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Posts tagged: cyberculture

How Silicon Valley’s Hippie Roots Led to Its Modern Elitism

Klint Finley

Fred Turner, author of From Counterculture to Cyberculture and The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties interviewed on how Silicon Valley went from counter cultural cool to mustache twirling villain. Turner talks a lot about Silicon Valley’s connection to 60s communalism, and why that outlook is shaping its modern practices:

One of the great mistakes people made in reviewing my book was to say, “Wow, it’s great. Turner finally showed us how the hippies brought us computing.” Nothing could be further from the truth. What I think I did in the book was actually show how the research world that brought us computing also brought us the counterculture. In the ‘40s, we see military industrial research in and around MIT and around a variety of other centers being incredibly collaborative and open. It’s that style that actually migrates into and shapes countercultural practices. What the counterculture does for computing is it legitimates it. It makes it culturally cool. […]

A legacy from the communalist movement that I think is pernicious is a turning away from politics, a turning toward the self as the basis of political change, of social action. I think that’s something you see all through the Valley. The information technology industry feeds off it because information technologies can so easily be aimed at satisfying individual needs. You see that rhetoric leveraged when Google and other firms say, “Don’t regulate us. We need to be creative. We need to be free to pursue our satisfaction because that’s ultimately what will provide a satisfying society.”

That’s all a way of ignoring the systems that make the world possible. One example from the ‘60s that I think is pretty telling is all the road trips. The road trips are always about the heroic actions of people like Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady and their amazing automobiles, right? Never, never did it get told that those road trips were only made possible by Eisenhower’s completion of the highway system. The highway system is never in the story. It’s boring. What’s in the story is the heroic actions of bootstrapped individuals pursuing conscious change. What we see out here now is, again, those heroic stories. And there are real heroes. But the real heroes are operating with automobiles and roads and whole systems of support without which they couldn’t be heroic.

Full Story: Harvard Business Review: How Silicon Valley Became The Man

See also:

The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman

Turner’s essay on the connections between Burning Man and Silicon Valley, particularly Google (PDF)

The R.U. Sirius’ interview with Turner

How the “Do What You Love” Mantra Enables Exploitation

The California Ideology

Creepypasta: Campfire Ghost Stories for the Internet Age

Klint Finley

Will Willes on the world of creepypasta, a genre of storytelling quickly becoming the folklore of the internet:

Again, none of these games or shows is real, but stories about them exist in truly bewildering numbers. I had unwittingly stumbled into the world of ‘creepypasta’, a widely distributed and leaderless effort to make and share scary stories; in effect, a folk literature of the web. ‘[S]ometimes,’ wrote the American author H P Lovecraft in his essay ‘Supernatural Horror in Literature’ (1927), ‘a curious streak of fancy invades an obscure corner of the very hardest head, so that no amount of rationalisation, reform, or Freudian analysis can quite annul the thrill of the chimney-corner whisper or the lonely wood.’ These days, instead of the campfire, we are gathered around the flickering light of our computer monitors, and such is the internet’s hunger for creepy stories that the stock of ‘authentic’ urban legends was exhausted long ago; now they must be manufactured, in bulk. The uncanny has been crowdsourced.

The word ‘creepypasta’ derives from ‘copypasta’, a generic term for any short piece of writing, image or video clip that is widely copy-and-pasted across forums and message boards. In its sinister variant, it flourishes on sites such as 4chan.org and Reddit, and specialised venues such as creepypasta.com and the Creepypasta Wiki (creepypasta.wikia.com), which at the time of writing has nearly 15,000 entries (these sites are all to be avoided at work). Creepypasta resembles rumour: generally it is repeated without acknowledgement of the original creator, and is cumulatively modified by many hands, existing in many versions. Even its creators might claim they heard it from someone else or found it on another site, obscuring their authorship to aid the suspension of disbelief. In the internet’s labyrinth of dead links, unattributed reproduction and misattribution lends itself well to horror: creepypasta has an eerie air of having arisen from nowhere.

Full Story: Aeon Magazine:

(Thanks Adam!)

Examples:

Polybius

Slenderman

Not safe for work: The Creepypasta Wiki

Even less safe for work: Encylopedia Dramatica’s list of the best creepypasta

Life on the Fringes of Cyberculture: An Interview with Gareth Branwyn

Klint Finley

Gareth Branwyn

Vice interviews Gareth Branwyn, a writer for the late great Mondo 2000 magazine and author of the forthcoming Borg Like Me:

What are some of weirdest fringe scenes out there?

Well, the whole dark net world of Anyonmous, 4chan (the anonymous images/bbs where rebels, criminals, and crusaders hang out), anonymous P2P networks are pretty kooky. And things like Tor, which you can use to buy mailorder illegal drugs with bitcoin. It has been said that what you see on 4chan will melt your brain, and that’s no lie. You see things, you hear things, that you can’t unsee or unhear.

Then, of course, there’s the whole Jihadist net, but I’ve never checked that out. I’ve also been researching a feature article on sexcam sites and that’s this whole specific world and there’s very kooky stuff on there—naked yoga shows, sexual game shows, women who craft and run raffles and then masturbate when they’re done and send the craft item to the raffle winner. That’s a fascinating subculture that I don’t think anybody outside of it knows much about.

Ah yes, I’ve heard about the sexcam trend. So how do you go about researching something like that?

So far, I’ve just been watching A LOT of cams… for research. I’m establishing relationships with various models and will hopefully convince some of them to talk candidly to me about themselves and their work. This isn’t going to be a piece about the business of these sites, but rather, about the models themselves and their “shows,” who their fans are, the nature of these relationships. I think it’s rather unique and an interesting twist on DIY sex work and net-based intimacy here in the early 21st century.

Full Story: Vice Motherboard: Life on the Fringes of Cyberculture: An Interview with Gareth Branwyn

(via Chris)

Genesis P-Orridge, Hakim Bey and John Perry Barlow in Conversation (1993)

Here’s an old Mondo 2000 interview from 1993 with both Genesis P-Orridge and Hakim Bey conducted by Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow:

JOHN: Right, Taoism has no truck with good and evil at all.

HAKIM: Taoism seems to be the one religion that doesn’t have the Gnostic trace.

JOHN: In our culture, the problem arose with the Romans.

HAKIM: I think it goes further back. It’s Babylon. It’s just like the Rastas say, “It happened in Babylon.” It’s Marduk and Tiamat. It’s Mr. Hard-on God up against Sloppy Mom. In China, chaos is a benevolent property. Huntun is the gourd or the egg out of which everything comes. He’s a wonton. Huntun and wonton are the same words. He’s like this little dumpling and everything good comes out of him. In Babylon, chaos is the disgusting monster vagina that has to be ripped up by Marduk into myriad blobs of shit and slime. And we are those globs of slime. That’s how the human race came into being. What is the purpose of the human race? To serve Marduk, to serve the masculine principle, to store up grain in the granary for the priests, to pay for the priests for their sacrifice so they get the free hamburgers. That’s the whole Western myth. It’s St. George and the Dragon. St. George pins the dragon down.

In China, the dragon is the free expression of creativity. He’s the mixture of Yin and Yang, the principle of power. But here’s evil, plain and simple. This is why chaos has kicked off, for me, for Ralph Abraham, and others, an interest in making a critique of this Western mythology, and saying, “Let’s put Humpty Dumpty back together.”

JOHN: There’s been an interesting co-evolution lately of a lot of apparently disconnected things, like chaos mathematics and neo-tribalism, a sudden interest in Taoism and what I perceive to be a deep feminization of Western culture.

GEN: Some philosophers feel that there’s a risk in absolute unconditional surrender of that male-God power, even though it’s obviously failed miserably. Should we seek out every possible male trait and subordinate it to a female principle?

HAKIM: I didn’t like the rule of Dad, but I don’t think I’m going to like the rule of Mom either.

Pastbin: Zoning Out, Temporarily with Hakim Bey and Genesis P-Orridge

See also:

Douglass Rushkoff in Conversation with Genesis P. Orridge (2003 and 2007)

Hakim Bey dossier

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge dossier

Old Genesis P. Orridge Interview by Phil Farber

This is an old interview with Genesis P. Orridge conducted by Phil Farber and published in Paradigm Magazine in 1996. Orridge talks about hir exit from the Temple ov Psychick Youth, the purpose of TOPI/The Process/Transmedia, and more. Lots of interesting stuff in this interview, which I surely must have read when I was 15 and hanging around The Process mailing list.

On sigils as a way of cutting up behavior:

One of my ideas was that if you did magickal ritual or sigils, in a way you were cutting up your normal behavior and expectations and programming, just as Burroughs and Gysin and people had done cut-ups with language. Just as Burroughs would say you cut up a book to see what’s really there, if you cut up your own social imprinting and take yourself into other dimensional realms, do you also see what’s really there inside yourself? Do you really learn the most detailed and scarily honest version of what you really are made up of, and can you then engineer your own character and behavior pattern from inside back out to become what you wish to be?

And I would say, yes, slowly. One of the basic things is that there is a cumulative effect of anything. Any ritual done with sincere commitment and repeated with honor and sincerity over any long period of time appears to have a cumulative effect. The orgasm appears to be a very powerful portal for transferring messages to areas of the consciousness or the DNA structure, which then continue to amplify the will. These things seem to happen. There seems to be a cumulative effect of a positive relationship with synchronicity.

On the Internet:

We’re going to invade the Internet and cyberspace as far as we can. One of the theories that we’re working with is that there are four brains. DNA, if you like, is the first brain, and we call that the Nanosphere. Then the individual human brain is the Neurosphere. The group consciousness, the social or tribal brain, is the Kaosphere. Then the Internet and all the computers which are, in a sense, at the moment a whole. Literally a whole brain is being built, it’s not a metaphor for a brain, it actually is a brain. We call that the Psychosphere. What we’re really thinking about is when you plug in and go online, you’re plugging into all the brains of all the other people who’ve been there, some of those people being psychotic and paranoid, some of them being into control, and some of them being very benign. But it is not implicitly benign. Taking that further — this is just a TOPI/Process/Transmedia interpretation — we suggest that when enough people believe in something, it becomes a deity. At a certain point it can separate from its source and have an agenda of its own. It can physically or psychically manifest separate from its source, which is originally the human brain. That’s what’s going to happen with cyberspace. We’re building a god, but we’re building a god with the flaws and the gifts of everyone on the planet almost, at this rate — millions of people — with no real unified agenda and no real dialogue about what the psychic and neurological and social and economic effect really will be of that acceleration and separation of this larger brain. It will be the first all-encompassing and contrived and constructed brain so far, that we know of.

Genesis P-Orridge on Magick, Sex and Cyberspace

For more on Orridge check out our dossier.

Render Classic ANSI Art in JavaScript

For those who don’t remember ANSI art, here’s a brief news clip on an ANSI art show that gives an overview:

escapes.js is a JavaScript library for rendering ANSI art.

ansi.js is a Node.js module for rendering ANSI in the Node.js terminal.

(all links via CreativeJS)

Participatory medicine with Jon Lebkowsky - Technoccult interview

Jon Lebkowsky

Jon Lebkowsky is a social media consultant and cofounder of the Society for Participatory Medicine. He was also the co-founder of FringeWare, Inc. and EFF-Austin, co-edited Extreme Democracy, and is a regular contributor to WorldChanging. You can read his blog here and follow him on Twitter here.

Klint Finley: Let’s start off by defining what “participatory medicine” is.

Jon Lebkowsky: There’s a good definition on Wikipedia:

Participatory Medicine is a model of medical care in which the active role of the patient is emphasized.” It can be patients coming together in communities dedicated to a specific disease or condition, or it can be patients being considered peers within treatment teams that are treating their conditions.

The Internet makes it more possible, in that patients can find much more information about their conditions online, and they can find each other.

You’ve been involved with online communities for many years, how did you get involved with participator medicine?

Through my relationship with Tom Ferguson. Tom was a participatory medicine pioneer. He had edited the health section of the Whole Earth Catalogs, and published a magazine called Medical Self Care. We started talking and hanging out in the early 90s - he found me via EFF-Austin. He could see the potential for the Internet to provide patients access to more and more information, and he had always advocated for patients to be as informed as possible, and to have a role in treatment… and do as much for themselves as possible.

He had a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to do a white paper on e-patients (See e-patients.net), and he knew that blogs and social technology would be relevant. He wanted me to join his team of physicians and others because I was involved in the evolution of social technology, what some now call social media.

I started working with the e-patients working group and became a founding member of the Society of Participatory Medicine.

How long this movement had been afoot? I’ve read that things like this were going on as far back as the 80s in places like the WELL.

Yes, there’ve been a lot of patient conversations and communities over the years in various contexts. The WELL has always had an active health conference, and patient communities like ACOR have been around for a while.

Other than there being a lot more people involved now that the Internet has become mainstream, is there any big difference between what’s going on now and what was going on way back when?

In a way, yes. With higher adoption of the Internet, you have so many more patients getting active online. And the tools are evolving so that it’s easier to create contexts for conversation. Also, partly thru Tom’s work and the Society, and other orgs like PatientsLikeMe and the Health 2.0 conference, you have a lot more interest, activity, and potential for innovation. And there’s more information coming online, so patients can theoretically be better informed. There’s also new tools for people to manage their health records online, and track aspects of their health. More hospitals and healthcare professionals are starting to use social media to connect with patients and for community engagement.
We have a whole movement forming around patient demands for access to their complete health records.

Can you give any examples of “success stories” in participatory medicine - anything that really stands out? Like a situation where you could say “Wow, that recovery could never have happened otherwise.”

Dave deBronkart. He had 4th stage terminal cancer, is now in remission. If he hadn’t been an e-patient, he might never have found the treatment that made him so much better.

Here’s what the Wikipedia article about him says:

His kidney was removed laparoscopically and he was treated in a clinical trial of high-dose interleukin-2 (HDIL-2), ending 7/23/07, which was effective in reducing the cancer, although his femur ultimately broke from damage caused by the disease. Visible lesions on follow-up CT scans continued to shrink for a year and have been stable since, and are presumed dead.

He learned of the treatment through his e-patient activiites and research. No one had told him about it. If a healthcare provider can’t offer a treatment, they don’t necessarily know about it or tell you about it.

ePatient Dave
Dave deBronkart aka E-patient Dave/em>

Is there a downside? Increased “cyberchondria,” or decreased trust in physicians?

Jon L. Part of the power of participatory medicine is in patients collaboratively researching and discussing various treatments. More powerful than a single source of information. There’s a potential down side - a physician has a different context for assessing information, and may make different judgements. But it’s good for patients to be more informed. For the physician, there can be an issue of having to spend more time with patients explaining why something they’ve found online might be inaccurate or inapplicable.

Physicians who believe patients should be empowered can be pretty good about that, though.

And there are physicians who don’t assume they necessarily have the answers, and are very willing to listen to patients who’ve been researching, and consider what they have to say.

The patient has a strong vested interest in outcomes, and will sometimes dig more deeply and thoroughly than the healthcare professional has time to do.

Here’s another downside to consider: some patients may become more knowledgeable about their conditions than their doctors. There’s a tendency for people, and I’m as guilty of it as anyone, to sort of double-down on their position if their expertise is questioned- especially if that expertise is questioned by an amateur. A physician might not want to admit they were wrong about something and their patient, who might not have ever even been to college, was right.

Yes, that’s definitely a concern. The solution is to create a culture where patients can be seen as peers. (Though not all patients will want that… many will.)

Not to be too personal, but have you been an e-patient yourself?

Jon L. Yes, but not with anything life-threatening, at least no so far. I have psoriasis and have researched it online, and was on a psoriasis email list for a while. I left it. My general sense was that the list was dominated by people who had strong feelings about what would or wouldn’t work - e.g. would vehemently oppose other patients who felt there was a potential to see results through changes in nutrition. I had a feeling they were being defensive - didn’t want to change their eating habits. So not all communities will be functional, or will work for all members.

I also had a problem with arrhythmia that seems to have been treated effectively by cardioversion and a round of drugs. I researched the drugs and decided I felt they were too toxic to continue, so I stopped after a year and a half. The cardio would have preferred I continued at least another six months.

Do you have any recommendations for potential e-patients for finding resources and communities, or places to avoid?

I would counsel proceeding with caution until you’ve felt your way into it, and got a good sense of the online landscape for your condition. It’s so easy to be misled, to get the wrong info. There are some communities that are well-established, and are the best places to go for specific conditions - like ACOR for cancer.

Also in researching your condition, remember that you’re not a physician or health researcher, so you don’t have the same context for assessing the information you find. Don’t assume your physician is wrong if you find contradictory information online.

You can get a sense of the landscape by reading e-patients.net and Journal of Participatory Medicine (the latter is the journal that the Society for Participatory Medicine started). There are also a lot of bloggers and tweeters in the e-patient space. Here’s a blogger on patient advocacy: Every Patient’s Advocate

Ed Bennett has resources for healthcare professionals.

Is there anything of note in the recent health care overhaul regarding participatory medicine?

It’s more of an insurance overhaul than a healthcare overhaul. I don’t think it has a lot of impact on what we’re talking about.

One thing specifically mentioned on the Society for Participatory Medicine’s web site is a need to address the digital divide’s impact on participatory medicine. Do you know of anything being done, or do have any ideas for solutions?

I don’t think there’s a specific project to address digital divide in this context. In fact, the community network / digital divide efforts in general seem to lack steam. Part of that is because Internet adoption is so high, it seemed that the issue was resolving as we had more and more ways for people to get online, and more incentives for them to do so. However I know there’s a significant number of adults who don’t have the kind of access they should, especially considering that so infrastructure for services is moving online.

State and smaller governments, for instance, are moving services online for the efficiency.

It’s not just a matter of access either, there’s also a matter of online literacy.

And when we get to the point where all healthcare data for everyone is available digitally, not just as an electronic health record but as a personal health record, only those who have the right degree of digital literacy will be able to have that as a factor in managing their health. To me the digital divide is more about knowing how to use computers than actually owning the hardware, so I’m with you 100%.

augmented reality medical app
Metaverse One’s augmented reality anatomy education app

Bruce Sterling, in the State of the World conversation you moderated, suggested the possibility that individuals, informed by various web based instructional materials, could start doing amateur medical operations. It was clear that what he was talking about wasn’t what you were talking about in terms of participatory medicine at the time, but have you thought anymore about that scenario?

I think it’s pretty unlikely - he was seeing that as the ad absurdum where participatory medicine could go, but I think that’s a real misunderstanding (and I don’t think he seriously believed it would go there). That’s really not what “participatory medicine” and “empowered patient” is about… when we talk about being better informed and being part of the conversation about your own health, it doesn’t follow that anyone would necessarily want to be an amateur surgeon.

Maybe not in the global North, but I can imagine it happening elsewhere, where access to professional health care is worse. Or even here in the States if economic conditions worsen.

You have a point there, but it’s not really what participatory medicine is about.

I could imagine someone learning how to do just one or two particular procedures really well and just doing doing those.

We are near a point where only the elite can afford adequate care. Yes, very possible.

Right, so the “participatory” in participatory medicine means more participating in the decisions, not doing surgeries.

Right… participating in the knowledge, and in the decisions.

Well, I think that about wraps it up. Do you have any closing thoughts?

My focus has always been on the Internet and its impact on culture, so participatory medicine is just one of a set of related interests. I’m still thinking about what’s really happening and how what’s happening in various sectors relate - participatory medicine to the changes in journalism and in politics, for instance.

Virtual reality veteran FSK1138 talks about his new low-tech lifestyle - Technoccult interview

FSK1138

Electronic musician and artist Donald Baynes, aka FSK1138, spent 10-12 hours a day exploring 3D virtual worlds in 1996 and 97. But now he spends less than 3 hours a week online. He spent an hour of his weekly Internet time chatting with me from a park to tell me why he decided to unplug.

Klint Finley: You say you were “addicted” to virtual reality in the late 90s. How did you get started with VR and what were you doing with it?

FSK1138: During that time - I was what you would call cyberpunk - I spent days plugged into a body suit, data glove, and HMD [head mounted display]. I explored virtual worlds and was surfing the web in 3D. Searching, always searching, for others and A.I out there in the sea of information.

What sort of equipment were you using?

Virtual io HMD, Nintendo Powerglove, dual cpu pPRO.

Did you have broadband back then or was this on dial-up?

I was using dial-up but I moved to Toronto because there was faster Internet - this thing called ISDN.

I remember ISDN. Basically it was using two phone lines to achieve faster speeds, right?

Yes. It was a dream - so much faster. It made 3D surfing VRML [Virtual Reality Markup Language] a reality.

So you were surfing VRML sites then? What were those virtual worlds like back then?

Low rez - like Quake or the first DOOM but at the lowest settings. There was a whole underworld of VRML BBS sites at the time.

And what did you typically do on the BBSes? Chat, socialize?

Chat, socialize, share data - much like what people are doing right now but like the Sims or SecondLife.
FSK1138

Are you still using VR?

No - I think it is a very bad thing. Even back then 3D was considered bad for your eyes and brain. I don’t think we were made for this type of input.

What makes you say that?

The reaction of any one who has seen avatar - when people who have seen it talk about it they always seem to have a smile on their face - the same smile…

He later sent me this article mentioning health concerns surrounding prolonged 3D gaming in children

FSK1138

You say now use the Internet for less than 3 hours a week and do not own a TV, phone, or stove. What brought you to the point that you decided you had to unplug like that?

I lived in Guyana for 4 years. You can have days when you have no power, and I survived. I feel that people think that the Internet will always be there. I feel it will not and the day is coming soon. I have seen the Internet change over the years - it has changed alot. The day is coming, I feel, that the can not remain a free utility.

Life really is not hard without technology if you learn to live without it. But if you’re addicted - what then?

When did you decide to cut back your use of technology?

When I realized it was taking up so much of my time - 2007 - I started closing down websites that I was using. I cut back to Myspace and YouTube - there were so many. And I cut my surfing - I use RSS now, I do not surf. By 2008 I did not have a landline or cell or Internet at home.


Above: Video FSK1138’s “Catch the Man,” a cover of Front 242’s “Headhunter.”

It looks like you use a lot of technology to make your music - have you thought about going towards a more low-tech approach to making music?

I am in a way back to where I started with making music. When I could not get a sampler or computer I used found objects - metal and glass and things you could bang together to make noise.

So you’re not using computers for music music any more?

I am using computers still - I just did a track for The 150-Years-of-Music-Technology Composition Competition.

Do you have any opinions of augmented reality? Have you used any AR applications?

I think is a cool concept. I just hope it doesn’t become the next form of spam.


Above: Video for FSK1138’s “Digital Drug”

21C Magazine is back with Apocalypse Noir

21C

21C is back with new material, plus archival material by or about Hakim Bey, William S. Burroughs, Erik Davis, Philip K. Dick, Ashley Crawford, Mark Dery, Verner Vinge, William Gibson, Rudy Rucker, Jack Parsons, Richard Metzger, Genesis P. Orridge, Kath Acker, JG Ballard, John Shirley, Robert Anton Wilson, Iain Sinclair, Terrence McKenna, Buckminster Fuller, R.U. Sirius, Timothy Leary, Bruce Sterling and more.

Sadly, in 1999, the company went bust, somewhat ironic given that 21•C in that form never made it into the Century after which it was named – the 21st. 21•C stalwart Mark Dery and I made some attempt to resuscitate the title early in the new millennium to no avail.

Yet many of the ideas and issues raised in the original magazine continued to arise, and with them perpetual queries as to how to get copies of the original articles, a nigh impossible task. With the prompting of two other 21•C stalwarts, Darren Tofts and Murray McKeich, it was decided to resurrect a core selection of articles in an archival on-line format. With Mick Stylianou’s wizard like help this was fairly painless. It didn’t take long to decide to add new material and it is hoped that new issues will be posted at semi-regular intervals.

This inaugural on-line issue takes as its theme Apocalypse Noir – the trend toward the apocalyptic, or at the least extremely dark – in contemporary writing. If earlier 21•C’s tended toward the darker aspects of cyberpunk, then the newer crop of writers have given up any pretense of a happy ending. Good luck!

21C Magazine

(via Alex Burns)

Cyborg anthropologist Amber Case, the Technoccult interview

Amber Case

Photo by Kris Krug

Amber Case is a cyborg anthropologist and the co-founder and co-organizer of Cyborg Camp. You can find out more about her and her work in our dossier on her.

Klint Finley: Please tell us what you mean by “cyborg anthropology” and explain what it is that you do on a day-to-day basis.

Amber Case: Cyborg anthropology is the study of human and non-human interaction, especially tools and networks that are formed by networks of human and non human objects.

My work relates to tracing the history of tool use and how it has affected culture over time.

For instance, one can look at a hammer and notice that over the last 300 years the design and function of the hammer has not changed very much.

The shape and form and function are still similar but when one looks at the first computers, which were large machines running on vacuum tubes, and computers now — one sees that the computer’s overall look and function and shape and size has drastically changed.

So then one must look at the idea of the hammer or knife. An animal must evolve a better tooth, or sharp edge in which to capture and kill prey. If a tooth breaks, or is not sharp enough, or the animal is not fast enough, that animal dies and cannot reproduce.

But the human has externalized the evolution by making a tool outside of their mouths. The knife is an extension of the tooth that can be thrown. The speed and excellence of the knife depends on the worker or the person who has power enough to have a worker who can create that tool.

Once we externalized objects and processes, we externalized evolution.

But the computer is different. Tool use has been physical for most of human evolution. Now we see computers as an interface not to the physical self, but to the mental self.

The mental self is an internal space, which is unseen, and a lot of what we see on a computer is unseen unless we look at it through an interface or portal.

So what I do in cyborg anthropology is consider how people upload their bodies into hyperspace, and how humanness is produced through machines and machines through humanness.

I also consider online presence, cell phones and the technosocial self.

Amber Case

Photo by Andrew Hyde

What methodology do you employ? What is a day in the life of a cyborg anthropologist like?

My methodology is mainly qualitative analysis, ethnography and participant observation.

What I mean by that is that I use the anthropological method of ethnography to collect observations through participating in groups of people involved in tool use or digital networks and see how they work, play, communicate, and what their values are.

Part of my work is letting people know that they’ve always been part human and part machine. Donna Haraway talked about everyone being a low tech cyborg. That for some part of every day people are connected to a machine.

In my recent study of Facebook, I’ve combed through user stories and behavior and placed people into general groups of interaction. I’ve also studied how the interface - or the participation architecture of the site influences how people act as people begin to move online - and live out a great deal of their lives there, the shape of an interface really affects how people move so a lot of my day is spent combing through the internet looking at that sort of behavior and jotting it down into a digital field journal of sorts.

The other part is looking for new developments. Things that break the norms. Those are harbingers of new trends and systemic shifts.

maxtor file pile

What are some of your most interesting recent findings?

Some of my favorite things have been mistakes. For instance, when a middle aged woman thinks that she’s sending a private message to someone she’s been seeing, and in reality she posted on her wall for everyone to see.

Yahoo Answers are amazing. It’s where a lot of very young kids ask each other ridiculous questions - and young kids answer back.

Also, looking at people’s signatures. Not their handwritten ones, but their digital ones. How they compose sentences and where they use capitalization. How they respond to things, etc. It really tells a lot about who they are.

The other thing I like to discover is digital artifacts. There are some digital archeologists and historians who try to keep data alive and in circulation. When one considers it, and Stewart Brand has mentioned this quite a bit… data is very fragile.

When one considers the pyramids and symbols carved into stone, that data is still around today. It’s been thousands of years and we still have it vs. Twitter, where data is regularly dumped and not saved.

One of the problems is that machines don’t get heavier when we put data into them. Which seems strange, because information has weight in real life.

Jason Scott is a great data archivist. he runs textfiles.com. He saves BBS forums and stuff from the 80s that might have been erased over time.

It’s funny that you say that. Sometimes when I delete a lot off stuff from my laptop, I actually feel like my laptop is lighter. I know it isn’t, but it just seems like it is.

It’s interesting how you say that- it’s a sign that your senses are tied to a machine - that your machine has become an external brain of sorts.

The first time my computer crashed I felt I had lost half my brain.

Here is a conversation I had with @strangeways about weight.

@caseorganic: My old computer is being reformatted. I can feel the files being deleted. It’s a strange feeling, like re-writing memories.

@strangeways: I think it is completely possible. I’ve felt it many times before. There’s a transition from physical effects to mental ones.

@strangeways Physical storage came first, then mental storage. I bet mental phantom neuron syndrome will become more prevalent.

@caseorganic Sort of feels like amputation, doesn’t it? I wonder if one can experience phantom limb with a virtual body part.

There was a campaign for Maxtor about data. It becomes increasingly easy to put data into a system, but the data, once in the system, has an escape velocity like a black hole. The computer is beginning to liquefy objects around it, like a black hole. Especially the iPhone - taking physical objects like compasses, games, cameras, notebooks, date books and address books and digitizing them, centralizing them into one device.

What sorts of tools do you find most useful in your work?

I use Yahoo! Pipes, Netvibes, search.twitter.com, and TextEdit.

I use a lot of TextEdit. I copy and paste things in, label them, and then name the file with descriptive words. That way my computer becomes a search engine for my research.

But the best tool is SKITCH and Flickr. Skitch can take a screenshot and upload it automatically to my Flickr account. It’s my external brain. So I used Skitch and Flickr symbiotically to take a quick screenshot of whatever I’m working on.

A random sample from Amber Case's Flickr stream

A random example from Amber’s Flickr stream

I use Moodle for private notes to myself, and I have some Pbwiki accounts. But Flickr is really the best. It allows sources, timestamps, tagging, and searching. And it allows comments, so my digital journal becomes a living creation.

You don’t have a Phd or other post-graduate degree, is that correct?

I do not have a PhD.

And you work in the private sector as a consultant?

Yes.

Why did you decide to go into the private sector instead of continuing in academia? Do you think you will ever go back to academia?

I went to the private sector first because I just got out of college. I wrote a thesis on mobile phones and their technosocial sites of interaction. I got a degree in sociology and anthropology.

I was told to work two years in the “real world” before going back to academia, going straight to grad school would leave me at a disadvantage. First, I wouldn’t know what the real world needed, and secondly, I wouldn’t know anything else except for academia.

My favorite conference was MIT’s futures of entertainment, which I spoke at in November 2008. I liked the conference because it was a hybrid event. It brought together people from industry and academia. Industry can beneif a lot from academia, but not from 200 page reports. And academia can benefit a lot from industry, but not from silly marketing statements.

So I wanted both perspectives. Someone has to be able to translate between the two. Its useful, else a lot of miscommunication happens and redundancies occur.

What advice would you give to liberal arts majors looking to make a career outside of academia?

Network. Network a whole lot.

Don’t network in a silly way. Network honestly. Find people who inspire and invigorate you, who make you work on things harder than ever before.

Create an online presence that is ubiquitous and enjoyable to interface with. Let it be known who you want to be. Put that on your business card and on your social profiles.

Be uniform in your focus. Set goals for who you want to meet.

Become a resource for people. Connect them. Have a blog or set of resources that aggregates and disperses useful information in your area of interest.

Attend local conferences. Speak at events. Volunteer at conferences.

Speaking is the easiest way to meet everyone in the room. Volunteering is the easiest way to meet all of the registrants, especially ones you might be too afraid to talk to.

Don’t be afraid to find the smartest person in the room and ask them how they got there.

Fail daily. Fail a whole bunch. Challenge yourself and don’t worry if you have no supporters. Be the first one there.

… That sounds like a promotional book, lol.

cyborgcamp

And speaking of conferences - you were a founder and organizer of CyborgCamp, and the second one is coming up in a few months. Could you tell us about the impetus of that event?

The idea behind CyborgCamp was to have a forum for the discussion of the past, present, and future. The conference was also livestreamed so that it would be accessible to anyone in the world. It was seen in over 50 countries.

The conference was not really created by me, but by a community that sprang up suddenly on Twitter. Within 3 hours, CyborgCamp had a website, a wiki, a sponsor, and 9 volunteers.

It wasn’t a choice for me. I knew I had to make the conference, and I strove to make it an invigorating experience. I found some great speakers, like Ward Cunningham, inventor of the Wiki.

A typical conversation at CyborgCamp

Above: a typical conversation at CyborgCamp. Photo by Mark Coleman from the CyborgCamp photoset.

The unconference part allowed the attendees to discuss what was really on their minds. We discussed everything. From agriculture to technoculture, to insulin pumps, to connectivity and the digital device, to strategy and the future. It was a cocreated event, and it was amazing to be a part of it.

A number of people in Brasil watched the conference and there will be a
CyborgCamp Brasil in May 2010.

The next domestic one will be in Portland in October.

See Also

Hypersigils Reconsidered