Cyborg Anthropology at BoCo – A Fusion of Tech, Music and Food in Boulder, Colorado


Today I was excited to speak at BoCo, a great new conference developed by the Boulder Tech Community, especially Andrew Hyde. Rick Turoczy was there, among other awesome Portlanders, San Fransiscans, and Boulderites. It  was a sunny day and there were beautiful mountains all around. The morning sessions dealt with food and music and were very wonderful to listen to.


I spoke about Cyborg Anthropology, which is the study of human computer interactions and how technology affects the way in which we communicate with one another.

We Are All Cyborgs

When you read this, you are acting as a low-tech cyborg, because you are using a computer to view text that I have written. My writing is stored here in my website, part of my actor network of external technological devices that, when taken together, comprise my technosocial self. As cavemen, we began skipping evolution by crafting spears instead of growing teeth. We began making hammers as extensions of our fists.


My social self is part technology and part human. My technological self does a lot of networking for me through my social networking profiles and my Google search results. So do yours (if you have them). My technosocial avatar of a self networks for me when I’m not there.

Distributed Social Selves

Each piece of my distributed social identity leaves a geological trail of past self that my present self can interact with. These all comprise my future self, which your future self or selves will most undoubtedly interact with. The online optimization of self, when coupled with the analog optimization of self (i.e. real-life networking, person to person) is the creation of a stable identity that is uniformly distributed and presented all over the web.

Technology Resembles Magic

Technology is almost magical. Like the scrying pool of the past (or of fantasy novels), the iPhone or computer monitor allows us to view anything anywhere in the world through YouTube and Twitter, News sites and Facebook. We can summon up an image with a simple spell (a simple text entry into Google search or Twitter search) and we can extend our speech and ears across very large distances in seconds with the mere touch of a button.

Technology Gives Us Superpowers

Technology, when used well, gives us amazing superpowers. We are like gods, until we forget to charge our batteries. We are like gods, until we forget to upgrade our devices to the most recent operating system or device number. Our external prosthetic devices turn against us when they get old. Our old clothes go out of style. Our brick phones make us get laughed at in the streets.

From Physical Transportation to Mental Transportation

In the same way that cars transport our physical bodies, computers and cell phones transport our spiritual bodies. Don’t like the word spiritual? Use the word mind instead. We’re increasingly entering into a world of mental machines – mental transportation devices. These devices transmit our thoughts invisibly to others. They are taking up smaller amounts of space, until vehicles, who require increasingly large highways.

Mental Traffic Jams

We have traffic jams, too. Mental traffic jams. Jams on Twitter. Twitter fails. Rush hour around important events and deaths and wars and crises. We can now have multiple views of the same event.

Telephonic Schizophrenia

When telephone technology first came out, people felt it was crazy. The idea of going into a room and speaking into a machine sounded schizophrenic.



There is more: enough to fill up a hour and a half speech, but I’ll leave that to you to see the next time I speak. Until then, you can follow me on Twitter @caseorganic, or you can check out BoCo.

Geolocal AutoSubscribing RSS Feeds | A Shift from Responding to Place to Making Place

WhereCamp Portland in the Yahoo! Pipes Session I organized a session at this weekend’s WhereCamp Portland called ‘Geolocal AutoSubscribing RSS Feeds’, and began the session by drawing a big grid of Portland’s quadrants on the white board. I labeled them NW NE SW SE and N, before drawing circles all over the place. The circles represented ranges of ‘hearing’ that a mobile device might have to RSS feeds. I pointed out that as one progresses from street to street, quadrant to quadrant, one’s phone should understand this and automatically subscribe the user to the geolocal RSS feed for that area. That way, data can be very relevant and contextual to the area.

I explained this in the concept of a video game. In order to optimize load time, the content of a video game loads relative to the user. Data streams load from nearby places into the user’s dashboard and notification bar, or ‘feed reader’. There are two types of feeds — the global, overarching data streams of the game, and the feeds that deal with timely events. James Whitley of GoLifeMobile described the future of the mobile device as a remote control for reality.

People, Places, Things

Paige Saez pointed out some of the philosophical ramifications of place, and how the concept of place is constructed. I pointed out that a person can be a place, or an event can be a place. This moved into a discussion of the shift from responding to place (as traditional place is often immobile and very contextual) — to making a place (due to the light modernity and the ease with which place can be arranged) — to people as place (people as an experience, place as an experience, people making place).

We all discussed various use cases of why/where/when/how Geolocal AutoSubscribing RSS Feeds might come in handy. I noticed that the use cases presented by the group members were strongly tied to cultural, beliefs and experience. I think a point was made concerning the structure of systems. I pointed out that a Go board is empty when starting a game, and as the game is played, the Go board allows some structure while allowing many permutations of forms and ecosystems.

Twitter functions in a similar manner. The system allows short turns, similar to Go, and each of these turns contributes to the overall shape of the game. Twitter allows people to be treated as place, and allows people to visit segments of a place, or turn off that place from entering into the environment of experience.

Use Cases

“I’m new to this city/here on business, and I have three hours to do something cool — what is around me that is useful/interesting? What people share my interests?”

“I don’t know this area and need good food.”

People become a location when they’re tied to experience.

Whether you don’t know the area or you do, it can be useful to be able to quickly understand the social/placial cartography of the area.

I forgot who it was, but the system was joking labeled, “a gateway drug that gets you to engage with your neighborhood. That gets you to the people who can make the best recommendations”.

Theses are Geographical conversations. They’re also technosocial conversations, because it’s not the website that has the data, it is the people in the area. But to get to those people easily in a short period of time can often be helped along by technology, RSS, geolocal decides. So, in a way, content is people and people are content.

Community Custodians

Then the discussion went back to video games such as ‘Ultima Online’. We discussed the roles of ‘Gatekeepers’, or ‘Custodians’ that help people into a foreign online territory. Custodians continue to preform these orientation tasks is because it gives them a tremendous sense of use value.

Robots have been programmed to act as gatekeepers to new techniques and experiences, but many have failed (See Microsoft’s “Looks like you’re writing an E-mail – can I help you?” Wizard). It can be noted that humans are matchmakers, not machines. However, a machine can help one human reach another by breaking the boundaries of the distance and time that it takes for those two humans to travel to see each other in the real world. For instance, there is Yahoo! Answers that uses real people to connect Answers to Questions, and Wikipedia for collaborative knowledge creation. Places facilitate conversation, but they must be inhabited by meaning first.

We talked about the semantic web next, and ubiquitous technologies that ID markers and tags might bring. We talked about subscribing to tags instead of feeds (some blogs do this already as a more dynamic/fluid replacement for categories).

Planned Serendipity

We talked about a new kind of serendipity, in which fortuitious and existing social connections and meetup in locations that were predefined as as “excellent” could happen, without all of the hassle of being introduced to a new location. But some objected to this new kind of social relationship. Paige pointed out that it this new kind of serendipity would reduce the organic excitement that unplanned serendipity provides.

To which I pointed out that the modern person is disassociated from a peer group or community, and generally cannot talk to one another on the street. In this way, technology could recolonize the public space with actual social connections instead of shells. Paige, of course, had an excellent point. It is very exciting to come into serendipitous contact with others, but how can one tell if that serendipitous contact will be enjoyable? It is often difficult for a person to walk up to another and ask to hang out. It is sometimes easier with the computer as an icebreaker. When personal music devices isolate people from each other on the street, and laptops isolate one from another at coffee shops, and people cannot look in each other’s eyes on the street, or give another a high five, perhaps it is a clue that we have become afraid of the company of one another, or shy, or disassociated.

Every day we walk down the street or ride bikes or drive cars, and though we are doing the same thing, we cannot speak to each other while doing this. Twitter has allowed a certain type of backchannel to traditional modes of communication that allows for many to communicate with each other on a backchannel while doing the same thing at the same time.

Four Dimensional Search Methods

We talked about fourth dimensional search as a form of data on top of the traditional data flow of real life. Technically, geolocal autosubscribing RSS feeds could be considered forth dimensional data.

Geolocal feeds would allow one to gain information, getting an accumulation of information. doesn’t eclipse the actual experience of getting that information.

Someone blurted out the title of a “New Tech, New Ties”. How cell phone information is affecting us.
The landscape has scaled but we haven’t. Suburbia is so decompressed that huge amount of non-space connect it. These non-spaces take the form of highways and airports and airplanes and bus stops. The inner city — the walking spaces — have many landscapes to them. Stores have microlandscapes everywhere. Food courts compress low-resolution versions of the experiences of other countries into their culinary offerings. Already we have a surplus of landscapes – we have so many that we can’t pay attention to them.

So these landscapes must be filtered. Anselm pointed out a term he invented: “Hygradeing — we filter for the best of the best and leave the rest.” He gave the example of a bag of trail mix being passed around a campfire. All of the good things get taken by the first few people that have access to the bag, so that the rest of the campers have less access to variety.  Naturally humans are able to weed out what is good or not good and unsubscribe from the rest. Geolocal feeds can only work if they have high enough quality. Twitter allows one to block feeds that are not interesting or relevant by simply ‘unfollowing’.

We’re Urban Nomads on limited time scales. We have a limited time to access and filter relevant information. Like actions must be compressed together. We’re changing — growing our own gardens and becoming different people, and

Technosocial synchronicity by topic, location, and person can result in synergy. I’m using the Masuda’s 1979 definition of the word synergy, which is used to describe individuals with similar interests pooling towards a common goal.

Silo Sites

It was O’Reilly that said that Internet is becoming one large database.

The hub sites have been created now. Data has been submitted and receptacles have been created for most data types. One does not have to build a silo but a thing that collects and reechoes. Let people subscribe to a geography and re-echo it back to them.

We’re all living here — there is just too much data in the way to be able to hear each other. This is the period of trilobites. Filter feeders. API’s. Mashups. Yahoo! Pipes. Combined RSS feeds. Dynamic content. Relevancy and efficiency means integrating people instantly into a community of relevant data.

One of the more accessible practical applications of these ideologies could be a simple wake-up device. If you’re on a train and you fall asleep, your phone knows where you are and rings right before your stop to wake you up.

WhereCamp Portland was an excellent and invigorating event. Perhaps some of these discussions will continue through time. Perhaps one day these AutoSubscribing RSS Feeds will be built by someone.

We also discussed some of the apps that currently exist for Geolocal RSS, namely:

1. Geourl
2. Everyblock
3. Fireeagle
4. Icecondor
6. Britekite
7. Twitter
8. Palatial
9. Shizzow
10. Meta Carta
11. Carrot 2

WhereCamp Resources:

From Hazelnut Tech Talk:
WhereCamp PDX Resources | A Combined Yahoo! Pipe for Pictures, Tweets, and Session Notes.
Wherecamp PDX | Paul Bissett on Illuminating the Dark Geoweb.

From the Portland Tech Community:
WhereCamp PDX Roundup
WhereCamp PDX Takes on PacManhattan (Includes an excellent video by Adam Duvander.
NowWhatPDX. A community about social change developed almost entirely at WhereCamp Portland.
Rules for PacManhatten. WhereCamp Portland Resource Drop.

Relating to Geolocation Studies:
CyborgCamp (Dec. 6th, 2008).

Blogs about Online Communities:
Dawn Foster writes high-quality posts about the care and feeding of Online Communities on a regular basis.

Amber Case is a Cyborg Anthropologist and Social Media Consultant from Portland, Oregon. You can follow her online @caseorganic.

Towards the Future of PR and Brand Management

Brand Presence DashboardIn the analog state of PR, people would have to manually check out how many times a brand was mentioned in newspapers by hiring a bunch of people to clip out the actual articles from the newspapers. If one’s clippings were really great that week, they’d have a big stack of paper.

Clipping New Media:

Some of the first industries to capture digital data real-time were hedge funds and other financial firms. They used something that resembled an intelligence dashboard — where different streams of data were needed to make complex decisions. The dashboard allowed users to see many different stocks at once, and companies were able to create a sort of proto-feed that showed many different ecosystems of data at once.

Intelligence Feeds Today:

Now, services like Netvibes and Yahoo! pipes can be mixed together to offer companies real-time intelligence feeds that show what their competitors are posting on their blogs, what people are saying about them on Twitter, and their overall online presence — all in one place.

Making these intelligence dashboards takes time and research, but the value added (not to mention the time saved) by the implementation of a centralized data source is immense. Also, it’s powerful enough for agencies that manage multiple clients, because the entire system fits into one browser window with a series of custom, labeled tabs.


All brands have an analog version of this, and some have a digital one — but all brands need it. Google Alerts is a temporary solution that is gritty and granular. It does not have the customization capabilities that Yahoo! Pipes and Dapper have. Intelligence dashboards are capable of handling the data generated by global and local brands as well. They can monitor Flickr photos, news items, blog posts, ect. Basically, any piece of dynamic content that moves online.



One of the best brand managers out there is Portland’s Dawn Foster. She has a collection of excellent resources (like Yahoo Pipes and RSS Hacks) on her blog, Fast Wonder. She’s actually the first person who introduced me to Yahoo! Pipes.

Hazelnut Tech Talk Episode 11 | On The Road With The Infovore


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Hazelnut Tech Talk is a collaboration between Amber Case and Bram Pitoyo

This episode features Troy Harlan, wherein we talked about information gathering, filtering and consuming (naturally,) human factors, trilobites, reading at 2,000 words per minute, INTP’s, striving for objectivity, The Black Swan, hunches, and why it’s better to “have no map at all than have the wrong map”—all recorded on the road from St. Johns to downtown Portland.

Hazelnut Tech Talk

Coming Soon | Hazelnut Tech Talks is getting a voice to tell some stories with.

Bram Pitoyo (if you don’t know of him, make sure to check out Link En Fuego) and I are working on a series of tech talks that touch on what’s going on in the Portland Tech Scene. We’re creating this podcast series to better show off the amazing ideas and people of Portland to the rest of the world. We’re also doing this because we love talking to people and getting to know how they’ve created such amazing ideas, networks, and projects.

Hazelnut Tech Talk

Podcasts take time and effort, but we’d like to be able to release one every week, with a different person or idea as the main subject. If you’re interested in participating in one of the podcasts, please contact Bram or I at or Or, simply message us on Twitter. I’m @caseorganic, and Bram is @brampitoyo.

See you soon!