Open Thinkering


Tag: symbolism

What I talk about when I talk about ‘user outcomes’ #3

This ongoing series is a way of explaining the focus of this blog. In previous posts I’ve discussed Douglas Adams on metaphor and Borges and embodied cognition whilst below I discuss symbolic action and the importance of stories.

freedom or not:across the city

Yet for all this, our world is still shaped by stories. Through television, film, novels and video games, we may be more thoroughly bombarded with narrative material than any people that ever lived. What is peculiar, however, is the carelessness with which these stories are channelled at us — as entertainment, a distraction from daily life, something to hold our attention to the other side of the ad break. There is little sense that these things make up the equipment by which we navigate reality. On the other hand, there are the serious stories told by economists, politicians, geneticists and corporate leaders. These are not presented as stories at all, but as direct accounts of how the world is. Choose between competing versions, then fight with those who chose differently. (The Dark Mountain Project manifesto, p.13)

Everything we say and do has at least two elements: the connotative and the denotative. That is to say, there is a symbolic element to everything we see, say and do. The problem is that the interpretation of those symbols can be tricky.

  • A film you watch with a friend may have had religious and positive undertones for you, but meanwhile reinforced your friend’s belief in the futility of life.
  • What one person sees as ‘sharing good practice’ is someone else’s definition of self-promotion.
  • A look across a crowded bar is a search for a friend to the looker but a flirtatious advance to another.

Open up Heat magazine (or any other low-budget weekly) and what do you find? The surface (denotative level) celebrity gossip could also easily be interpreted on a connotative level as telling a story to keep the herd in line. This diet is good, this skirt is bad, this is how you should treat others, and so on. For celebrity (and other) magazines they’re cultivating a tribe for the sake of advertising and profit. Organizations such as Purpos/ed do so for the sake of social change.

That’s why it’s all about the story – both the story you witness and interpret, and the one you tell. They don’t have to be one and the same. And remember, you tell yourself a story when you say you can and cannot do this or that. Don’t internalise other people’s stories; tell your own.

Image CC BY visualpanic

New metaphors and symbols required!

Fre WiFi

What’s wrong with this image?

Part of the problem with technology adoption in education comes from perceived parental pressure and expectation. This is fuelled by a rather reactionary media who use outdated metaphors and reference points in their discussion of education.

Want to represent education? Here you go:

The trouble is, I can’t remember the last time I saw a teacher in a mortarboard, a child giving an apple to a teacher, or a blackboard in a classroom. These are outdated metaphors.

Come to think of it, why should the following represent ‘accessibility’?

I’ve been reading about Universal Design for Learning recently, which makes ‘accessibility’ an issue to consider for every student and individual. It’s not just about people with disabilities.

We need new metaphors. The way we communicate things is hugely important and imagery is especially important given the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text.* We need metaphors that help to explain education as it should be in the 21st century, not the 19th.

How can we represent learning and education more generally in a more forward-thinking way?

* I can’t seem to find a source for this scientific study although it’s often mentioned.

If you’re still wondering what’s wrong with the introductory image (which I took at a service station recently) it uses a green RSS icon instead of the recognised wifi logo. It’s not the end of the world, but they should know better.