[ISEA2011] Paper: Jill Walker Rettberg – Automated self-portraits: How Social Media Craft the Narratives of our Lives


This paper discusses the ways in which social media help us craft the narratives of our lives. Many discussions of social media look at self-presentation and the construction of identity on social network sites in particular and the Internet in general. This article switches the focus from the moment of self-construction and instead looks at ways in which social media represent our lives by filtering the data we feed into them through templates and displaying simplified patterns, visualisations and narratives back to us. The paper argues that social media helps users to see themselves by taking their raw data and re-presenting it in structured form, and gives examples of different ways in which this data is presented.

I will discuss the different kinds of patterns social media uses when re-presenting our data: geographic (geosocial services such as Gowalla and Foursquare, but also trip organisers like Dopplr and Tripit, workout trackers like Endomundo, and GPS-based photo organisation), temporal (Facebook or Twitter statuses, time-lapse videos compressing photos taken daily over years such as from Dailybooth, habit trackers such as Trixietracker, Moodlog, Bedposted), social (Facebook Friend Visualiser, blog mappers) or semantic (word clouds, Ravelry).

  • Prof. Jill Walker Rettberg is a Professor of Digital Culture at the University of Bergen, Norway. She researches ways in which people tell stories online, looking at electronic literature, blogging, games and social media. She has blogged for over ten years, and is author of the book Blogging (Polity Press 2008; new edition forthcoming 2012) and co-editor of an anthology of critical essays on World of Warcraft, Digital Culture, Play, and Identity (MIT Press 2008). Due to scheduling issues (i.e. having had to book flights before the program was available), Jill won’t be able to present her talk on social media at ISEA2011, but an earlier article on the same topic is available here: Rettberg, Jill Walker. “Freshly Generated for You, and Barack Obama”: How Social Media Represent Your Life. European Journal of Communication 24(4) pp 451-466, 2009. (Preprint freely available).                            journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0267323109345715