We’re still going with the flow…
The difference between a living metaphor and a dead metaphor is arguable at best, since truly it is the individual that makes these life or death decisions with each occurrence. One who is new to a dead metaphor will regard it quite alive, while one tired of the living will impose a premature burial. No metaphor I can think of on this sleepless night could better serve as example than the word “flow”.
The word flow sprang up as the word fluxus in Latin, long before many of us can remember. Its root definition has remained intact, with the primary meaning “to move in a (steady) stream”. The cognitive image of a liquid is therefore fused into every metaphor using flow.
We use the term traffic flow to refer to the steady movement of rolling objects along the specified pathway of pavement. Is it the wheels that lay down a steady series of tangents as they turn, the river of asphalt they roll on, or the sense of linear predictability to the entire works that makes this metaphor so successful? The metaphor customer flow implies that wheels are not a requirement – and customers, even when forced into lines, will cut ahead of one another making any linear existing series irrelevant.
The sidewalks and isles are the customer’s equivalent to a river of asphalt – or dare I imply riverbed of asphalt. Because of their decidedly stationary and laterally limiting quality, these forms of indoor and outdoor flooring could not be the liquid centre of the metaphor flow, but are rather a channel for which something else of liquid quality will travel. This is seen in the management of customer service call centres, where thousands of people a day phone in to complain or set up their cell phone service. Here, the term is call flow, and the new pavement is telephone cable.
Wires carry electrical currents and signals. And just as pavement may carry both bicycles and cars, electrical cable can convey any number of electrical commuters at once. Our phone lines deliver both phone signals and power to run the phones – even internet service. Our television cable can pump in hundreds of channels at once, and it too can bring us internet service. Finally, our household wiring, which carries the heaviest of all electrical flows to our home, is now being introduced as a means of delivering hi-speed internet, which, of course can deliver voice-over-internet-protocol, the virtual phone service more commonly known as VoIP. In any event, the metaphor electrical flow reveals that our river bed may be made of any physical material.
Which leads to the question: “What is the riverbed of a cash flow?” My best guess is that it may well be human hands. But then I’d be denying the whole online banking thing, wouldn’t I? This is where the metaphor flow rises above pavement, riverbeds and wires and into the ether of consciousness – where it belongs, if you ask me. My flow of reasoning is this: our understanding of our world is derived from experience; a flow is a primary experience of physical materials involving a progression; we equate physical events with cognitive processes (eg: mental leap); a flow of reasoning is a progression of cognitive events; therefore any time we conceptualize a series of events we equate it with a flow. That is, we did until trains of thought were invented.
A flow chart
is a means of visualizing complex systems. That way, users need not remember the many convolutions in the flow of events
. In the mindbogglingly complex world of sophisticated software, the flow of logic
defies simplistic renditions of flow charts, being comparable in detail to our circulatory system, our internal infrastructure for blood flow
In the end, the liquid centre of the metaphor flow is truly a conceptual one, where rivers of brain signals take long, winding journeys along dendrite riverbeds to destinations unthought. We think of succession in succession, and in this way show our likeness of being with supposedly simpler things. Perhaps we could learn a thing or two from simpler things…
And now, as the painful light of dawn chases insomniacs to shadier retreats, and the energy flow begins to dwindle into trickle, I am drawn to bring my observations of the day to a close. Drawn like a magnet, which quietly disguises the metaphor flow – and its proud and ubiquitous history – in the term magnetic flux.