Summary Analysis The article by Aaron McLeran entitled “Jazz as an Extended Metaphor for Social Computing” (2009) considers the way that people understand the nature and purpose of computers in the modern world as a tool for making social connections. The author is a member of the University of California’s Transliteracies Project (McLeran, 2009, p…
The opening sections of the article in question consist of a reflection on the need to find a suitable metaphor to describe social computing. Taking the tone of a lecturer, McLeran explains how metaphors can break old patterns of thought by linking previously unconnected items or idea together. The main linguistic strategy for encouraging new thinking is the juxtaposition of normally unrelated concepts. Exploration of the connotations of these disparate concepts then brings to light features that the two items or ideas have in common or in contrast and the process of comparison can result in striking new kinds of understanding. The register of the article is a clever mix of formal and casual. The use of letters to denote concepts taken from the fields of mathematics, as in the example “This kind of association creates syllogistic metaphors: if A is a metaphor for B and B is a metaphor for C, is not A a metaphor for C?” (McLeran p. 1). The technical term syllogistic is taken from the fields of philosophy and logic, and its Greek etymology as well as its application in these fields indicates that the author expects his readers to keep up with his intellectual level. A more casual tone is adopted later in the article with the use of lexis such as “a couple of interesting metaphorical mappings” (McLeran p. 1). There is a grammatical error in the phrase “limit an individuals ability to progress” which suggests that the author has not proofread his own work very effectively and incidentally that the work has not been subjected to editing. This marks the piece out as more towards the informal end of the academic discourse spectrum. In terms of structure, the article is quite unusual for an academic piece. There are no traditional academic headings such as “introduction”, “literature review”, “hypothesis” etc., and there is no clear statement of methodology. The piece has headings but these are more like journalistic key phrase headings than academic formal structure headings. The article ends on a section announcing some “questions which arise from the metaphor” (McLeran, p 1) and this is, however rather typical of a standard academic research article. Having proposed and defined his new idea, the author considers some objections, and concludes that the idea is good and then opens up the discussion to other academics who might be interested to formulate a reply. In a chain of reasoning McLeran likens metaphors to a springboard, and then a springboard to jazz music, and from there he makes a conceptual leap to jazz, which also involves courageous departures from safe and predictable tracks to something much more freely formed and exciting. He goes too far, perhaps in defining social computing as “a kind of abstract language” (McLeran, p. 1) because it is very difficult to imagine what an abstract language actually is. An abstract language suggests something incomprehensible and difficult, whereas both jazz and social computing are delightfully easy to follow, with some complex attributes but many more familiar aspects. In short, therefore, the author is somewhat carried away in his elaborate definitions of social computing but he settles down on the metaphor of jazz as the answer to the professor’ ...
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