Who to Follow: Amber Case

I was introduced to Amber Case’s idea of Templated Self by Jim Groom recently, and that kind of domino-ed into reading about/becoming interested in Cyborg Anthropology. I was really taken by the idea.

“[C]yborg anthropology is a placeholder term for an evolution of anthropological methods and study. It’s about using new tools to do fieldwork in new places, and to study all spaces and types of humanity, not just foreign ones.” (What is Cyborg Anthropology? – Amber Case)

When I read about Cyber Anthropology, juxtaposed in my mind against the topics we’ve been studying in Digital Citizenship, I had an of course moment.

Of course we should be studying the topic from that framework, why hadn’t I heard of this before? Case didn’t coin the term but I think she has really brought it back into the light, so to speak. Cyber Anthropology was presented as a topic at the 1992 Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association (login with your UAF account to read for free).

“In a time where the use of Facebook is common, and cell phones live in everyone’s pockets, technology is a more of a decision making process for the general person more than something that is critically looked at. Technologies have become so omnipresent that they have seeped into almost every nook and cranny of physical and social lives in many countries. A cyborg anthropologist has the ability to leverage both new and old methods to take a step back and look at these changes on a longer scale.” (What is Cyborg Anthropology? – Amber Case)

For instance we’ve discussed online presence, and controlling what that means, but Case takes it a step farther to “Second Selves,” which is not just our choices and presence but how that presence becomes an extension of self–including psychological impacts. Another topic I found of interest was Hyperlinked Memories, using an external device as an intermediary for accessing memories. Case touches on this a bit in her TED Talks video, in the way we feel adrift when we lose information on our hard drives, phones, etc.

Case’s current work is focused on Calm Technology. Which was coined in the 90s by Xerox PARC researchers Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown “as an antidote to the far more common experience of tech rage brought on by poor user experiences and data overload” (Calm Tech, Then and Now – re:form).

Here are a couple of principles of Calm Technology:

  1. Technology should require the smallest possible amount of attention

    • Technology can communicate, but doesn’t need to speak.
    • Create ambient awareness through different senses.
    • Communicate information without taking the wearer out of their environment or task.
  2. Technology should inform and create calm
    • A person’s primary task should not be computing, but being human.
    • Give people what they need to solve their problem, and nothing more.

I quite like the idea of unobtrusive technology. While I love the connectablility that comes with modern tech–books at my fingertips, ease of communication over vast spaces, etc.–I don’t like how obsessive we’ve become with it. And, I could really do without the constant pull for attention. Like when a program pops up an alert to tell me it’s doing its job. I don’t need to be told it’s working, I just need it to work.

I think the work Amber Case is doing is very interesting, and wholly relevant–not just to the ED 654 class but to our lives, in and out of digital space. A lot of her work seems to start with ideas that have been lost in the shuffle, and that she has applied–or reapplied–to the modern world. It will be interesting to see where she takes her research from here.


Also find Amber Case:
Caseorganic.com – personal website
@caseorganic – Twitter
The Illustrated Dictionary of Cyborg – article, WIRED

3 Comments on “Who to Follow: Amber Case

  1. I’m glad you made these connections…it opens a whole new (to me) angle for thinking about many of the topics in this class. I have to admit to knowing nothing of “cyborg anthropology” until now. I’ve heard the term but was immediately turned off by it (that’ll teach me to make assumptions).

    I need to read (perhaps a lot) more to get at the idea of the second self because on its face that sounds to me like exactly the kind of dissociated, unintegrated direction I myself don’t want to go. I’m particularly interested in integration, augmentation and amplification. But I may well be wholly misunderstanding based on reading only this post.

    Given what you have learned, how does the idea of the “second self” differ from a quantification of presence and identity in the more traditional sense?

    I’m going to have to ask Gardner and Jim, as well…I wonder what they know of all of this (a lot more than me, I bet)!

    • Ok, this might not be the best explanation, bear with me.

      From what I’ve encountered so far, the more traditional discussion situates presence/identity as if you’re putting on a superhero suit. The image you want to put forward, in the spaces that reflect/boost the image you want to portray.

      Second self, looks at how wearing that superhero suit effects our analog secret identities.

      Of course, having only started to pick apart these topics, there may well be more on presence/identity psychological effects that I’ve just not encountered yet. Second self, could just be a rose by another name (searching second self comes up with a lot more beer-related results than I can swim through at this point).

      I hope Gardner and/or Jim do throw some thoughts out. I could certainly use a second opinion, or some research (re)direction.

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