Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Info Superhighway: Metaphor in Concrete Many Deplore Lame Imagery, but This Label Is Here to Stay

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Info Superhighway: Metaphor in Concrete Many Deplore Lame Imagery, but This Label Is Here to Stay

Article excerpt

EVEN before we know what it looks like, we have a name for America's electronic future.

Everybody knows it's the ...

"Information Railroad," says labor activist Rand Wilson.

"The Electronic Ocean," says Tom Henry, a partner of a small software firm.

"I would call it the Information Environment," argues Esther Dyson, a member of a White House advisory council.

Such labels are nice, but it's a lost cause. Everybody knows America is roaring down the Information Superhighway. Metaphorically speaking, it's a one-way trip.

There are Information Superhighway toll booths, rest stops, median strips, and dead ends. National Public Radio's Robert Siegel took journalists to task recently for stretching the image too far in writing about info-highway "potholes" and "access ramps."

Mr. Siegel admits his own complicity, having written about traffic that's not "bumper-to-bumper on the Information Superhighway."

(This writer, it must be said, has also detoured through his share of digital off-ramps, potholes, and other low points of journalistic imagery.)

The metaphor is so fixed in public consciousness that it won't go away. Highway imagery is on the tip of every computer expert's tongue, even when the conversation is about something else. "Computer crime is to computers as road-kill is to automobiles," one security expert said in a recent interview.

Even Vice President Al Gore Jr., who invented the term, seems to be wearying from the metaphorical onslaught.

In Los Angeles last month, he deviated from a prepared speech to explain how he never expected to have worried businesspeople run up to him and voice their fears of being left at the curb of the Information Superhighway.

Maybe that's why the White House decided to call its info-highway initiative the National Information Infrastructure (NII). No one, they must have thought, can spin a metaphor out of a boring word like "infrastructure."

Well, no one but Paul Callahan, a senior analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. "When people talk about it, they really focus on the pipes, the raw plumbing, the pavement on the highway," he says. But in his view the hardware isn't the issue. "What's really important is how much the communications industry is turning into a software business. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.