That’s how metaphors work: Once their underlying logic becomes manifest, we forget that they were ever there. No one remembers that before the steering wheel in a car, there were tillers, and that tillers made for a natural comparison when no one drove cars and far more people had piloted a boat. The metaphor disappeared once driving cars became common. In digesting new technologies, we climb a ladder of metaphors, and each rung helps us step up to the next. Our prior assumptions lend us confidence about how a new technology works. Over time, we find ourselves farther and farther from the rungs we started with, so that we eventually leave them behind, like so many tiller-inspired steering wheels. Or like the various metaphors—hyperlink, browser, search engine—that taught Westerners how to use the World Wide Web.
I wrote about this ‘disappearing metaphor’ problem back in 2009:
Fine. As long as we have our living analogue ancestors around, our iconography can stay in place and mutate when some of them become extinct. We get it. Let’s stretch this out to it’s logical conclusion – there is no interface. We become the interface. The interface becomes us.
We’ll reach a point in the future where what Mr. Dawes is saying does come to be. People will no longer understand that bell telephone means ‘call someone’. Phones will become implants and we’ll simply say a person’s name to our interfaceless voice recognition system. We have HUDs in jets and cars, is it really a stretch to image an HUD eye implant?
Picture an iPhone without the iPhone.
It will be a strange, new world once we fuse with our devices.