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Sometimes I Wish That It Would Rain Here

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

computer posture

ever notice how laptops (and computers in general) seem to be designed to induce bad posture? consider the following

a laptop usually sits either on a desk or in one's lap so as to make the keyboard close to one's hand. however, this also places the screen, which is affixed to the keyboard, far below eye level. in order to see the screen, one must hunch one's back, crane the neck forward, and achieve what is certainly a not good posture. furthermore, in this position, the hands must be moved, requiring the shoulders to be hunched up and it, placing further strain on the neck and back. the wrists are often canted at an angle most conducive to developing carpal tunnels. if one attempts to achieve a somewhat better posture, the screen becomes too far away to read (thus straining the eyes), the hands can no longer be placed in an effective position on the keyboard, and the whole apparatus rather loses its utility.

however, why is it that we must adopt bad posture to use a computer? could we have a situation in which the human user retains good posture while the computer deforms itself into a bad posture?

due to my lack of artistic talent, this looks less like a computer with bad posture and more like a computer monstar ready to devour the unsuspecting user with good posture. however, I think it makes the point of how ridiculous a computer would look contorted around a human; almost as ridiculous as a human contorted around a computer.

there are about a million and a half approaches to remedy this: ergonomics, standing desk configurations, less traditional computing interfaces, etc. take your pick.

Monday, July 10, 2006

metaphors, reversal, and subjugation

I'm reading through Lakoff and Johnson's Metaphors We Live By for the first time (something I should have done long ago), and I had a bit of a stumbling with their first chapter. they want to talk about how metaphor is not just a linguistic device, but is actually a tool in our conceptual systems with which we understand the world. the example with which they start is that of "argument is war." they give several examples of how the very way in which we approach an argument is framed as if it were a war (original emphases): "Your claims are indefensible;" "I demolished his argument;" "If you use that strategy, he'll wipe you out." they argue that we don't just talk about arguments as if they were war, but our very conceptual approach to an argument and definition of what it means to be an argument is dictated by the metaphor, "argument is war."

they then very quickly turn this around, saying, "Many of the things we do in an argument are structured by the concept of war." this is an interesting turn, because they go from claiming that our approach to an argument is guided by the metaphor of argument is war, to claiming that the metaphor of argument is war actually dictates some of the behaviors in which we engage when participating in an argument. they have turned the metaphor from a comprehensional tool to a generative one. I'm not entirely sure this makes sense, especially in light of the ideas that follow.

they next suggest that one could have a culture in which the metaphor was not "argument is war," but rather "argument is dance." they claim that, in such a culture, arguments would be talked about in very different ways, would look very different, and would be carried out very differently. in fact, that which in this culture was called an argument might not even be recognizable to us as such. because they would approach argument as a dance and we would approach argument as a war, the behaviours in which we would engage while arguing would be entirely different.

here, I'm not so sure that their generative claims hold. I want to get down into some of the specifics here and ask, what is an argument? in the most general sense, I suspect we might define an argument as when one person is trying to convince a second person to adopt or accept the first's opinion or view. in this case, it doesn't matter whether I'm approaching the argument as a war or as a dance, my behaviors are still going to be recognizable as an argument. furthermore, depending on an individual's approach, the same argument may look like a dance or it may look like a war. it's less a matter of what's actually guiding the argument and more a matter of how the observing is framing what s/he sees.

it is certainly the case, as Lakoff and Johnson point out, that when we take a certain metaphorical stance, such as "aurgment is war," it frames and guides our future behavior with respect to arguments. however, to say that using another metaphorical approach would result in something not even recognizable as an argument puts too much emphasis on the metaphor's vehicle (source) and not enough on the tenor (target), essentially subjugating the tenor to the vehicle. later on, though, they say, "The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of things in terms of another," which makes me think that they're not trying to push the generative bit all that much.

all this by page 5. we'll see what the next 200+ pages bring.