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.

Another Free Set of Vector Social Icons

Sites like Smashing Magazine are always releasing free icon sets. However, I wanted to make something custom for With this in mind, created the following icon set for my Twitter, Flickr and RSS profiles.
free vector social icons

Download Icon Set .eps

The set is free to download and free to use. However, if you use the icons in a commercial project or on a client site, please link back to somewhere on the site. A big thanks to Bram Pitoyo for helping out with the shading. Enjoy and happy socializing!


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

Wordtracker Experiment | Finding Out What People Search For

Wordtracker Labs Logo

People are searching for things all the time on the web. If you’re a blogger looking to write good content, it is a good idea to get out there on the net to find what people are searching for. There are a few tools for doing this, but I wanted to isolate one of them and play with it for a minute.

@marknunney posted a link on Twitter about a “new tool from Wordtracker for content ideas”, so I clicked over to the site and read the following:

“People often type complete questions into search engines: if you find these questions and answer them, you could get some great search traffic”.

Below it was a box for entering in a word, so I tried a few words out. The results were amusing enough for me to want to share them. Further analysis follows.

Find Questions People are Asking

Results for Life

I found the results for the word ‘life’ to be what one might expect. Right now, people are wondering about life insurance. However, the ‘color of life in ancient egypt’ is something that is phrased in such as strange way that it could warrant further research — especially since it was looked up 156 times. At #6, ‘what is the meaning of life’ is asked. I guess life insurance and ‘how time of my life was chosen for american idol’ were more important.

Life Wordtracker Results

My personal favorite is #13 — ‘how to summon a real life dragon’. I bet if someone were to write a post on that, they’d get lots of hits. Maybe lots of Diggs too. I’m not sure how I’d go about researching that one. It’s probably better than trying to write a post on #8 — ‘how to ruin someone’s life’.

Results for E-mail

How does E-mail work? Apparently people are asking this question. But there is an important trend happening elsewhere in these question results. That would be the address of one (or rather two) ‘cole sprouse’. They happen to be identical twins, and are, according to the Cole Sprouse Wikipedia article, “known for their roles in the film Big Daddy…and for portraying the title characters on Disney Channel sitcoms”. Good luck finding their E-mail address, as well as the address of Prince Harry, Zac Efron and Jamie Spears.

E-mail Wordtracker Results

But you can write about how to E-mail pictures, or #9’s ‘who invented E-mail’. That one actually seems particulary interesting. The narrative histories of everyday things are always a joy to read about.

Results for Business

‘How to write a business plan?’ Can’t one just download a template from Microsoft Word or something? That question is really a broad one. It depends on what kind of business one wishes to start. #3’s ‘how to start a cell phone business’ is pretty good. #10’s ‘what is the best business opportunity’ is a really intense question that cannot totally be answered. #11’s ‘how to start a web design business’ is actually very answerable by a variety of sources such as Design Float and Smashing Magazine.

Business Wordtracker Results

#8’s ‘how to start a business with no money’ is interesting. I think it’s never been easier — and more difficult. It’s probably time that’s the big issue. Taking a lot of time really works. A cell phone business might manifest as an online reseller of cell phone accessories.

Results for Google

I was confused by these search results. I didn’t think they’d be this broad, or this ill-informed. Are Google founders Larry and Sergey that obscure? I wonder what sources Wordtracker is using for its search queries.

Google Wordtracker Results

It might also be interesting to create a post on the founders of Google just to see what happened to it. I’m sure Wikipedia and Google have this question answered already.

Results for Yahoo

I queried Yahoo! just to see what would happen. Very similar to Google’s results, except there was a question of what Yahoo stood for. I’m actually wondering that myself right now (goes off to find the answer).

Yahoo Wordtracker Results

The answer as to what Yahoo! stands for comes from’s ‘Internet for Beginners’. The answer is that “Yahoo! (spelled with an exclamation mark) is short for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle”. Apparently, “The original name: “David’s and Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web”, was appropriate, but not exactly catchy“. You can read the rest of Paul Gil’s Yahoo! article for the whole story.

Results for Money

The search results for money really surprised me. I had no idea that so many people wanted to know about ‘what presidents are on money’. I wonder what demographic asks this question the most. Is it youth? Is it due to a bet? Is it a homework assignment? Perhaps it is to clarify the use of slang words.

#2 and #3’s ‘how much money does it cost to open a bar’, and ‘how can kids make money’ are interesting. I’m wondering if more kids than parents searched for that phrase and if there a way to tell. As for #2, a lot of people seem to dream of owning and running their own bars.

Money Wordtracker Results

I thought that #7’s ‘how to make money’ would be higher up on the results than that, but apparently the presidents on money trumps that. It’s also a much easier niche to write for than the seedy ‘how to make money’ post. #8 and #9’s ‘millionaires who give money to help’, and ‘millionaires who give free money’ make a lot of sense. Those questions make me wonder how many millionaires out there actually give money out to strangers who ask for it over the Internet. Generally, processes and charities are involved. Darn! Perhaps Google or a blogger will write about another way?

Results for Puppy

Puppies. They’re somewhat irresistible. So irresistible that a lot of people question just how large they’re going to get, apparently. It would be useful to make a site that gave information on how large any breed of puppy was going to grow. It would be complete with a puppy weight calculator, to answer question #3 as well. One would simply have to enter in the breed and the age of the puppy and the Internet robots would do the rest. Hooray for calculators.

Puppy Wordtracker Results

I wonder how many new pet owners typed in #7 after watching their new puppy pee on their freshly installed carpet? Is there any way to tell? Perhaps they should’ve just stuck to drawing a puppy instead of owning one, like those who searched for #4’s ‘how to draw a puppy’.

Results for Read

This was wild. I did not expect to get results on horoscopes, tarot cards or reading palms. I’m not sure what I expected originally, but it wasn’t this. I thought people liked books more than daily horoscopes. My college experience has given me some explaination for these results. Everyone in my dorm was obsessed with reading their horoscopes to each other. Some of them even printed out astrological charts. I didn’t participate.

Read Wordtracker Results

But result #6 makes a lot of sense in this respect. Aside from horoscopes, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is one of those books that’s assigned to the majority of school districts across the United States. I’m assuming a lot of kids didn’t want to purchase the book, lent it to someone else, forgot it at home or at school, or were looking for a quick way to read a chapter before an annoying quiz after lunch or homeroom period.

Results for RSS

What *is* RSS? Oh man. It is probably the greatest thing since the last iteration of really cool stuff that people enjoyed. It allows the quick and easy access of content without having to browse for it. I recommend watching RSS in Plain English instead of searching for RSS in Google. It’s an extremely short video by the Common Craft show. Totally sweetopian.

RSS Wordtracker Results

Hmm…#13’s ‘how do i find my twitter rss fed url’ is curious. Not only is fed spelled incorrectly, it is searched for 7 times. I’m sure there’s a great tutorial on this out there somewhere. …Or is there? I suppose that’ for random people to find out.

Results for SEO

These were not surprising. ‘What does seo stand for?’ Search engine optimization, of course. How does one ‘become a certified seo?’ Well gee whiz, that’s a hard one. Probably from showing it on your own site, and the sites of your clients. And by not selling links from bad sites. Also, by educating people thoughly about your techniques.

SEO Wordtracker Results

‘How to set up seo?’ Go through a standard checklist on your website, checking for alt tags, title tags, a sitemap, ect. I like the free Website Grader from HubSpot for a really quick website check and grade.

Results for Six

I wondered about numbers next, so I checked out an the number six. Purely arbitrary (by arbichance? arbitration?). I was amused to find such a long phrase at the top of the question results. ‘The six basic fears and how to eliminate them’. That is totally a book by Sharry Harris. #2’s ‘what are the six terms of geography’ totally sounds like a query taken directly from a homework assignment.

Six Wordtracker Results

#3’s ‘what are the six parts in a business letter’ has reminded me to re-examine my business letters for the correct number of parts. Perhaps I can do that while developing a six pack while using Six Sigma techniques.

Results for Twitter

‘What is Twitter?’ Ahh…if only there were an easy way to explain that. ‘How to use twitter’ is even more complicated. See, it is the emptiness of a vessel that gives it use-value, and Twitter is an empty vessel. The question of ‘What are you doing’ is never fully answered. Thus, how to use Twitter is like telling someone how to use a vase. The emptiness gives it many uses, whereas a tutorial can only give a finite amount of use-cases.

Twitter Wordtracker Results

Finding the Twitter RSS feed URL is another matter. Simply scroll down to the bottom left corner of your Twitter page and click on RSS. Or you can right click to ‘copy the address’ to place it elsewhere with ease.

Results for Unicorn

So Unicorns are very important to the state of the world. They give us a fantastic antithesis with which to view things. I assumed that I would get different results because of this mindset, but I did not. The number one search for unicorn relates to finding free Unicorn pictures to color. That is a total let-down.

Unicorn Wordtracker Results

I guess people are interested in drawing Unicorns, though. Perhaps they’ll make some awesome viral Unicorn videos when they get older. Like Charlie the Unicorn.

Final Verdict

WordTracker’s new tool is pretty fun, but I’m not sure how terribly useful it really is. I think you’re the judge for that.


Amber Case is a Cyborg Anthropologist and Internet Marketing 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.