A geek worth listening to

Amber Case makes the case for the modern cyborg


“I miss a lot of my life because I’m staring at a little screen,” said Amber Case during her SXSW Interactive keynote speech, to an audience of 3,500 people staring at little screens.

Case, the owner of location-based software company Geoloqi out of Portland, Oregon, was not exactly talking about putting her iPhone down altogether. She’s more talking about letting our devices do the work for us.

She used the example of riding the city bus in Austin, something I’ve been doing a lot of at this festival. Since I’m not really sure where I’m headed most times I step on the Capital Metro Transit, Austin’s LRT and bus network, I stare at Google Maps.

“Instead of watching the blue dot move around a map, look outside,” she urged her audience. Let the location-service of my phone tell me when my stop is, instead of me checking it constantly to find out.

This bit of technology is called Geofencing, whereas you can ask your phone to prompt you when you get to a certain location. It can be used for much more than letting you know when to get off the bus, too.

It’s a part of Geoloqi, the service she created because she was frustrated with the limits of location apps that just let you check-in at cafes and bars (obviously she was referring to apps like Foursquare, though she never mentioned these by name).

She likened this technology as an extension of the human, something akin to the present-day cyborg.

Her prime example of University of Toronto professor was Steve Mann, who was a cyborg back in 1981. When he started, Mann had to outfit himself with wearable computing gear – contraptions on his belt, antennas on his head, CPUs on his back.

Today’s cyborg, she argued, doesn’t need all the machinery that Mann draped over his body in the 80s, only the technology in our phones. The software in our pockets should be enough to enhance our human abilities.

Like a hammer gives power to the hand, phones should give power to the brain.

Case is as geeky a presenter as I’ve seen at SXSWi. I admit I nearly walked out when she opened her keynote with a crack about the life-span of humans in the Middle Ages. It was so bad that I only figured out it was a joke after she laughed it.

Either way, Case was playing right into the awkward geek stereotype, which doesn’t make for a engaging public speaker, let alone a keynote.

But she reigned in the mediavel jokes and made her cyborg talk relatable – the bus example particularly had me shaking my head in agreement. Any geek with that much charisma is a geek worth listening to.

joshuae@nowtoronto.com | @joshuaerrett

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