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Parallel circuits: real and virtual networks

A new editorial project reminds the Monitor's language columnist how computer networks are a rich source of metaphor.

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We are all our own network administrators.

When I mentioned to a friend a while back that my latest editorial project was on "networking," there was a little half-beat pause in the conversation.

"Networking? Do you mean with people? Or computers?"

It was an utterly reasonable question.

We have a friend in common who is a well-known expert in social networking, and she's been into it way before Facebook. She coaches people in the techniques of "working a room," reading name tags, shaking hands, trading business cards.

(And yes, all you good people to whom I owe answers on LinkedIn and Facebook and whatever that other one was that I signed up for and really haven't gotten the hang of yet: I know you're out there. I do promise to get back to you!)

On the other hand, our networking is often digital in this age of technological self-reliance, when computer technology is supposedly within the grasp of us all.

At home we have to make sure that our computers talk to our routers and all the other gizmos they need to; away from home, we fret about "connectivity," whether at a coffee shop or other public place.

We're all, it seems, necessarily into both kinds of networking nowadays.

But the book in question, just to end the suspense, is on computer networking. And as I've worked on it, I've been reminded what a rich source of metaphor geekspeak is for situations in our "real," rather than virtual, lives.

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