31 December 2011

Metaphor Police: Walled Gardens

It is fashionable amongst the technoliterate to use the metaphor of "Walled Gardens" for any "closed" or "controlled" system or environment they don't like. Crying out in anguish, "it's a walled garden!" is supposed be not only meaningful but also critical. This confuses the hell out of me, because walled gardens are great.

I'd wager most people who use the term have never seen an actual walled garden. They are lovely, functional, useful, productive. They help keep rabbits out (sometimes). They protect from the elements. They allow a really efficient use of space in a low-tech way. They are attractive and can produce more, longer, than an unwalled garden. If you had a country home that had one you would probably never want to go back to not having one.

So here's the odd thing: I've never heard anyone talk about actual walled gardens as if they were bad things. Yet when people talk about technology the metaphor is used as an unequivocal evil. As a counterexample, here's a simple metaphor that works great because its metaphorical use matches its literal use: "piece of shit". Generally, not always, but generally, a literal piece of shit is not a good thing. Likewise, if you describe your car as "a piece of shit", people get that you are making an unambiguous judgment. It works fine as a metaphor. With literal walled gardens, my experience of them is as a good thing. Every time I hear the metaphorical used in disgust, I think, "what's wrong with that?"

"But it's a walled garden!" Uh... great, more lettuce/broccoli/apples for us!

Ok, I get that we need a shorthand criticism for closed/controlled/no-user-serviceable-parts environments, so *some* metaphor would be handy. I think we can do much better than wrongly maligning poor walled gardens.


JustJoeP said...

I concur with your statement. Perhaps "prison cell" would be a better metaphor, than "walled garden" when used in disgust?

On PofS, as I've been on alot of mountain hikes, and I understand the behaviour of mountain feline predators placing their fecal matter on the highest / most prominent, most exposed to the wind & foot traffic areas as possible, when I do find bobcat scat, on little-used-by-humans trails, I think to myself "I'm glad that's a small PofS" (and not one from a Mountain Lion). The feline who left it there is certainly VERY proud of their PofS, prominently displayed & presented. But other than this one small sliver of reality, in general, I think most people (& creatures) would consider a PofS a very bad / unpleasant / less than useful thing.

pyker said...

Prison cell might work in some cases, but there's a big involuntary aspect of it that doesn't quite fit with the use case.

So far the best I can come up with is ready meals. That doesn't quite work, though, either.

JustJoeP said...

"Boring Art Gallery" perhaps?


"Undergraduate, Preliminary Project Space" ... but that is too bulky.

If the "Walled Garden" is poorly organized and chock full of content that is cluttered and difficult to access, it could be called "Big Lots" - as in the US discount store that resembles an impromptu garage sale.