PSFK today pointed to a brief essay on Mashable by Xerox's Venkatesh Rao regarding the evolving metaphors we use in innovation, specifically around technology. Rao's article, "How Conceptual Metaphors are Stunting Web Innovation" looks at how, like armies fighting the last war in this one, we tend to let metaphors around design and usage linger long after the platform from which we got the metaphor has moved from leading edge to baggage.
As a Xerox researcher, information formats and functions are close to his heart, and he cites the way we've clung to ideas such as "open and close" for digital documents in the age of dynamic, collaborative content such as we find on the Web, often more of a fleeting collection of information than a closed-ended container. As progress, he cites Google Wave as at least moving on to the "stop and start" metaphor of recorded media, but suggests there are more interesting metaphors to be had and resulting innovations in our understanding and use of technology.
What jumped out at me reading his essay is how, despite our grudging migration, we still rely on metaphors of experiences of the high-tech developed world. The folder, the desktop, the document—all artifacts of centuries of bureaucracy. Or, like clicking an imaginary shutter release, we mimic use of a modern technological artifact like a camera. I wonder, though, as cultures that weren't core to the initial phase of development of Western IT gain influence, what new functional or interaction metaphors will come to the for in the next, say, twenty years? How might content, communication, or digital socialization undergo new evolution based on metaphors that didn't come out of Chicago, Paris or Heidelberg in the last few centuries, but have been embedded in Jakarta or Sao Paolo instead, or from street subcultures or networks that aren't yet evident?
A lot of this work is happening now: the fantastic Younghee Jung, for example, has been working with colleagues for some time to better understand gestural languages and how they may impact interaction design, as have other teams at various device makers and academic centers worldwide. We are only just starting to see the earliest fruit of some of this work—interaction modes that will become common in years to come but which western consumers and designers haven't even considered yet. As we move into the era of touch and motion-based interaction, this gets even more interesting. Stay tuned.