Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Talking about technology: A metaphoric analysis of cloud computing and web 2.0
by Cuttitta, Anthony R., M.A., Northern Arizona University, 2013, 121; 1550099
Abstract (Summary)

This research investigates the discourse around the terms web 2.0 and cloud computing, which are used as metaphors for information technology. In addition to the disruptive technologies and applications to which they refer, both of these terms have affected information technology, its use, and the way it is perceived. This research examines how this impact has varied over time and by audience. The usage of the terms is examined through a rhetorical analysis of a sampling of articles from the general publications The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today, and the professional publications InformationWeek and CIO Magazine. The research is an analysis of these artifacts using critical methods influenced by metaphoric analysis, symbolic interactionism, and Burke's concept of symbolic action. Metaphors serve as cognitive tools in discourse communities for understanding new domains, the tenor or target of the metaphor, through references to shared symbols, the vehicle or source of the metaphor. Metaphors may be mostly descriptive, as epiphors, or persuasive, as diaphors. This research shows that the web 2.0 and cloud computing metaphors served a persuasive purpose for helping people understand disruptive technology through familiar experiences. Rhetors used the metaphors in persuading audiences whether or not to adopt the new technologies. As the new technologies became accepted and adopted, problems arose which were obscured in the original metaphor, so new metaphors emerged to highlight and conceal various aspects of the technologies. Some of these new metaphors arose with systematicity in the same domain of the original metaphor, while others came from different domains. The ability of the metaphor to be used in various rhetorical situations as the technology evolves affects the usefulness of the metaphor over time. The usage of web 2.0 shortly after the dot com boom and bust cycle of the late 1990s and early 2000s allowed rhetors to frame web 2.0 as an economic phenomenon, casting the collaborative aspects of the technology as tools for making money in a perceived second dot com bubble. The failure of the second dot com bubble to materialize, along with user frustration with the emphasis of the economic aspects of collaboration and the limited usefulness of the software release cycle in representing continuous technical change, led to infrequency of the use of web 2.0 as a metaphor. Other metaphors, like social networking and social media, arose as a new source domain to represent some of the collaborative aspects of the original technologies. Some minor referents of web 2.0, like software as a service and data centers, became referents of cloud computing, which uses a natural archetype of clouds as the source domain to reference the target domain of hosted information technology services accessible through multiple devices. As a natural domain, the cloud metaphor is more extensible than web 2.0 and as a result may have more longevity than web 2.0. The cloud computing metaphor also became associated with lightning, electricity, experimentation, and utility through a fuzzy semantic relationship. The utility metaphor worked with cloud to emphasize the ease of implementation of cloud based solutions. As practical problems arose with implementing cloud solutions, new metaphors arose. Some of these worked within the cloud domain, such as the idea of storms, to emphasize the downsides of cloud computing. Other metaphors arose in new source domains to emphasize territory and private ownership in hosted solutions. By providing an in-depth rhetorical analysis of these IT metaphors, this research can serve as a guide for evaluating rhetorical and metaphoric responses to future disruptive technical changes.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Rogers, Richard
Commitee: Neumann, Mark, Umphrey, Laura
School: Northern Arizona University
Department: Communication
School Location: United States -- Arizona
Source: MAI 52/04M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Communication, Information Technology, Rhetoric
Keywords: Cloud computing, Disruptive technology, Metaphor, Symbolic action, Symbolic interactionism, Web 2.0
Publication Number: 1550099
ISBN: 9781303640582
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