Be the Sat Nav

Fujitsu Lifebook u810 as sat nav

Our metaphors for human behaviour are often informed by technology, and the metaphors we adopt play an important role in how we see the world. Lakoff and Johnson argue that “If… our conceptual system is largely metaphorical, then the way we think, and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor.”

But can you consciously choose metaphors to shape your own behaviour? This is part of the argument of talking therapies, that you change your interaction with the world by the way you frame it conceptually. All of which is trying to provide some academic justification for a small idea in a small post…

I was pondering this the other day, when I got lost and my sat nav was patiently trying to guide me somewhere, although I thought it had got it wrong. The beauty of the sat nav is that it has no memory. It doesn’t care that it told you turn around when possible, or that it said turn left and you turned right. It calculates purely from the present. It doesn’t give up in a huff and say “well, if you’re just going to ignore me, what’s the point?” This is reassuring when you’re driving, you need to know it doesn’t matter what has gone before, it can navigate you anywhere from this point.

In life, having memory is generally a good thing (we wouldn’t have evolved it otherwise). But there are times when being able to ‘be the sat nav’ and take it forward only from the present and forget the past is useful. Personally, I’m a person who can bear grudges. There is a blogger I still haven’t forgiven because they once quoted me and inserted [sic]. They were correct to do so, I had made a grammatical error, but I interpret [sic] as [I’m smugly superior to this person]. I should let it go. I should be the sat nav.

So, if you find a relationship is blocked because you can’t forgive a minor misdemenour (I’m not suggesting you should forget if someone has stolen your car and emptied your bank account), then breathe deep, say the mantra ‘I am the sat nav’ and then say ‘at the next interaction, go straight on’. Or something equally zen like.

PS – I also don’t forgive people who don’t say thankyou when you let them through in traffic, who don’t put the ‘next customer’ indicator down for you in supermarket queues, who use ‘literally’ incorrectly… ok, it’s going to take some practice.

One Comment

  1. As the resident (on the internet) metaphor hacker, I guess I couldn’t stay away from this one.
    What you’re describing is basically the concept of “generative metaphor” from Schon (of reflective practitioner fame who indirectly inspired Lakoff and Johnson). He’s referring to metaphors that are used as jumping off points even if they don’t seem very apt. We use these all the time both consciously and unconsciously. There is a whole branch of therapy based around adapting metaphors and metaphors are used to jump start many innovations.
    But you need to proceed with care. Successful metaphors can be very seductive (e.g. http://metaphorhacker.net/2011/02/the-most-ridiculous-metaphor-of-education/) and you should always investigate the limits of all the projections that come with metaphors.
    So I think your ‘be the satnav’ metaphor can be very useful. But you can play it out in different ways. A satnav keeps a hidden record of where you went and maybe somebody will once hack it and expose all your wrong turns – a Freudian psychoanalysts wet dream… Or you could say a satnav just tells you what to do so always starting from the beginning means that you will never learn from your mistakes.
    So you always have to be clear about how the metaphor works. People can and do take them in many different ways.
    PS: I recommend forgiving people for using ‘literally’ in ways you don’t like. See here: http://metaphorhacker.net/2011/02/literally-triumph-of-pet-peeve-over-matter/

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