Part Man, Part Film, All Mann
By Brad King

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Steve Mann and his amazing glasses, starring in Cyberman.  
Steve Mann and his amazing glasses, starring in Cyberman.
2:00 a.m. March 12, 2002 PST
"If we think of technology as a runaway monster, we can think of this as a way to tame the beast with a piece of itself." -- Steve Mann, inventor of wearable computers, in Cyberman.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Steve Mann was never comfortable being a human being, so he spent his life trying to become something else.

That something else is to become the first human cyborg, and that's the subject of Cyberman, a documentary film that had its U.S. première at Austin's South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.

The film traces Mann's gut-wrenching and charming 30-year path to merge humans with technology.

See also:
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Mann, whom many people credit with developing the first wearable computer, never leaves his house without his bag of technological toys. His most prized possession is the "Eye-Tap" sunglasses he began developing during high school in the late '70s.

"There is an idea that the eye is a camera," Mann said during a virtual presentation, which was delivered in real-time using the Eye-Tap glasses and projected onto a large screen. "The idea being that you can come inside my head and see my world."

The Eye-Tap evolution, and the numerous wearable recording devices he developed, got worldwide notice in 1994. Long before webcams, Mann's website attracted 30,000 hits a day when he began broadcasting his life 24 hours a day while a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"There were a lot of people, I found, who'd rather watch me live my life than live their own life," Mann said.

He still broadcasts his life today, using a wireless connection and a static IP address to instantly deliver images to his website.

The modern glasses come with a mounted mini-camera for recording and broadcasting live feeds on the Internet. Plus, the right lens of his glasses also operates as a tiny computer screen: a basic DOS type screen, with the ability to do simple commands such as surf the Web, check e-mail and write small programs. A customized hand-clicker, about the size of a mouse, operates the entire system.

The glasses give Mann dual perception. With his left eye, he sees the world like the rest of us. The right lens has a tiny camera, which projects an image onto the lens. Half of his world is Windows Media while the other half is reality. The duality causes Mann to interact with other people as if he has no sight. He torques his head, leaning in as people speak to him, and often appears tentative moving around rooms.

The filmmakers, headed by director Peter Lynch at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, use that duality to tell their story. They intersperse interviews with three screen shots showing the same scene through 35 mm film, Mann's Internet media and his digital camera.

The film traces his lifelong goal of pushing the limits of where the human being ends and the computer begins.

His experiments have often alienated him from those around him. His best friend in sixth grade, Graham, wasn't allowed to play with him because his mother felt Mann's fascination with electronic gadgets was weird. That stigma followed him through his college years, when MIT students tried to have his live broadcasts shut down.

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