Computer Metaphors



One day, my father was trying to copy a text into a Word Document. He tried many times to no avail. He called me up to help him. I sat at his desk and sized the problem. I immediately turned to him and said it was not possible.

– "How come it's not possible", he asked me.

– "Because, this is an image, not a text", I answered. But right then, I understood why my answer didn't make much sense.

What we were looking at on the screen was text. It had the usual white background, and the black 14pt text written over it. It looked no different from any of the other PDFs he was trying to copy. But internally, this was a JPEG saved in a PDF file. As far as the computer was concerned, it was an image and you can't select text between pixels. As far as my father was concerned, he was looking at text on the screen. My job was to help him copy the text to his document. I used an OCR and we corrected the few mistakes and that was that.

But it got me to think about the metaphor. Is an image a text if it displays text? Or is a text an image if it is displayed on a screen? Knowing the difference helps you manipulate the information better. But what new metaphor my children will understand and I will have a hard time seeing through.

My father was a smart guy, he asked me to explain to him what makes one an image, and what makes the other a text. We spent a good hour talking about File types in the Windows OS. I can't wait to have my children explain to me new metaphors I cannot grasp.