? In the series of articles on the Politics of Metaphors different authors analyse the assumptions and meanings of metaphors in the digital era.

Articles in this Dossier

Addiction: Apt metaphor for (over)use of digital technology?

People are increasingly being warned about the dangers to one’s physical and emotional well-being of always being online. In this post, Sally Wyatt reflects critically on the metaphors of ‘use’...

Organic search: How metaphors help cultivate the web

Tomatoes, apples and bread can be ‘organic.’ But search results? Anna Jobin and Malte Ziewitz wonder about the currency of agricultural metaphors in web search and show how they do...

The Privatised Public Sphere

The public sphere metaphor was always contested and this continues in the digital realm. While “old” debates on access, inequality and power continue, the so-called platform society has taken concerns...

Backdoor: How a metaphor turns into a weapon

Governments want special access to encrypted data while IT specialists and privacy advocates oppose these demands. What is the role of the “backdoor” metaphor within these conflicts, often coined as...

Is Open Science a tautology?

In our blog series on metaphors of the digital society, we uncover the vocabularies that are thrown around almost haphazardly these days. These terms are often deployed in the scholarly and...

The platform as pizza: towards a taxonomy of platforms

The ‘platform’ metaphor is at once inevitable and misleading. What’s more, we no longer regard it a metaphor. Following Tarleton Gillespie’s proposal to complement the discourse with other images, José...

The Platform Metaphor, Revisited

The most successful internet businesses are based on the idea of offering a platform. Author Tarleton Gillespie discusses the hidden meaning of this popular and widely accepted metaphor and reveals...

Sharing – from ploughshares to file sharing and beyond

The metaphor of sharing is central to the workings of social media and indeed to computer-mediated communication in its broadest sense. Online sharing includes posting statuses, photos and videos; it...

Who benefits from the so-called New Media Revolution?

The new media revolution is a common metaphor that is often used to describe the contemporary communications ecosystem. This essay investigates how it influences the way individuals, groups and policy...

AI – A Metaphor or the seed of personality of machines in a digitised society?

Is artificial intelligence a metaphor, or can machines be intelligent in the same way human beings are? This has been a contested question ever since the concept was developed. While...

Imagining the Digital Society – Metaphors from the Past and Present

The current rapid social and technological change is giving rise to enormous uncertainties – and a great need for explanations and sense-making. How do we understand the digital society? When...