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Portland Author Amber Case on 'Cyborg Anthropology'

OPB | Jan. 20, 2013 midnight | Updated: Jan. 20, 2013 3:53 p.m.

Contributed By:

Kyla Harrison

Amber Case

Amber Case

Kayo Lackey / OPB

If you’re struggling for words to describe your relationship to your cell phone, your iPad or an Android Google app, a new dictionary may help you update your lexicon database.

Self-described “cyborg anthropologist” and Portland author Amber Case has written An Illustrated Dictionary of Cyborg Anthropology, a dictionary that defines relationships between people and their technological devices.

For example, Case classifies popular calorie and location tracking apps as part of the “quantified self movement.” The widespread exposure to global news stories is “microsingularity.” Omnipresent devices such as cellphones and Facebook-like sites cause a phenomenon she describes as “connective obligation,” where you feel like you need to respond to every message and update in case you miss out.

In an interview with Think Out Loud’s Dave Miller, Case discusses the dictionary and explains that as our relationship to technology evolves, our language needs to evolve too.

Interview Highlights

On why she wrote Cyborg Anthropology:

“The dictionary part came out of the idea that when I went to college, I decided I needed to study… humanity and how they interacted with technology. Early on, Facebook came out and there were all these different, new ways that people were interacting with each other. There weren’t really terms for it yet. So the idea of, say, ‘digital hoarding,’ that now everybody is saving news articles and pictures of cats in their computers: You’re able to see that [hoarding] very clearly if you walk into somebody’s house who is an actual hoarder. You see the newspapers piled up, and if they’re hoarding cats, you can smell the cats. But you can’t see that [with digital hoarding], and everybody is walking down the street with computers filled with all these old photos and all of these devices that are constantly storing things. The question is, is that really an issue for people’s minds or not? Is it unhealthy or healthy? There are all of these unanswered questions [that we have], so to give little terms to compress the meaning around it creates a way for people to describe it and talk about it.”

On the dark side of technology in modern life:

“In the beginning, the computer was a tool. You saw it as a tool and you used it as a tool. Now it’s becoming this thing where you consume it all the time. I’m personally worried about my own consumption patterns, and how I see people being online or on the computer 12 hours a day. Every time they get bored they’re switching to their phone and trying to play a game or research something. They’re not really living life in a smooth pattern as much. It’s kind of this fragmented punctuation of everything that is going on.”

On how she deals with her own technology overload:

“At some point every year, I go off the grid and try to relax. More and more, I’ve been not taking my cell phone out in public and just observing the world around me. You don’t really experience the world around you when you’re on a phone all of the time. You’re in some other place.”

Listen to Think Out Loud‘s full conversation with Amber Case.


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