Bad Metaphors is an ongoing series that takes a critical look at the figures of speech or tropes that shuttle between technology and everyday life
The “conspiracy wall” meme offers a cinematic interpretation of how conspiracies spread. However, it is ultimately misleading: those who subscribe to the kinds of theories peddled by Alex Jones and the like are not looking for logical explanations, but rather for permission to feel how they want to feel
It’s common to hear startups or tech company cultures described as “cultish.” But using “cult” as a pejorative not only imports a dehumanizing and carceral line of critique; it also separates the companies being critiqued from the larger historical and political forces that shape them.
Programming a computer was once obviously a form of physical labor, a matter of hauling cables and adjusting switches that presented themselves as arrays in physical space. Being “close to the metal” derives from this and captures a friction in our interactions with machines that is increasingly being hidden.
My phone’s battery icon has become emblematic of what it means to regain my energy: I want to turn from red to green. Saying that I need to “recharge” is at once an acknowledgement of my depletion and a sign of my hope that reviving it could be as simple as plugging in. I am thinking of myself like my device, and as such, reducing my life to a deadening cycle.
The rhetorical trick in the “30,000-foot view” is in how it allows for a differentiation between those who are merely impressed if not overawed with the all-encompassing aerial perspective and those who can read it and control it. It seems to present a claim to objectivity, but it is more an expression of status.
We almost never talk about “having the bandwidth” for something; it is usually in the negative. The “bandwidth” metaphor plays on the concept of hard limits, set and managed by forces outside our control — fate, or, in the literal sense, internet providers or the FCC. It is inelastic, and also not our fault.
On those nights when I have stayed up too late, binge-watching shows on Netflix or scrolling through Twitter, I have the disturbing sensation that the rest of my body has ceased to exist, and I am nothing but a giant eyeball, absorbing signals from my screen. Something similar happens in the way digital technology is often discussed. Its more obvious engagement with sight distracts us from what is going on both beneath the screen and beyond our retinas.