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. The conference provided an excellent opportunity for doctoral candidates to present their research and receive feedback from peers and 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 broad range of topics, including ecocritical views on tracking 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 alongside Stefan Danter, who introduced the first Key Note speaker, Dr. Chris Till. In his talk, Dr. Till analyzed how tracking practices and technologies, combined with 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) have become value-generating activities because the corresponding data is shared and traded by companies to make a profit. Till argued that this is essentially free labor, and that in order to regain a measure of control it is important to acknowledge online activity as work.

The second day 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 with helpful artificial intelligence assistants, most of which have female voices. Affective response, she pointed out, is a central element influencing rational decision making, which is why it is frequently targeted by marketing campaigns and technology creators. Angerer argued that most of the time affect is used as a selling label, with its actual meaning and definition remaining unclear. She stressed the need of paying greater attention to the notions of affect that guide the development of technology, digital devices, and user interfaces.

Text by Stefan Danter

Photos by Marie-Luis Rothenberger