Conference Round Up

The postgraduate conference Life Writing in the Digital Age: Quantification, Optimization, and the Self focused on the impact of digital technology and media on contemporary culture and practices of life writing. The conference provided an excellent opportunity for doctoral researchers to present work in progress, in different ways according to the stage of the research or aspect to be presented, and get feedback from peers and from a wider body of academic staff. The conference presentations were organized into three thematic streams: Theorizing the Quantified Self, The Quantified Self in Literature and The Quantified Self around the Web.

The presentations covered a wide range of topics, including ecocritical views on quantified self technology, the sociological implications of tracking and their importance for neoliberal practices, as well as  the impact of social media and memes. The variety of fields covered during the conference, highlighted new dimensions of life writing as a strategy of self-fashioning in the digital age.

Around 40 participants, including speakers from Germany, the UK, Spain, Romania, as well as University of Mannheim staff and students attended the two day conference.

Prof. Dr. Ulfried Reichardt opened the conference, along with Stefan Danter, who introduced the first Key Note speaker, Dr. Chris Till. In his talk, Chris Till analyzed how tracking practices and technologies, alongside strategies such as gamification and the nudge-theory of behavioral economics effect a change in conceptualizations of labor in the 21st century digital economy. Self-tracking practices and general online behavior (i.e. liking/sharing content, using search engines) are constituted as value-generating activities, and the corresponding data is shared and traded by companies for massive economic gains. Till argued that this is essentially free labor, and that in order to regain a measure of control and perhaps regulation, it is important to reconceptualize online activity as such.

On the second day, the started with a keynote from Prof. Dr. Marie-Luise Angerer, who was introduced by Prof. Dr. Ulfried Reichardt. Prof. Angerer spoke on the role of affect in digital technology, and how user experience is often shaped through interactions between users and helpful assistants and artificial intelligences that are mostly programmed to be female. Affect, she argued, is a central element guiding and influencing rational decision making and is frequently inferred by marketing campaigns and technology creators. While its importance can thus hardly be denied, Angerer pointed out that most of the time affect is used as a selling label with its actual meaning and definition remaining unclear and stressed the need of paying greater attention to the notions of affect that guide the development of technology, digital devices, and user interfaces.

Photos by Marie-Luis Rothenberger