I was asked by Shrini Kulkarni in a discussion at the Software Testing Club, if I distinguish between Models and Metaphors. Indeed I do.
My view of metaphors and models was instilled in me when I was a child. Not by my parents or my teachers, but by books that I read.
As soon as I could read on my own, “Fun with Dick and Jane” got tossed and I was reading classic literature, along with allegories, fables, and Grimm’s version of fairy tales. When I was young these books took me to fantastic places and built my imagination. When I grew older and read some of them again I saw the double meanings and revelations of truth within the fiction. This had a powerful effect on me.
Literature is ripe with metaphors. Classics such as Melville’s “Moby Dick” have underlying messages within the story, pointing to the author’s view of things through the use of the characters selected. Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets have been a source of great deliberation and speculation because of his use of metaphors. Greek and Roman mythology is said by some to be truth veiled behind metaphors. And let’s not forget poetry where the use of metaphors brings about an added level of emotion and beauty.
As for models, the first real one that I was knowingly exposed to was in my Uncle Charlie’s basement. He had a very elaborate model train display complete with houses, people, vegetation, animals, roadways, and vehicles which were all put together in miniature scale. I enjoyed watching the train as it went through various tracks in the village and I imagined what it would be like to be on the train. But I had also been a passenger on a real train. Because I had been exposed to the real thing I noticed differences between the two. For one thing, the real train I rode on did not run on electricity and was not guided by a remote control.
Models, to me, are objects or ideas that can be used as a guide for something tangible. They are no more “usable-as-is” than metaphors, but they offer more substance to work with. If I wanted to build a train, my uncle’s model would only offer guidelines/ideas to do so. The materials, engineering aspects, tools needed, blue prints, labor, etc. would need to be radically modified if I were to create a usable product.
This is, “in a nutshell”, how I distinguish between metaphors and models. I find value and usability in each, but generally neither one is complete on their own.