The Cyborg: Web Exclusive

July 22, 2010 Published in the August 2010 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Daniel Root

Amber Case on Life + Technology…

My college thesis was on cell phones and their technosocial sites of interaction. Basically I went out in public and watched people interacting with their phones. I figured out that cell phones are the new cigarettes. Sometimes you have to take them outside, or if you’re bored and have nothing you may use your phone to keep yourself occupied.

Life is becoming a video game. It’s not that we’re going into these little pods and having fun, or playing games in a dark room. Instead we’re going out into the world and when we check into a venue on Foursquare we get “plus-1” or “plus-5” points; when we get a friend or follower on Twitter we get “plus-1 friend” or “plus-1 follower.” Or we are amping up our “stats” so that we can compare our stats to each other. Kids are getting increasingly excited about stats and we have to keep upgrading our cell phones to deal with this stuff.

People have to maintain two selves now. Not just their regular self where they get up in the morning, put on clothes and deal with life. Sometimes you have to “upgrade” your clothes and look nice. You have to do the same thing online. People have to maintain what they say online, what text represents them. You’re interacting with somebody else’s virtual self before you meet them in real life, often on Facebook. You have to make sure your pictures are up to date or they’re not embarrassing.

Amber Case on Herself…

I don’t like doing interviews. Too much press can influence search engine results, and affect whether or not the content I create shows up. If I were to be interviewed by the New York Times, for instance, the article would appear on the top in Google’s results, because they have so much clout. But if I were to update something two years later, the New York Times article would likely be on top. But when you’re based online you can carve your own reputation and have complete control over it. I can blog or use Twitter and can control search results. So I’m careful about who I talk to.

Last March I fell and broke my ankle at South by Southwest in Austin—at the interactive conference portion [of the festival] for nerds that no one seems to know about. When they opened up my ankle, they realized that all the bones had splintered into tiny pieces. A lot of hardware was needed to stabilize the bones as they healed. I literally became a cyborg—in the physical sense, I mean. I am part metal now.

People react differently when I tell them what I do. I think I narrowed it down to 20 types of reactions. One of the first reactions is “Whoa cyborg! Does that mean like Robocop?” Robocop is probably the number one reaction.

Amber Case on Her Work…

My work environment is a 30-inch monitor and a MacBook Pro. It’s a large monitor. Since I spend more than 40 hours a week on a computer, it’s important to have a world more than 12 inches wide. My world is 30 inches wide and 500 miles deep. That is the nature of the Internet.

A client may come to Hazelnut Consulting and say: “I’m looking to make a new product in this market. Can you figure out the market and where it would it fit?” I go online and conduct bunch of ethnographic research and find out what the current target market is. What does the market think about the product? What they think about all the different components that go into a product. I make a report on what the trends are and what people might want in a product. I also build intelligence dashboards using little bots that go out and scrape the web for information about businesses. Here they can see what everyone in the world is saying about their business in real time.

I’m helping develop several augmented-reality apps that stream real-world environments through computer-generated imagery. One of them, "Japan-O-Ramic," streams 3-D panoramic images of Japan. You can move your phone around and look at a 360-degree view of Japan without even leaving your home. It allows someone a view of a space not normally available when using a program like Google Maps, which allows 360-degree views of streets, but not the inside of buildings or subway stations.

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