Metaphor shear

27/11/2013

Coined by Neal Stephenson the term metaphor shear is that moment when unpalatable technological complexities that we’ve smoothed over in the name of efficiency or usability suddenly intrude, and we’re left with the realisation that we’ve been living inside a metaphor as if it’s reality. And it’s that in that difference, between the idea and the reality where critical software systems can fail. For example (harrumph) we talk about the protection provided by software ‘architecture’ like partitions, firewalls and watchdogs as if these have a physical existence and permanence, in the same way as the real world mechanisms that they replaced, when in fact they’re ‘simply’ a collection of algorithms and digital ones and zeroes.

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