Tending the Garden

I woke up yesterday thinking about Internet metaphors again. I picked up a copy of The Power of Metaphor in the Age of Electronic Media by Raymond Gozzi Jr. at the C’s conference and noticed that a core metaphor he writes about is the “information superhighway.” The book was published in 1999, but already that metaphor seems hopelessly dated. Gozzi is skeptical about “cyberspace” as well, since electronic communication is in most ways the opposite of space. He proposes instead “cyberfiber” to suggest that the Internet is a cord that is fragile and might be cut at any point, disrupting the transfer of information. I can’t say that I like that much better. It sounds too much like a new kind of breakfast cereal.

As Dennis and I discussed at the conference, these suggestions are conduit metaphors, which technical communications has held in disfavor for many years. Channels of communication are never transparent carriers of meaning— they have their own resonances and amplifications, as well as damping features and attenuations. When I woke up, I was thinking about garden metaphors instead. The idyllic pre-lapsarian Internet constructs that abound among early theorists (and recent adopters) are downright Panglossian. It is unlikely that the Internet is “the best of all possible worlds.” However, though it is still spatial, the garden metaphor represents an interesting twist on the problem. Especially considered in the light of the history of gardening.

Across the 18th century, gardens were often geometrically ordered and precise. At the onset of romanticism, gardens tended to favor a sort of cultivated wildness. Though cultivated, they moved away from precise form in favor of an emulation of natural habitat. Though illusory, the garden represented a nostalgic space constructed to recapture wilderness amidst the sprawl of cities. Even in these spaces, though, weeds were discouraged. I think of the problems with spamming as so many weeds to be plucked from a cultivated wilderness.

What might be more appropriate is a rainforest metaphor, where biodiversity is celebrated. But then, there is always the problem of weeds. To keep the garden metaphor alive, I suppose we need to get behind the mule.

Pin your ear to the wisdom post
Pin your eye to the line
Never let the weeds get higher
Than the garden
Always keep a sapphire in your mind
Always keep a diamond in your mind

2 thoughts on “Gardens”

  1. “Cyberspace” works very well for me. It’s probably a sign that I watched way too much Star Trek growing up but I think of cyberspace as sort of a parallel universe. It exists in the same “space” as what we think of as the “real” universe or “meatspace” as some people like to say but the rules or “natural laws” are different. We are just now beginning to learn what the natural laws of cyberspace are and most people are still trying to impose the laws of the universe we are used to but it won’t work. The powers that be must either learn to deal with the natural laws of cyberspace or else they will destroy the Internet as we know it in their efforts to make it fit within the “real world.”

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