Amber Case

portrait of Amber Case

Dear Amber,

I first heard about your work in the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society announcement of 2016-2017 fellows. As you probably know even better than me, the Berkman Klein Center is a remarkable resource, and I wanted to learn a little about some of the new BK Community.

portrait of Amber Case
Image: Keyword Suggestions: Cyborg Anthropology


From the Berkman Klein Fellows announcement I surfed to your twitter, and from there to your new Notes site. It looks like you posted 88 notes in 7 days! And have now been quiet for a couple of weeks. Did you decide it was just too much? Or perhaps you’re on holiday. In either case, I love all of the notes for a Pokemon Go ethnography you posted.

I also like the WordPress P2 theme. I waited forever for its long-promised successor, O2, before parent company Automattic finally said, never mind. Mostly I’ve used WooThemes’ Houston P2 child theme, but your friendly notes site motivated me to give Ryan Sommers’ Mercury child theme a try. So I also have a “notes” site now! It’s exactly as you described: there’s just so much that is longer than a tweet, but sort of anemic for a “real” blog post.

How to work with hundreds or thousands of Notes, will be an interesting challenge. Perhaps infinite scroll and generous tagging can help. I thought a lot about doing this on Tumblr, which is pretty nicely suited for it, but finally decided to go with WordPress / P2 / Mercury.

Sending Notes to My Future Self

I loved your TED Talk! You have powerful ideas about Cyborg Anthropology, Time Travel, and more. But I have to confess that my favorite moment was when you described your childhood activity of Sending notes to my future self. I’m inspired by this idea and no doubt it will surface as the seed of some future art project, or an activity I send my California State University Long Beach students off to experiment with.

Have you read The Cyborg Handbook, (Routlegde, 1995) edited by Chris Hables Gray? I read it in grad school and was inspired by both the vintage articles, and the more contemporary ones. Manfred E. Clynes and Philip K. Dick were fantastic. I also liked Hugh Gusterson’s article about the film Short Circuit. Short Circuit a pretty silly film, but it does something so few films that pass for science fiction do: it has an unapologetically optimistic voice.

Was McLuhan Calm?

I’m a cyberspace fan. I think your argument that technology can, as McLuhan described, “become invisible,” is right. I think you’re also right that it can make us “more human”. Though what that means might be complicated. And in the eye of the beholder.

Non-intrusive design, or Calm Technology makes a lot of sense. Let our lives be and feel more organic.

Not-so-calm avatars and MMORPGs also excite me. Augmenting RL makes sense, but so do spaces of VR immersion and experience. The fact that Facebook is an MMORPG might not be entirely helpful. I’m excited by “true” virtual worlds inhabited by avatars who have experiences there. The avatar you’re talking to might be associated with the typist next door, or someone on another continent. For things like borrowing a cup of sugar or help after the California earthquake, physical proximity matters. For many other things, it doesn’t.

I like the way Eva & Franco Mattes describe the mask of the avatar:

The Sustainable Web

From your notes website I found my way to your main site. I love your Web 1.0 Conference! I’ve been thinking a lot about these ideas lately. Ultimately I think you’re right, Web 1.0 will prove more sustainable. Of course the interactivity of Web 2.0 can be exciting. It wouldn’t hurt to play with some Web 1.0. (for the 1st time in a long time!)

At WordCamp Los Angeles ’15 I gave a talk, Sustainable WordPress to explore some of these ideas:

One of my students told me about Evan Roth’s Internet Landscapes, a Parsons/Paris course he took last semester. The focus there is different, but it was also an occasion to make simpler (and not simple) Web 1.0 work.

Have you thought more about these ideas Amber? & are both WordPress sites, so I assume you haven’t abandoned Web 2.0. Do you have thoughts on longer-term web sustainability?

I’ve thought about sending The Getty Conservation Institute a Digital Conservation proposal. It’s not exactly their purview, but it is essential to the conservation of the culture of our time.

Now you’ve made me wonder if something as simple as Web 1.0 could be a solution. For an individual at least. There still will be mountains of future lost content. Are you familiar with the Robert Smithson article, A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey? In this contemplation on entropy, Smithson looks at a city and imagines its future ruin. I sometimes feel that way when I surf the web now. I’m not generally pessimistic! And of course new content continues to grow at a staggering rate! Still it’s hard not to reflect on the fragility, vulnerability, and perhaps ephemerality of some of our beautiful and delicate web structures.

Berkman Klein

I’m wishing you a great year at Berkman Klein, Amber. Your ideas are already so compelling, it’s exciting to imagine where you might go in that inspired environment. Are there specific projects you’ll be working on?

Have a great experience at UX Week, and best wishes for your time at Berkman Klein!

Glenn Zucman's signature, a photo of a hand-written signature on page 89 of Issue #44, Spring/Summer 2016, of Self Service magazine