The Quantified Self around the Web

Postgraduate Conference

Life Writing in the Digital Age: Quantification, Optimization, and the Self

30 Sep, 2017

The Quantified Self around the Web

Chair: Johannes Fehrle

Internet Memes as Digital Life Writing

The Case of Stock Character Macros

Originally coined by biologist Richard Dawkins (1976) as cultural analogy to the concept of the gene, the term “meme” has regained currency in digital culture. “Internet memes” constitute imitative digital practices in which a large number of artifacts are being created and circulated online based on common generic frames (cf. Busch and Schmid forthcoming; see also Shifman 2014). This paper will investigate the sub-genre of “Advice Animals” or “Stock Character Macros” (Shifman 2014): text-image-schemas that enable users to create micro-narratives based on stereotyped characters. Users are thus enabled to created extremely condensed ‘image macros’ that heavily rely on specific framings as short form for moral evaluation of the presented story. While many examples of realized Stock Character Macros perform jokes, remediate popular culture, or comment on their digital environments, some varieties have become established as micro-blogging practices, in which users create first person narratives of their own lives. This paper seeks to investigate the Stock Character Macro-types “Confession Bear” and “Success Kid” as forms of digital life writing. As both telling-names suggest, “Confession Bear” is employed for confessional stories, whereas a “Success Kid”-exemplar narrate what are considered outstanding personal accomplishments. Digital environments then commonly include interactive functions such as voting and commenting that proliferate those exemplars that the specific online communities consider particularly interesting realizations of the script and adeptly correspond with the moral stereotype. Based on ratings and other interactions, Stock Character Macros thus offer insights into the core values of online communities.
This paper will outline the semiotic and narrative structure of Stock Character Macros and their digital environments and investigate their specific usage as practices of digital life writing, based on the top-rated examples from the image-hosting and micro-blogging platform

Johannes C. P. Schmid, M.A. University of Hamburg,,

#Auschwitz and the Self(ie)

The Aesthetics of Self-defacement in Concentration Camp Anti-selfies

Today, ‘the selfie’ has probably become the most prominent cultural artifact of our online sociality and subjectivity in the form of image driven, autobiographic ‘streams of the self’. At the same time, ‘the selfie’ is considered the indicator of the excessive, nearly pathological self-centeredness of a whole generation, and a sign for wider cultural decline. Nowhere is this stigma as evident as with the moral outrage caused by the ‘Auschwitz Selfie’ in 2014, which has issued concerns over the exploitation of a historic disaster for the means of narcissism, and the lack of digital decorum of the ‘me-generation’. However, selfies taken at concentration camps are widely distributed on social media platforms such as Instagram and assume highly diverse aesthetics. Particularly selfies, in which the photographed subject has chosen a position that complicates his/her definite identification via the turning away of the face, require a closer reading than provided by existing scholarly research ranging from Holocaust, Tourism and Media Studies. These anti-selfies are characterized by tropological constitution and multi-referentiality, thus pursuing an anti-narcissist agenda. Understanding photographs as texts, the conflation of Roland Barthes’ work on photography and Paul de Man’s concept of ‘defacement’ provides the theoretical framework to deconstruct the tropological constitution of the (photographed) self in selected anti-selfies. The troping of the self via de- and refacement, ‘the giving and taking away of the face’, into a non-essential, multi-referential silhouette along with a distinct abstraction of color and composition further function as an aesthetic strategy to respond to the traumatic sublime aura of Holocaust signifiers and the ‘trauma of interpretation’. As such, anti-selfies offer a self-reflexive engagement with the Holocaust for all actors of the specular trio (photographed, photographer, viewer) without decontextualizing or appropriating the traumatic ‘event’ itself and acknowledges its retrospective reconstruction in employing the aesthetics of the traumatic sublime.

Martina Böll, North American Studies Program, University of Bonn,

From Flamewar to Wedding

An archaeology of rich self-presentation and community-building on IRC

Modern social platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat or Twitter rely on types of content that go beyond mere text – photos, emoji and video are staple features of all modern social networks. These networks are additionally increasingly ubiquitous, being available via smartphones and other wearable devices. Such characteristics have often been described as affording novel and rich forms of life writing, performativity and self-presentation (see e.g. van Dijck 2013, Jurgenson 2016).

Yet these newer platforms build upon a rich legacy of older online places of social interaction which may have been more limited technologically but, through their own configurations of features and affordances, made unique types of self-presentation and affective conversation possible. To better understand the characteristics of social platforms that afford affective conversation and sophisticated self-presentation, it is therefore important to also investigate these older platforms alongside the new, and question whether they may in fact have characteristics that afford discourse as rich – or richer in some respects – as their more modern counterparts.

Building on Bogost & Montfort’s Platform Studies method, in this paper I genealogically and archaeologically investigate the constraints and possibilities of IRC, a chat-based platform first developed in 1989 and still in active use today. Drawing on archived chat logs and contemporary discussion on parallel platforms such as USENET and mailing lists, I explore the various ways in which text-based chat was appropriated and reconfigured to afford rich, affective conversation and a strong sense of community. This suggests that multi-modality may be achieved through negotiations of relatively simple modes of conversation. Following this analysis, I conclude that multi-mediality is but one way to enrich online discourse, and that in its absence simpler platforms may be reconfigured to afford similarly rich discourse and self-presentation through the sometimes-unexpected appropriations of rudimentary forms of online communication.

Stijn Peeters, King’s College London, Faculty of Arts & Humanities / Ego-Media Project,