Playing with metaphors

I am preparing for a small workshop / university lecture, all excited.
Trying to find the right metaphor to convey the relationship between the observer and the observed, the researcher and the subject, the subtle and tender nature of which, when not respected, may lead to many undesired consequences, leading to ‘another opinion built on previous opinions’.

Bad news is it leads to that in any case, as we inevitably change everything we touch. But how to make that surgery less invasive?

The first thing that came to mind is a water / glass relationship.

Water in a glass (Water — the observed, Glass — the observer) seemed like a good idea, as we are taking the water out of natural context, giving it (our) touch yet preserving it’s qualities. As we do with insight. Let’s play it out.

1. Water in a glass

Relationship: Glass contains, water is contained. Water’s natural qualities arguably preserved. Yet new shape given.
Problem: Too much impact (on water). The flow and the shape are defined by the vessel.
Message: We capture the insight, we contain, we process. We change.

2. Glass in flowing water

Relationship: Glass being washed by water, nothing enters. No shape given to water, new surface qualities for glass.
Problem: Not enough impact (on glass or water).
Message: No insight actually gets in, just occasional superficial knowledge touches us, perhaps changing us slightly.

3. Glass in flowing water (upside down)

Relationship: Some of the water is contained purely by the position of the glass. Some other water flowing freely. The water inside the glass stays still.
Problem: No real one, except for the intense sense of ‘capture’ in ‘time’, that gets released as soon as the glass is lifted (it’s in an unnatural position).
Message: We capture the insight by being protective and personal about it, as soon as we stop — it merges back with a grey data mass.

4. Glass on its side within flowing water (shallow)

Relationship: The water is flowing in / out of glass freely. Curious and non-obligational relationship.
Problem: lacking perceivable elegance. Something seems entirely non-intentional in a broken way.
Message: We capture as much insight as context allows, within the landscape that is always changing.

5. Water and glass within two different spaces

Relationship: A mention within the same sentence.
Problem: What’s the fucking point if there’s no touch point, therefore no impact.
Message: nothing really affects anything, no matter what.

My personal favourite is, as you may have guessed, nr.4. However, it’s evident we have to come back to the drawing board, ladies and gentlemen. What would you say is the best metaphor for depicting a (successful) observer / observed relationship within research context?


All comments left here will reach @alex_andr_a — an Experience Design Director, a bit of a book nerd, a metaphor addict and a decent wine lover. Identifying intelligent thoughts and thinking them again, as prescribed by Goethe.

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