When I finally met Amber Case - whose writing and experiments I had been following for several years - I felt as if I had at last come in contact with the next iteration of human being. I have been writing about "screenagers" and "digital natives" since the early 90's, and interacting with one form or another of cyberpunk, hacker, or programmer since before even that.
But coming face to face with Amber one rainy night in Portland, on the stairs to a bar no less, was like meeting the future I had always envisioned. We immediately found a step to share, and spent a half hour exchanging notes at breakneck speed. She jotted down ideas and phrases into her iPhone while I jotted them down with a pen on the little pad I carry around (of course we took a moment to compare form factors and usage patterns).
We ended up spending the majority of our antenna-touching simply exchanging our glossaries. "This is my term for when such and such happens," and "this is the way I express the feeling when..." Sure, we shared many of the same insights and experiences, but we seemed most concerned with arriving at a terminology - as if being able to name what was happening to us would help us cope with it better. At the very least, having a word or phrase we agreed on somehow ensured that we were describing the same phenomenon. That we were on the same page or, in more cyborg parlance, in sync.
Of course, Amber is a generation or maybe two generations younger and more advanced than me at this point (younger generations being the latest model of human being, after all), and so her facility with and immersion in the cyborg society is more advanced than my own. I may have seen this all coming, but Amber is the coming, itself. And unlike most of her peers - brilliant though they may be - Amber doesn't simply muse on possibilities for a digitally engaged, gamified, and interactive society; she actually tests her hypotheses in the real world by launching everything from big games to research studies.
That's why when Amber comes out with an entire book (as well as a living, growing web project) on the ever-expanding lexicon of the cyborg, we had all best take notice. For herein lies an effort to identify, codify, and articulate how what it means to be a human being is changing in a digital age. By developing a language for the era of cyborgs, Amber is not just reporting on the digital frontier, but contextualizing and creating it. Just as God created the world with a word (read the beginning of the Bible for that part), Amber - and the greater Cyborg Anthropology community - are building reality in real time.
My only real concern here is that readers not mistake the emerging reality depicted here for a dehumanized, pre-programmed, robotic landscape. Humans may soon become more intimate with machines and programs, but this doesn't mean we become more machine-like, ourselves. If we can manage to disconnect the future of technology from the industrial-age massification of labor and production that we just went through for the past five hundred years, we become capable of envisioning an implementation of technology that enhances the human, heightens the senses, and magnifies our agency. Just as eyeglasses help the old lady see her new grandson, our technologies can forge entirely human-to-human connections, enable mind-to-mind intimacy, and promote collaborative activities on a scale unimaginable to our pre-digital forebears.
So even if cut-and-paste becomes an approach to sexuality and genetics instead of just documents, this doesn't mean we will necessarily corrupt the code of human spirit beyond all recognition. We are, indeed, moving into an era when our tools will more than match the limits of our intentions. With nano, robotics, genomics, and programming, we do more than simply make stuff; we make stuff that goes on to make more stuff. We create robots and programs and entities that then go make new versions of themselves.
The intentions we embed into these technologies will live on. These are things not made or manufactured, but birthed and launched. They become partners that co-exist with us on the cyborg landscape, and through their very presence they highlight for us what makes us uniquely human - and them not.
In order to navigate this new terrain of our own making, we deserve a language for describing and conceiving it. Call me old fashioned, but without the words, we have no idea what we are doing.