Skip to content

Failed to copy link to the clipboard.


Link copied to the clipboard.

Has the internet changed how people think about the self? If so, how? And how and why has the influential theory of selfhood understood as narrative come under increasing pressure as self-representation moves online?

The narrative self


This essay argues that the common forms of writing the self online favor shorter forms than conventional autobiography or memoir, with their long retrospect, sustained introspection, and totalizing aspiration.

It looks at how the affordances of Web 2.0 have moved self-presentation decisively into a multimedia and especially visual environment.

Selves online generate data, and corporate use and misuse of our data has led to a growing critique of the “datafication” of individual lives, with menacing implications for privacy, freedom, and democracy. This view is contrasted with that of the Quantified Self movement, seeking to empower people to use their own data for their own benefit – especially through health and fitness tracking.

The concept of the networked self is examined, as well as some of its effects: on the requirement for immediacy, as social media ask us not what we have done, but what we are doing now; on the practice of users developing multiple identities on social media sites, and the ethical questions that raises; and on the ensuing self-consciousness as we reflect on ourselves doing something while we do it. Social media reward a performative culture, which, while it troubles some about a loss of authenticity, has given agency to others to explore their selves in new ways.

The predominant way of conceptualizing the self in philosophy or literature in this century has been the narrative theory of identity – the idea that people conceive of their selves, as of their lives, in terms of a narrative structure, integrating episodes and characters into a story, with particular meanings and effects.1,2,3 Other disciplines too, notably the social sciences and medicine, are said to have undergone a narrative turn, focusing not just on quantitative research but attaching a new importance to qualitative research in which people's stories are seen as valuable bearers of meaning and insight.4 However, as our Ego Media projects show, digital and social media have been exerting increasing pressure on the ways in which we understand both those terms, narrative and self. It is not just that new media affect what we think of as selves or narratives. They have simultaneously transformed the methodologies we bring to bear on their analysis.

The literary form most closely associated with the attempt to describe the self – to express it in its totality – is perhaps the autobiography. This emerged in its modern form in the eighteenth century in influential works like Rousseau’s Confessions or Goethe’s Poetry and Truth. These works, like their counterpart English pioneers, Wordsworth’s The Prelude or De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater, are extended psychological narratives, developing complex structures, steeped in retrospect and thoughts of time, memory, and imagination. There were precursors, certainly; whether narratives like St. Augustine’s Confessions, from the fourth century CE, or the diaries5 that people have written for millennia. Life writings such as diaries or letters that are produced in regular installments can nonetheless accumulate into hefty volumes, with elaborate patterns and sophistications.

The example of Wordsworth shows that though traditional autobiography is normally written in prose, it can also be in verse. And that fact reminds us that other forms of poetry – the confessional poem, and the lyric especially, but also sometimes the long poem, the elegy, the ode, or the sonnet – can have a strong autobiographical dimension. If we think of the “autobiographical” instead of the autobiography as a rigid formal convention, then poems – especially the Romantic odes and conversation poems of writers like Keats and Coleridge – are often the truest, most compelling autobiographical testimonies to the interior life.

Are social media shorter-form reports on selfhood more like poems than autobiographies? Is a tweet, with its maximum character count of only 140 or 280 symbols, the digital equivalent of a haiku – at least when issued with style? Is a timeline, assembling a sequence of similarly structured posts, equivalent to a poem’s development through a sequence of similar stanzas? Most users do not sit down and plan their posts as a poem sequence. But creative writing has thrived in cyberspace and evolved new forms – flash fiction, digital storytelling, immersive stories, and the like. There has been less attention to how life writing has adapted to digital environments, though it is now an increasingly significant emerging field.6,7

Autobiographies are still with us. The bookshops are full of them. Politicians, media celebrities, actors, soldiers, and many others seem unable to do without them. But they don’t suit digital media. The hyperinteractivity of social media favors rapidity, brevity, and topicality. If, as many of our respondents say, a blog is like a diary but written for a public audience and not just for the self, an individual post on Facebook or Twitter is not obviously like an autobiography. The internet has arguably made everyone (everyone with access to it, that is, and consenting to being connected to it) into a life writer of sorts. But that writing tends to take short forms, as Alexandra Georgakopoulou shows: the status update, the tweet, the text message, the profile. Our project investigates these “ego media” – social and digital media forms concerned with subjectivity – and asks how the self they present differs (or doesn’t) from their pre-digital antecedents. Certainly the forms of presentation are shifting away from the longer narrative forms of autobiography and memoir. In Diaries 2.0,8 for example, we find that online life writing has more in common with diaristic forms than the long-form narratives of autobiography. Diaries (like letters and, later, telegrams) were people’s way of thinking about “What’s Happening?” before Twitter asked us that. But to what extent is online self-presentation moving away from narrative altogether? As Rob Gallagher has argued, in practice self-presentation on many platforms (from work websites to gaming or dating sites) is more likely to take the form of a profile than autobiographical narrative.9 Could it be that at the point where the human sciences are increasingly turning toward narrative, humans themselves, when they represent themselves, are turning away from it?

From self to selfie

Or even turning away from words? One challenge for life writing theory in approaching online material is that much of it is not writing as such, but images, GIFs, videos, podcasts, icons. More often than not, several such elements will be combined. Theorists talk of “automediality” rather than autobiography; and they have been increasingly drawn to aesthetic theories of the “assemblage” – a work of art made from combining objects in different media, often objects found elsewhere and co-opted into a new context through an act of creative bricolage.10 That creativity has been boosted by the multimedia affordances of Web 2.0 and subsequent technologies. One of the chief findings of Ego Media has been that stories of the self have proved one of the most creative areas of the internet – something Clare Brant has theorized here as Imaginative Agency, which is visible in all the individual projects featured in this publication.

Discussing emojis, she traces the history of nonverbal languages, reminding us that introspection, the weighing of interiority, has historically happened not solely in words but in images. Self-portraits in the visual arts, from the great examples of Dürer or Rembrandt, to the modernism of Picasso or Frida Kahlo, have provided some of our most searching explorations of selfhood. Nor is multimedia introspection as new a thing as it may sound. A central aspect of Ego Media’s research has been to consider contemporary cultural phenomena from a historical perspective. Books – including biographies and autobiographies – were multimedia before the term was invented, including letters and illustrations, whether hand-drawn, engraved, painted, or photographed. Diaries often included inserted material – drawings, keepsakes, pressed flowers, photographs, postcards, and so on. The exhibition Dear Diary11 gave a rich sense of the variety of forms diarizing can take and of the material it can incorporate.

Yet nonverbal insertions in a diary, like photographs in a memoir, are framed by verbal narrative. On Instagram or Pinterest they are not. Renaissance religious art is often described as presenting narratives through sequences of scenes, so that people who couldn’t read would still be able to follow representations of Bible stories. Later media of cinema, television, and now Web 2.0 have been seen by some theorists as ushering in a new visual era.12 Instagram or Snapchat enables users to create their own nonverbal narratives through a series of photos, often of the self. Or to let their audience imagine the narrative connecting the image. Or to let the platform assemble them into something it calls a “story,” as Alexandra Georgakopoulou’s work traces. As she shows, Facebook described its Memories function as “a visual history of one’s life”; Instagram describes its algorithmic assemblages of images into “Stories” as a “visual conversation.”

Thinking about the assemblage may also remind us that internet aesthetics has roots in the modernist aesthetics of a century ago: the theories of collage and montage that emerged with the new modernist movements in the visual arts and the then new medium of cinema. Indeed, much of the interest in studying the aesthetic thought developing with the internet’s new media and technologies is in seeing how it relates to the old-new aesthetics of such old-new media.

The datafied self

The nature of the content of online life writing has nonetheless changed in the digital world. Readers of autobiographies have prized the ideas, thoughts, experiences, and characters built up by the texts. Social media exchanges build up a picture of the life of their times just as effectively. But they do so in other forms: not just the image feeds discussed above, but for example videos on YouTube or the data provided by wearable tech and fitness apps.

Much of the information that people share about themselves online is thus not in words, but in images, numbers, sounds, likes, and emojis. Thinking of this personal information as data rather than self-expression, say, or life story, partly reflects the reliance on computer code needed to make the internet work. But it also signals a change in the use of ego media. You may like someone’s post to show solidarity with them or to express the kind of person you are. Twitter or Facebook are likely to sell your preference as data to advertisers or other corporations who want to know what kind of consumer you are. Security services are likely to scan your data to assess what kind of threat you are. Digital humanities and cultural theorists describe this process of defining people in terms of the data they generate as “datafication.”13,14 This contemporary bifurcation around identity in new media – promoting self-expression on the one hand, but tending to datafication on the other – has its precedents in earlier media, certainly. Rebecca Roach’s work on the literary interview, for example, argues that that form is a precursor, encouraging writers to express themselves in order to be commodified. Published writers can never know who their readers might be, and they know they are likely to be misread. But the thought that online words will be processed for purposes that have nothing to do with ours, without our knowledge, and in ways we can’t even begin to imagine in the era of artificial intelligence is proving disturbing to many.

All these ideas bear on the future of the narrative theory of identity. Some people, like philosopher Galen Strawson, have challenged it on characterological grounds, arguing that some people’s identities are more narrative than others.15 He contrasts the narrative orientation with what he calls the episodic, citing the moments of “epiphany” (or privileged visionary states, out of time or sequence) in the fiction of the great modernist writers – Marcel Proust, James Joyce, or Virginia Woolf – as emblematic episodes defining a life or a self. But in the world of online subjectivity, narrativity, and even subjectivity, are being transformed by other forces. If the concept of “episodic” subjectivity is an attempt to liberate selves which don't experience themselves in narrative terms (and which may, like Strawson, resent the assumption that narrative has become the normative paradigm for understanding selfhood), the datafied self offers a more fundamentally nonnarrative and even antihumanist challenge. It is not for humans, essentially, but for machines and their code, and for the corporations or governments that own them: algorithms identifying us in terms of our search engine habits, consumer preferences, or habits of language that might correlate to terrorist threats. Datafication is not interested in our inner life, in finding out what kind of personality someone has or the meanings they have found in their life. But it knows a surprising amount about that inner life. Michael Kosinski et al. were able to demonstrate that Facebook likes can be used to “to automatically and accurately predict a range of highly sensitive personal attributes including: sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious and political views, personality traits, intelligence, happiness, use of addictive substances, parental separation, age, and gender.”16 The data on which such predictions are based is readily available. The algorithm doesn’t need your narrative account of all such traits to work them out.

Seen from that angle, datafication is a threat not only to privacy, but to interiority (your propensities no longer form an inner life: they are out there, for anyone, or anything, that knows how to read them) and also to your agency (if a corporation or state knows more about your personality than you may know yourself, and when they are able to access your emotional states, how much more effective will be the advertising it chooses for you, or its ability to anticipate your resistances?). It is against these kinds of anxiety that the tactic of opacity online has developed, as considered by Rebecca Roach in her discussion of the concept of Black Boxes.17

The quantified self and health

Yet from another point of view, datafication has been embraced as offering a new form of self-knowledge – what has become known as “the quantified self.”18,19 The Quantified Self20 (QS) movement posits that the data we generate should be used not for corporate profits but for our individual well-being. This is the basis of the self-tracking with fitness apps discussed in Rachael Kent’s project. The infrastructure of “surveillance capitalism” is turned to personal advantage, helping people to monitor themselves and manage their own health more effectively. Concerns remain that the health data thus generated might compromise the confidentiality of medical records, affect people's insurance prospects, or become another form of digital addiction, and so injurious rather than salubrious. But it certainly generates new forms of self-representation, both in the sense that the data itself is the representation – “self-knowledge through numbers,” as the QS website puts it – but also in the kinds of online diaristic recording of people’s fitness programs.21

Online self-representation has also become transformative in the ways in which people with illnesses, disabilities, or chronic medical conditions learn about their situations, find support, cope with stigma, and express themselves. The testimony of patients – as on HealthTalk.org22 – describing their symptoms, the course of an illness, and their treatment has proven immensely valuable to others with a similar condition. Alison McKinlay, Rebecca Roach, and Leone Ridsdale’s project on people with epilepsy23 (on the King’s College, London website) interviewed patients to see how they engage with social media to present themselves, interact with others who share the experience of epilepsy, and shape their sense of self. Epilepsy proved to be an especially illuminating condition in this regard, since, due to the nature of the seizures, the patients cannot have firsthand knowledge of how they are affected, nor of how their symptoms compare to those of other patients. This predicament informed Rebecca Roach’s work on Black Boxes.24 And it led to another discovery. While the operations of epilepsy are often understood metaphorically in terms of malfunctioning computers, Roach found that historically the metaphor ran the other way. That is, that epilepsy proved a key reference point in the emergence of cybernetics – the discipline crucial in the development of digital computing. The understanding of epilepsy and its effect on neural networks was actually at the origins of information and computation theory in the 1930s and 40s. (Max Saunders also writes about brain/computer metaphors in the Observation on the Metaphors We Link By.)

Journalists are regularly airing anxieties about the psychological effects of new media, especially on the young. Are they addictive? Do they cause depression? For example, while we were conducting our research The Guardian reported in 2017 that “stress and social media fuel mental health crisis among girls.”25 A year later, psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania were reported on MSN as having demonstrated “a causal link between time spent on social media and depression and loneliness,” citing Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat in particular.26

There is certainly increasing evidence that so much experience happens online now that it has become bound up with people’s sense of reality: events don’t seem real anymore unless they are also virtual; you haven’t been anywhere unless you have taken a selfie there; you don’t feel you exist, have authenticity, unless you are validated by others immediately.

The networked self

One kind of claim for subjectivity in the digital era that wants it to sound categorically different from its previous avatars – and which wants to emphasize the convergence of neural and computer networks – is the language of “the networked self.”27 Autobiography is always relational, even for the most solitary of writers.28 Autobiographers and biographers have always known that relationships matter: relationships to families, friends, colleagues, rivals, enemies. Individuals have always had their networks before they were networked through social media platforms.

But the claim is that online social networking – in its reach and lightning interactivity – connects people in a fundamentally different kind of way. Again, differences in kind are hard to separate from differences in degree. Social media posts are not inherently more interactive than conversation, say. But the fact that they enable interaction between participants not in the same space – not necessarily even in the same country – leads to different forms of interaction. You can get many more “friends” on your platform than will fit into most rooms. So your online conversations are addressed to potentially vaster audiences. The fact that your respondents aren’t in the same room also changes the conversation. If you’re talking to someone across a table, you don’t need to ask them “What’s Happening?”: you can see. Whereas for a group dispersed geographically, that is what they need to know about their friends.Max Saunders’s analysis of the responses to our Mass Observation questionnaire about social media and internet use (or avoidance) explores the evidence presented by intensive users of various effects produced by the networking of selves.

The self of the moment

“What’s happening?” – now! Social media connection enables us to communicate in real time, or near-real time. An autobiography is likely to start right back at the beginning of a life (or even further back, with the story of parents or other antecedents.) A letter might update a friend on the events of the year, or month, or week. Even a diary entry has its quota of retrospect, mulling over the day’s remains. All these degrees of pastness can come up on social media, to be sure. But the most insistent note is what Alexandra Georgakopoulou calls Life Writing of the Moment. The new media, that is, are changing the temporality of the ways we present ourselves. (See the theme essay on time and digital and social media for further discussion.)

Here, individual autobiographical utterance gives way to stories produced collectively, through online interaction. This kind of life writing is “of the moment” in several senses. It is consumed as it is produced. The narrative structure is in the moment, in the present, describing how events are unfolding. It has proven a transformative force in news reporting, as citizens become journalists witnessing events as they unfold. But it is also the most pervasive trend in how people are presenting themselves online (at least consciously). Accusations of “presentism” abound in cultural discussion at the moment – the anachronistic interpreting and judging of the past by the standards and norms of today. Life writing of the moment is a form that makes autobiographers presentist. That is to say, social media have shifted the emphasis in autobiographical writing from retrospect to presenting the self in the present. Indeed, as with all new media arriving with a sense of immediacy (radio and television too in their time offered a sense of immediate access to the news as it was unfolding), the emphasis on “breaking news” tends to go beyond the present of the unfolding story, to wonder what is going to happen in the future. As the transmission of information about breaking stories gets ever more instantaneous, the only way to sound up-to-date is to jump ahead in time. We find that while the internet, or imagined equivalents, figured in the way past periods thought about their future, so our period finds it hard to think about our technological present, and especially the internet and computing, without speculating about where it is heading. These are the subjects of the two parts of the To-day and To-morrow Online section: Max Saunders’s exploration of the To-Day and To-Morrow book series of the 1920s and 30s predicting the future; and Ego Media’s curated lecture series asking today’s experts to imagine the future of mediated subjectivity.

What kind of relation do these breaking news stories of networked selves have to traditional notions of story? Do they represent an innovative type of narrative afforded by new communication technologies? Or do they represent an attenuation of story? Either way, the language of stories is everywhere in the marketing and commenting on social media, and even the primarily image-driven versions, as Alexandra Georgakopoulou’s work on Snapchat and Instagram demonstrates. Timelines, feeds, and chats are billed as “your stories.” Such stories can be assembled for you by algorithm, combining what it deems significant photos, say, into an album which is supposed to tell a story – the story of you. We can try to persuade ourselves that such narratives of fragments are like a modernist montage of Joycean epiphanies or Woolfian moments of being. They are an expansion, even, of the modernist techniques, liberating story into multimedia possibility. But with artificial intelligence selecting which moments count as transfiguration, and choosing how to juxtapose them, they are only “your” story in a troubling, uncanny, sense. The co-opting of the term story for these operations can also be seen as an emptying out of the significance of story, and the insistence on the storyness of the resulting cyberassemblages a sign of anxious overcompensation for the absence of the traditional storyteller’s art.

Selves online: Privacy, authenticity, and integrity

In a hyperconnected online world it has become a commonplace that the notion of privacy has come under intense pressure. According to some commentators it has ceased to exist altogether; others see it as shifting subtly. Diarists have often been torn between wanting to keep their thoughts to themselves and craving an audience.29 One way to resolve the tension was to imagine others reading your entries only after your death. Social media allow no such deferral. People increasingly worry that their disclosures might reach the wrong audience. Revelations intended for friends become excruciating when read by parents, teachers, employers, journalists, lawyers. One habit our respondents report is using different identities (including false names, ages, and other personal details) for different sites. It makes practical sense to keep different kinds of content separate. If you join an online community of plane-spotters, they will want to hear what you’ve just seen at the airport. But Instagram pictures of your celebratory meal are unlikely to get them salivating. It isn’t only a matter of content, though. Most people are aware of differences in the way they behave with their partners, young children, people in authority, and so on. When our lives are compartmentalized in such ways, it is to be expected that we should compartmentalize our identities to a degree. Anyone who has written a biography, for example, knows that different acquaintances give very different accounts of the subject. In part the differences reflect the differences between the individual witnesses. But they also testify to the different roles the subject played to each of them.

From other points of view, the use of multiple identities is more problematic. Given that so much internet activity is commercial to some extent, tech corporations need to know you are who you say you are, and that the bank details you are using are in fact your own. Unsurprising, then, that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg claimed that “the days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly. Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”30 This makes it an ethical as well as commercial or legal issue. Certainly, there are numerous examples of more damaging forms of deceit online: “sock puppets,” or false identities peddling spin or fake news; scamming and “phishing” to defraud users; or “catfishing” – the luring of unsuspecting users into relationships online by people lying about their age, looks, gender, etc. Yet, as Tim Jordan proposed in an early iteration of an Ego Media PhD project, it is far from clear:

if either the technical afford­ances of Facebook’s codebase or the use of those affordances by individuals ensures the creation of this ideal of a single integrated identity. It is arguably disingenuous or at least naïve in three res­pects: about the ways in which users fashion multiple online identities in different contexts (pro­fessional, social, dating, tweeting, gaming, etc.); about how people have always developed different aspects of their personalities in different social contexts; and about the notorious difficulty of separ­ating autobiographical truth from fictionality. The question of how identity is constructed on social media is accordingly an ethical and psychological one which needs to be examined in relation to both its technologies and its users’ forms of identity creation and maintenance.

Stijn Peeters’s dissertation project took a rather different approach to that question of how identity is constructed on social media, studying the ways in which the design of the platform constrains or influences how users present themselves (and, conversely, looking at how resourceful users had been able to repurpose the platforms). The platforms themselves, that is, bear some of the responsibility for the way people develop their identities on them.

Authenticity has always been an issue with stories people tell about themselves. Autobiographies often raise doubts about the writer’s reliability, honesty, or egotism. Online life writing opens up an even larger space for doubt. On the one hand, the medium seems to offer to share more information about a person than ever before. On the other, the possibilities for deception and distortion also seem greater than ever, especially when dealing with people you have never met. In an era so concerned over “fake news,” the sense that the selves being presented might also be fake, or have faked elements, is especially disturbing.

Nowhere is this aspect of faking the self more apparent than around the issue of egotism or narcissism. The desire, need even, that social media appear to arouse, for the self to be news, to be the center of attention, has incited the critique that they amplify narcissism. The situation has not been helped by the adoption of marketing metaphors to describe self-presentation. The self is discussed as if it were a “brand,” a product being advertised in order to be sold. To such a mentality, self-presentation is indistinguishable from self-promotion. As Laurence Scott writes in his brilliant meditation on the condition of identity in the twenty-first century, Picnic Comma Lightning (2018): “All social-media posts occupy a paradoxical space: are they diary entries or press releases?” (p. 177).

From another point of view, the system of social media is actually designed to reward narcissism. People post in order to get read, to be followed, to get likes, or other forms of online validation, and to advertise other brands. Autobiographers have always wanted readers to read their books, buy them, and be interested in their subjects. But there was a time lag between writing and response. True, some would circulate the manuscript or privately printed copies (as Henry Adams did with The Education of Henry Adams) to test the water. But most have had to imagine their reception, anticipate it, or try to ignore it. Users of ego media can’t ignore their audience; they interact with them while they’re presenting themselves.

Posing the self

Yet for all the concerns and criticisms, many thrive on social media, navigating it with grace and wit, and find that it enriches their lives and broadens and deepens their offline friendships. Communication has always been a performance art. Some theorists of life writing have suggested that autobiographical texts should be read not as delivering a true inner self, but as bringing a self into being through a performance, as Sidonie Smith argued in a landmark essay of 1998.31 José van Dijck has brought the argument up to data in her article “‘You Have One Identity’: Performing the Self on Facebook and LinkedIn.”32

Online performers can avail themselves of a new set of props, expressing themselves not just with crafted words, but objects found online. The co-opting of other people’s creativity – in the form of memes, GIFs, or hashtags, say – might seem to some as a mark of inauthenticity: as forms of plagiarism, imitation, or deception. But, as Rob Gallagher shows, it has opened up new possibilities for irony, comedy, and playfulness, which some navigate superbly, using such material as sources for allusion creating effects of wry knowingness.

Sidney Lee, the editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, after Virginia Woolf’s father, Leslie Stephen, defined biography in 1911 as “the truthful transmission of personality.”33,34 Personality here suggests a different criterion for understanding the self than narrativity. Biographies, like autobiographies, work through narrative. But Lee seems to be suggesting that the self they describe is something other than the narrative. The narrative is in quest of this something other, which is detachable from that narrative. You may not be able to compress your whole lifetime and processes of learning into a post. But an inspired tweet can certainly convey the tones, the attitudes, the humor, that give that sense of a personality. and hence, that sense of an identity, a self. Social media are often celebrated in terms of granting a new freedom of expression, especially to those without access to publishers or broadcast media channels. But social media are equally striking in the way they enable people to explore the selves they wish to express. At their best, social media can give people the agency to imagine themselves.

Research Findings

The study of self-presentation and how it is affected by new media is at the core of Ego Media’s research; so the theme of the self is crucial across all the projects covered in this publication. A number have already been indicated in the links above. Other projects bringing further insights to bear on the topic include:

  • Rebecca Roach’s work on chatbots where the challenge for the interlocutor is to work out whether the entity at the other end of the conversation has a self.
  • Mikka Lene Pers’s study of how mommy vloggers present themselves.
  • Alisa Miller’s work on war blogs.

Where to now?

We recommend

Theme essay:



Self-Observation Online


  1. See for example Marya Schechtman, “The Narrative Self,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Self, ed. Shaun Gallagher (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011),
  2. See for example Jens Brockmeier and Donal A. Carbaugh, eds., Narrative and Identity: Studies in Autobiography, Self and Culture (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2001).
  3. For a broader account of narrative and the narrative turn in the social sciences, see Anna De Fina and Alexandra Georgakopoulou, eds., Analyzing Narrative: Discourse and Sociolinguistic Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
  4. De Fina and Georgakopoulou, Analyzing Narrative: Discourse and Sociolinguistic Perspectives. 1-25. See also Rebecca Roach’s discussion of narrative medicine, and of its applicability or not in the digital age, in her project Black Boxes at
  5. Max Saunders et al., “Diaries 2.0,” King’s College London: Research and Innovation, n.d.,
  6. See one of two special issues of Biography devoted to the topic: John Zuern, ed., “Special Issue: Online Lives,” Biography 26, no. 1 (Winter 2003).
  7. See the second of two special issues of Biography devoted to the topic: Laurie McNeill and John David Zuern, “Online Lives 2.0: Introduction,” Biography 38, no. 2 (August 24, 2015): v–xlvi,
  8. Also the special issue: Lara Feigel and Max Saunders, “Writing between the Lives: Life Writing and the Work of Mediation,” Life Writing 9, no. 3 (2012): 241–48,
  9. and the cluster of essays in Rob Gallagher and Clare Brant, “Digital Media: Life-Changing Online,” European Journal of Life Writing 8 (2019),
  10. Finally, see Anna Poletti and Julie Rak, eds., Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014).
  11. Saunders et al., “Diaries 2.0.”
  12. Rob Gallagher, Videogames, Identity and Digital Subjectivity (New York; London: Routledge, 2017). 3. Today, however, digital subjects are perpetually being sorted and “cybertyped” along lines of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, age, taste, socioeconomic status and medical history (Nakamura 2002; Galloway 2011, 135–37). In the process, the biography, which narrates the individual life as a developmental arc following a logic of cause and effect, is being superseded by the profile, a collection of taxonomic and behavioral data, which becomes a basis for constructing new categories and speculating about future actions. Some profiles deal in fixed, objective, and/or empirically verifiable characteristics (height, blood type, eye color, and so on), others in characteristics that are subjective, qualitative, or subject to change (tastes, political affiliations, age); in some cases (as with a Facebook page or a LinkedIn profile) individuals will fill in and maintain their own profiles, while in others (as with the profiles Google assembles on the basis of users’ browsing habits or the kill lists given to US drone pilots) this profiling will be automatic and covert.
  13. Jörg Dünne and Christian Moser, eds., Automedialität (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, Fink, 2008).
  14. See Sidonie Smith, “Identity, Post-Identity, Identity Assemblage: A Meditation on Life Writing in Three Modes” (IABA Europe 2017 Conference, Centre for Life-Writing Research at King’s College London, 2017).
  15. Galen Strawson, “Against Narrativity,” Ratio 17, no. 4 (2004): 428–52.
  16. For example, Jacques Rancière, Aisthesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art (London: Verso, 2013).
  17. On datafication see Kenneth Neil Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger, “The Rise of Big Data,” Foreign Affairs, June 2013, 28–40.
  18. Strawson, “Against Narrativity.”
  19. Eric H. Kosinski, David Stillwell, and Thore Graepel, “Private Traits and Attributes Are Predictable from Digital Records of Human Behavior,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110, no. 15 (2013): 5802–5,
  20. See also Fernando Van der Vlist and Anne Helmond, “Speculative Data Selfies,” Internet Policy Review, March 1, 2017,
  21. See “Quantified Self,” in Wikipedia, 2010,
  22. Healthtalk, 2019,
  23. Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (New York: Public Affairs, 2019).
  24. Rebecca Roach, “Black Boxes,” King’s College London: Research and Innovation, n.d.,
  25. Dennis Campbell, “Stress and Social Media Fuel Mental Health Crisis among Girls,” The Guardian, September 23, 2017,
  26. “For the First Time, Researchers Say Facebook Can Cause Depression,” Audubon Counseling, November 14, 2018,
  27. See Zizi Papacharissi, A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites (London; New York: Routledge, 2010). and also the series “A Networked Self.”
  28. Max Saunders, “‘Fusions and Interrelations’: Family Memoirs of Henry James, Edmund Gosse, and Others,” in A History of English Autobiography, ed. Adam Smyth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 255–68,
  29. Max Saunders et al., “Diaries 2.0,” King’s College London: Research and Innovation, n.d.,
  30. David Kirkpatrick, The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011). 199.
  31. See also José Van Dijck, “‘You Have One Identity’: Performing the Self on Facebook and LinkedIn,” Media, Culture and Society 35, no. 2 (2013): 199–215,
  32. Sidonie Smith, “Performativity, Autobiographical Practice, Resistance,” in Women, Autobiography, Theory: A Reader (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998), 108–15.
  33. José Van Dijck, “‘You Have One Identity’: Performing the Self on Facebook and LinkedIn,” Media, Culture and Society 35, no. 2 (2013): 199–215,
  34. Sidney Lee, Principles of Biography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1911). 26.


  • Brockmeier, Jens, and Donal A. Carbaugh, eds. Narrative and Identity: Studies in Autobiography, Self and Culture. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2001.
  • Campbell, Dennis. “Stress and Social Media Fuel Mental Health Crisis among Girls.” The Guardian, September 23, 2017.
  • Cukier, Kenneth Neil, and Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger. “The Rise of Big Data.” Foreign Affairs, June 2013.
  • De Fina, Anna, and Alexandra Georgakopoulou, eds. Analyzing Narrative: Discourse and Sociolinguistic Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
  • Dünne, Jörg, and Christian Moser, eds. Automedialität. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, Fink, 2008.
  • Feigel, Lara, and Max Saunders. “Writing between the Lives: Life Writing and the Work of Mediation.” Life Writing 9, no. 3 (2012): 241–48.
  • Gallagher, Rob. Videogames, Identity and Digital Subjectivity. New York; London: Routledge, 2017.
  • Kirkpatrick, David. The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011.
  • Kosinski, Eric H., David Stillwell, and Thore Graepel. “Private Traits and Attributes Are Predictable from Digital Records of Human Behavior.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110, no. 15 (2013): 5802–5.
  • Lee, Sidney. Principles of Biography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1911.
  • McNeill, Laurie, and John David Zuern. “Online Lives 2.0: Introduction.” Biography 38, no. 2 (August 24, 2015): v–xlvi.
  • Papacharissi, Zizi. A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites. London; New York: Routledge, 2010.
  • Poletti, Anna, and Julie Rak, eds. Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014.
  • Rancière, Jacques. Aisthesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art. London: Verso, 2013.
  • Roach, Rebecca. “Black Boxes.” King’s College London: Research and Innovation, n.d.
  • Rob Gallagher, and Clare Brant. “Digital Media: Life-Changing Online.” European Journal of Life Writing 8 (2019).
  • Saunders, Max. “‘Fusions and Interrelations’: Family Memoirs of Henry James, Edmund Gosse, and Others.” In A History of English Autobiography, edited by Adam Smyth, 255–68. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
  • Saunders, Max, Clare Brant, Leone Ridsdale, and Alexandra Georgakopoulou. “Diaries 2.0.” King’s College London: Research and Innovation, n.d.
  • Schechtman, Marya. “The Narrative Self.” In The Oxford Handbook of the Self, edited by Shaun Gallagher. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Smith, Sidonie. “Performativity, Autobiographical Practice, Resistance.” In Women, Autobiography, Theory: A Reader, 108–15. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.
  • Smith, Sidonie. “Identity, Post-Identity, Identity Assemblage: A Meditation on Life Writing in Three Modes.” Presented at the IABA Europe 2017 Conference, Centre for Life-Writing Research at King’s College London, 2017.
  • Strawson, Galen. “Against Narrativity.” Ratio 17, no. 4 (2004): 428–52.
  • Van der Vlist, Fernando, and Anne Helmond. “Speculative Data Selfies.” Internet Policy Review, March 1, 2017.
  • Van Dijck, José. “‘You Have One Identity’: Performing the Self on Facebook and LinkedIn.” Media, Culture and Society 35, no. 2 (2013): 199–215.
  • Van Dijck, José. “‘You Have One Identity’: Performing the Self on Facebook and LinkedIn.” Media, Culture and Society 35, no. 2 (2013): 199–215.
  • Zuboff, Shoshana. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. New York: Public Affairs, 2019.
  • Zuern, John, ed. “Special Issue: Online Lives.” Biography 26, no. 1 (Winter 2003).
  • Audubon Counseling. “For the First Time, Researchers Say Facebook Can Cause Depression,” November 14, 2018.
  • “Quantified Self.” In Wikipedia, 2010.
  • Healthtalk, 2019.