The Internet is a never-ending jawbreaker

internet metaphor

In Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson write “metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action.” They further state “. . . the way we think, what we experience, and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor.” This idea about the important role of metaphor in our thought and actions has guided an activity I do with students in my digital media class. I invite you to try it out with your students or colleagues.

Internet Metaphors
Metaphors help us describe, visualize, and make sense of the world around us—especially things that are unfamiliar or incomprehensible. For example, the Internet is frequently referred to as the “information superhighway” and sometimes as a “giant library.”

How we think about the Internet influences how we use it and interact with it. Complete the following sentence:

The Internet is. . .

Next, draw a picture showing how you visualize the Internet in your head. Then, share and compare your Internet metaphors with those of others. Discuss how these metaphors relate to the ways in which people think about and use the Internet in their daily lives.

The most “juicy” metaphor I’ve received in doing this activity with students over the past few years came from Catlin this week. She described the Internet as a “a never-ending jawbreaker.” Her drawing is above.

When asked to explain her choice of words, Caitlin wrote “You’re hungry for something specific, but you end up sick licking superficial, sugary layers.”

I’m curious how school administrators, school tech specialists, and teachers would respond to this exercise and what similarities and differences we might see in the ways these groups visualize and think about the Internet. Based on current practices in many U.S. schools of blocking Internet sites, especially those offering Web 2.0 tools and services, I would suspect that the most common Internet metaphor we’d see is that of a “scary place.” As art educators, how can we help to change this image?