Five analogue metaphors in the digital world

Posted on January 30, 2019


The web has replaced many objects and processes that were commonplace a couple of decades ago, or at least provided a popular alternative to them. Interestingly though, we continue to pay homage to them in modern-day digital discourse.

For example, it’s still common to hear websites described as ‘webpages’. A site has no physical ‘pages’ to flick through in the same way as a book, but our brains gravitate to the medium with which we’re most familiar, so old-fashioned analogue comparisons are often made to what we see online.

Here are five examples of physical objects that have been around for decades, but that the internet has given a new and perhaps more common meaning to:

1. Shopping basket

Retailers like Amazon may have enormous warehouses, but when they can, they like to maintain as much of the traditional shopping experience as possible – without the crowds and the stress of parking!

One way they do this is to invite customers to add items to their ‘basket’ in the same way as they would in a high street store. Of course, it’s not a physical basket and they could more accurately refer to it as something like an ‘item holding page’, but they recognise that online shoppers like some of the tangible aspects of in-store shopping, hence they encourage them to take their ‘basket’ to the ‘checkout’ in the same way as their would in their local supermarket.

2. Bookmark

Keen bookworms are never without a bookmark to make sure they don’t lose their place in what they’re reading. Online, it’s particularly easy to get lost, so internet browsers offer a similar way to keep track of important pages.

To younger generations, a ‘bookmark’ is perhaps more readily associated with a favourite website than the physical item slotted between the pages of a book.

3. Cookie

Cookies in an online sense have little to do with the sweet snacks commonly known as ‘biscuits’ here in the UK, other than that they are both supposedly a welcome treat. The term dates back at least 40 years, where it was originally known as a ‘magic cookie’.

Today, especially post-GDPR, we largely see cookies as an irritating mystery force-fed to us, and we have little choice but to swallow them.

4. Firewall

The tangible definition of a firewall is not so well-known, but it refers to a wall that has been designed to stop fire spreading from room-to-room. Today, far more people would associate it with a piece of online antivirus software.

5. Plug-in

Lastly, web developers often use ‘plug-ins’, despite not physically plugging anything in. This is typically just an add-on to an application that can be downloaded and installed without a socket in sight.

These are just five physical objects we’ve given a new digital meaning to. What others can you think of?

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.
John Murray
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