[SIGCIS-Members] Virtuality versus transprency -- trying to locate a quote about the difference

Allan Olley allan.olley at utoronto.ca
Fri Oct 31 11:53:01 PDT 2014


[I'm sending this for a second time, I have trouble when I respond 
directly to e-mails from the list, hopefully two of these don't show up on 
the list, apologies to Thomas and Andrew who already go this]

         I'm struck that transparency as making the inner workings of 
something apparent is a very old and I thought very common metaphor in 
various phrases.
         For example the phrase "I saw right through him" to indicate you 
saw through deception and divined someone's true motives and plans. So 
when you see right through him you actually see him better than when you 
see him in the normal mode, just as when you understand a political 
process better when it is transparent.
         This goes back to at least 1856 (and presumably far earlier but 
this was the earliest use I found on google books). Although arguably it 
suggests that we see right through someone's dissembling, lies etc. rather 
than through him, but it seems like a natural metaphor.
         Looking at some old usages I think the metaphor using the exact 
word "transparent" to mean "obvious" is pretty old also. So "my patriotic 
American ears burned with shame as I heard how an American had been gulled 
by such a simple and transparent operation." The transparency of the 
operation indicates 
that it is an obvious scam not a indiscernable one.
         Perhaps, the word "clear" provides a case of the metaphor going 
the other way, since (according to etymological dictionary I checked 
http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=clear ) it starts by meaning 
something obvious ("bright"), keeps that meaning, but also means not 
blocking/encumbering light/vision and so means transparent (a clear day, 
clear water etc.).
         Not sure I can justify it exactly, but I would have said 
transparency as a metaphor for divining inner workings is the inutive 
metaphor and that the CS metaphor making it synonymous with 
invisible or seamless is actually the less intuitive one (although it is 
still intelligible as a metaphor).
         To me transparency connotes something you can see through but that 
still makes its presence known, the opposite of transparency is opaqueness 
or obscurity, whereas the opposite of invisibility is simply visibility.


Yours Truly,
Allan Olley, PhD


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