Transportation Metaphor for Communication

In Communication as Culture, James Carey discusses the difference between transmission and ritual views of communication, wherein the transmission view "is the commonest in our culture . . . [and] is defined by terms such as 'imparting,' 'sending,' 'transmitting,' or 'giving information to others.' It is formed from a metaphor of geography or transportation." Significantly, Carey believes that "Our basic orientation to communication remains grounded, at the deepest roots of our thinking, in the idea of transmission: communication is a process whereby messages are transmitted and distributed in space for the control of distance and people." (Carey, 15)

The ritual view, on the other hand, "is by far the older . . . [and] is linked to terms such as 'sharing,' 'participation,' 'association,' 'fellowship,' and 'the possession of a common faith'. . . a ritual view of communication is directed not toward the extension of messages in space but toward the maintenance of society in time; not the act of imparting information but the representation of shared beliefs." Through the ritual view of communication "a particular view of the world is portrayed and confirmed" (Carey, 20), or a symbolic map is transparently etched upon the social body through the process of communication, which Carey defines as "a symbolic process whereby reality is produced, maintained, repaired, and transformed" (Carey, 23).

To what extent do computer networks and the Internet work to create a communal space of shared beliefs and the maintenance of society in time, and to what extent do they perpetuate the travel of information in space for the control of distance and people?

In "From Internet to Information Superhighway," Howard Besser forms a clear distinction between the Internet and the Information Superhighway, and does so through the use of transportation metaphors: "Most Internet users are either not charged to access information or pay a low flat fee. The Information Superhighway, on the other hand, will likely be based upon a pay-per-use model."

For Besser, the significance of this speculation lies in the idea that "flat-fee arrangements encourage exploration. Users in flat-fee environments navigate through webs of information and tend to make serendipitous discoveries" whereas "pay-pre-use environments give users the incentive to focus their attention on what they know they already want;" as a consequence, here "people tend to follow more traditional paths of discovery and seldom explore unexpected avenues" (Besser, 61).

In "Understanding Community in the Information Age" Steven Jones likewise draws a clear analogy between the "information highway" and the building project of the interstate highway system during the first half of the twentieth century. For Jones, this parallel invokes both the "romantic connotations of the open road" and the "initial military motivation for highway building."

Jones discusses the "promise of a renewed sense of community" that has been so critical to the rhetoric surrounding the Internet and the Information Superhighway. "But connection does not inherently make for community, nor does it lead to any necessary exchange of information, meaning, and sense making at all" (Jones, 10-12).

Concerning the fate of interactivity on the Information Superhighway, or the possibility of a radical reconfiguration of the relationship between human and textual bodies, Besser predicts that here "most people will be relegated to the role of information consumer" and that metaphorically this road will take the form of "a ten-lane highway coming into the home, with only a tiny path leading back out - just wide enough to take a credit card number or to answer multiple-choice questions" (Besser, 63).

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Web page written and constructed by Laralynn Weiss, Georgetown University