Information system metaphors

H.W.M. Gazendam

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Metaphors are useful because they are efficient: they transfer a complex of meaning in a few words. Information systems are social constructs. Therefore, metaphors seem to be especially useful for explaining the space of possible meaning complexes or designs of information systems. Three information system metaphors and the associated meaning complexes are explained: the mill, the cell, and the mind. An information system as a mill is characterized by the efficient processing of large quantities of information. The processing has to be done using fixed, that is, invariant, rules en patterns that may be very complex. An information system as a cell is characterized by its fluent and adequate interaction with people. The information system consists of objects that take care of preserving their own integrity and that react on events. The cell metaphor is characterized by interaction and integrity. The information system as a mind appears as an intelligent assistant embodying that mind. An information system as a mind is characterized by capabilities like knowledge use, autonomy and learning. These three metaphors can be combined, and are combined, in real-life organizations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)-
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of management and economics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1999


  • IR-95908
  • METIS-310526

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