Ego Media: A digital publication about the self, and how self-presentation has changed with the development of interactive digital media
Enabled by the internet and mobile technologies, digital media have generated profound changes in how and where we communicate, interact, and present ourselves. Ego Media explores the impact of these rapidly evolving media on forms and practices of self-presentation, giving a multidimensional account of how the ego presents itself through and across the digital media landscape, and how this has both changed and remediated earlier modes.
While people have always found multiple ways of presenting their selves, interactive digital media offer continually evolving forms of, and platforms for, doing so. Self-presentation in everyday life, as analyzed so compellingly by Erving Goffman, has long been mediated by cultural forms such as language, gesture, performance, settings, and the frames of specific forms and practices. Self-presentation in everyday digital life – distributed across chat networks, emails, blogs, vlogs, text and picture messaging, social media, professional profiles, GIFs, selfies, podcasts, dating platforms, memes, gaming, fitness trackers, emojis, etc. – is mediated differently, by software. Thus we talk of the software of the self.
The internet, as it continues to develop, remains a topic of heated debate among journalists, politicians, and researchers from many disciplines – media and cultural studies, digital humanities, sociology, psychology, anthropology, and others. Ego Media is an interdisciplinary collaboration, drawing on many such disciplines, some of which existed before the World Wide Web, such as literary studies, narrative theory, sociolinguistics, and war studies, others of which have arisen in response to new media, including internet research, online game studies, and platform studies. Our underpinning approach, however, is that of life writing studies, and specifically, that branch of it concerned with how individuals present themselves and their lives, their stories, their experiences, their images, across the available media, using a variety of forms, practices, and platforms and, in the process, influencing their development so they are adapted to users’ needs or practices.
There is widespread discussion about how these new modes of technological mediation, and the new forms and practices they foster, have affected the selves being presented – for example, allegedly causing depression in teenagers, increasing loneliness, and making people more narcissistic. Events in 2020 have both highlighted the power of social media to encourage violent insurrection, and also the potential for local social media groups to support, and even save, lives during the pandemic. The future of these effects is also hotly debated.
Such changes have an ontological or existential dimension. The shift from print cultures to digital ones isn’t just something that might make us feel different or behave more or less selfishly. It doesn’t just impact on our presentation of self. It is also having a profound effect on how we understand what selves are and how they function. Internet studies see digital media as creating new entities referred to as “the networked self” or “online communities.” These are key changes not just for life writing researchers but for those working in the humanities and social sciences generally, which are changing irrevocably in the face of digital transformation – a challenge reflected in declining enrollment. Attempts to promote the arts and humanities (however well-meaning) must take account of and reflect on these fundamental changes in subjectivity brought about by the experiences of digital subjectivity. That is why Ego Media is so relevant to academic study and research now.
Digital publication achieves effects for the reader that a printed codex could not. It enables different kinds of structure, like the protean, dynamic structure of Ego Media. It offers different ways of navigating through the material. This is partly about moving away from the idea of unilinear reading and recognizing that people – particularly scholars – often read in, if not nonlinear, then multilinear ways. This, of course, has always been possible. Readers have always skimmed, dipped into texts, or started reading at points other than those intended by the author. When James Joyce read J. B. S. Haldane’s Daedalus – the first of the To-Day and To-Morrow volumes discussed here – he jumped into the middle first, then read backwards, before going back to the middle and reading to the end. He would have been at home online and in a sense was always already there: his later works such as Ulysses and especially Finnegans Wake can seem to have an eerily hypertextual feel.
But digital texts further empower multilinear reading. They offer us multiple routes through material according to different interests, approaches, and significantly, how much time we may want to devote to a particular topic, author, or argument. The ways we’ve signposted routes through Ego Media foreground this multilinearity and take into account varied reader preferences. Such guidance also offers an alternative to the contents, index, and page numbering of the codex. Metaphorically speaking, it’s the difference between providing a map and a sat nav, which not only tells you where everything is, but also takes into account where you start your journey and then reorients itself to your location at all points along it.
Another way of expressing the difference is to say that where a printed text is a fixed sequence of words (and possibly images), a digital publication is a network of texts, images, and other media. You can read the printed text in a counterlinear way, but the sequence of words and pages remains unchanged (unless you’re reading an experimental work like B. S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates  or Marc Saporta’s Composition No. 1 ). The equivalent bedrock structure in the digital publication is the network, which isn’t exactly the thing you perceive as you encounter the content. Here a reader chooses a particular chapter, topic, or author as the start-point of their journey, and the links to relevant connections and parallels create a cluster of contexts. The links readers choose to follow create a specific assemblage within that cluster. The network hasn’t changed; nor the code which brings it into being. But – in the same way that maps stay the same while individuals’ journeys across their terrain can vary profoundly, depending on routes taken, technologies employed to take them (from trainers to Teslas), and reasons for traveling – the Ego Media you read may differ profoundly from that read by others.
We hope you will enjoy exploring the range, diversity, and granularity of Ego Media, which we believe gives an original account of the ways people presented themselves over the period from 2014 to 2020.
Because Ego Media is written by an interdisciplinary team of scholars, you should find plenty to interest you if you are a scholar/student of
- life writing
- social media studies
- literary and cultural studies
- digital humanities
- digital writing
We have written and structured Ego Media to accommodate readers with different interests, specialisms, and backgrounds. As few are likely to have expertise across all the relevant disciplines, Ego Media blends introductory and more specialized material.
This means it should also be accessible to general readers with an interest in new media and online self-presentation. Because the new forms of mediation have ramifications for many – if not most – other disciplines, we anticipate general readers may include specialists whose disciplines are not specifically represented here, such as psychology, sociology, history, or anthropology, as well as journalists, independent researchers, and others beyond the academy.
We have also designed our innovative Themes-and-Sections networked structure to encourage interdisciplinary reading and enhance readability. We anticipate that readers will have less need of the Theme essays on topics they have expertise in and will want to head straight for Sections of interest. The Theme essays offer more introductory routes for readers coming to Ego Media from other disciplines or from other worlds of work.
See our User Guide for details of all the different ways you can navigate Ego Media.
But, if you want to dive straight in, we recommend reading the introductory Theme essay, Self.
Authors and editors
Find out about contributors to this publication on their contributor pages.
Designers and developers
Visit the King’s Digital Lab website to find out more about the team who designed and developed this publication: https://www.kdl.kcl.ac.uk/.
Ego Media international network
The Ego Media project team were advised by an international network of scholars: Paul Arthur, Leigh Gilmore, Wilhelm Hemecker, Alfred Hornung, Craig Howes, Margaretta Jolly, Eveline Kilian, Leena Kurvet-Käosaar, Amanda Lagerkvist, Claire Larsonneur, Philippe Lejeune, Julie Rak, Sanghamitra Sadhu, Sidonie Smith, Monica Soeting, Julia Watson, Gillian Whitlock, Zhao Baisheng, and John David Zuern.
The project Ego Media: The Impact of New Media on Forms and Practices of Self-Presentation (FP7/2007-2013; grant agreement no. 340331) was made possible thanks to funding in the form of an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) from 2014 to 2019.
A number of scholars were generous with their time and ideas in presenting their work to our monthly methodology workshops. These meetings were informal and are not written up here. But we are very grateful to Tobias Blanke, Giles Greenway, Jennifer Pybus, and Mark Cote; Nick Hubble, Seb Franklin, Alfred Hornung, Claire Birchall, Piia Varis, Annette Markham, Gillian Whitlock, Libby Heaney, Paolo Gerbaudo, Craig Howes, Ana Belén, Shani Orgad , and Carey Jewitt.
We would also like to thank the Department of English and the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, King’s College London; and the Department of English Literature, the School of English, Drama, and Creative Studies, and the College of Arts and Law at the University of Birmingham.
We are grateful for invaluable administrative help from Daniela Amadio, Shelly Brindley, Becky Dean, Dominique Ganase, Rachel Homer, Eleanor Jubb, Mira Lindner, Helena Metslang, Alisa Miller, Nicola Rankin, and Gabriella Wojewodka.
We would also like to thank the following for their help with the project:
Damien Doherty, Jessica Scantlebury, Anda Drasovean, and Stephanie de Howes.
The following credits relate to the pictures which appear above/behind the links to individual pages. Other image credits appear with the pictures.
Unmasked: Alfred Cohen print. Permission granted by Alfred Cohen Art Foundation.
Annotated drawing of a microscope. Public domain.
Image by Gerd Altman on Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/users/geralt-9301/. Free to use under Pixabay license (https://pixabay.com/service/terms/).
Forms and Practices
Image by Splitshire on Pixaby: https://pixabay.com/users/splitshire-364019/. Free to use under Pixabay license.
Software and the Self
Vintage photo of man focussing on early electronic machine. Public domain.
Clock GIF. Public domain from https://bestanimations.com/HomeOffice/Clocks/Clocks.html.
Blue and white strectched map © Rob Gallagher (essay author).
Icon representing difference from The Noun Project by Luis Prado (https://thenounproject.com/icon/diversity-52928/; reproduced here under "Subscription Account Program" permissions).
Avatars, Alter Egos and Ventriloquists' Dummies: Voice and Vicariousness Online
All images by and © Rob Gallagher (author).
White mask GIF by Empetrisor. CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0).
A handmade Google "G" by Lauren Edvalson on Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/photos/WiSizdeZHBI. Free to use under Unsplash license (https://unsplash.com/license).
Balloons as Imaginative Agents
Steampunk hot air balloon by Susanp4 on Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/hot-air-balloon-aircraft-balloon-1533344/. Free to use under Pixabay license.
Nether Worlds: Imagination, Agents, and Dark Acts
Image by Gerd Altman on Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/psychology-virtual-reality-psyche-4440675/. Free to use under Pixabay license.
The Original Log
Starship Enterprise passing a planet by p2722754 on Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/users/p2722754-15334846/. Free to use under Pixabay license.
Imaginative Agency: new possibilities
White mask GIF by Empetrisor. CC BY-SA 4.0.
Cyberbodies: Imaginative Agency in Digital Futures
Colourful holographic hand by Simon Lee on Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/photos/ldg40aCeOXo. Free to use under Unsplash license.
Poo emoji by Alexas fotos on Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/feces-dog-poo-fun-poop-piggy-bank-2567407/. Free to use under Pixabay license.
Mirror-imaged vertical text "BREAKFAST" by Lisa Gee (editor).
Graphic including the word "Introduction." Image from Shutterstock.
Life and War Writing Off- and Online
Image of soldier by Amber Clay on Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/soldier-military-uniform-armed-60762/. Free to use under Pixabay license.
Aerial shot of equipment destroyed during war in Ukraine. Shutterstock.
Offline to Online
Soldiers in WW2-era battle. Shutterstock.
Sepia photo of two US soldiers at war by janeb13 on Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/war-soldiers-marines-okinawa-battle-1172111/. Free to use under Pixabay license.
Aerial view of camp. Shutterstock.
Lenses, Screens, and Datafication
Commander of Rangers. Shutterstock.
Soldier using map on tablet. Shutterstock.
Databases and Networks
Friekorps soldiers. Public domain.
Electric Towers during Golden Hour. From Pexels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/air-air-pollution-climate-change-dawn-221012/. Free to use under Pexels license (https://www.pexels.com/creative-commons-images/).
Illustration of Conan-Doyle's "The Silver Mirror." Public domain.
Women and CCTV cameras observing each other by Matthew Henry on Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/photos/fPxOowbR6ls. Free to use under Unsplash license.
Selected Mass Obervation Responses and Mass Obervation Directive
Mass Observation Archive logo reproduced by kind permission of the Mass Observation Archive.
Sharing-Life-in-the-Moment as Small Stories: Participation, Social Relations, and Subjectivity
Phone on selfie stick by Adam Birkett on Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/photos/Sr15pNmQ1Kw. Free to use under Unsplash license.
Showing the Moment
Infographic © Alexandra Georgakopoulou (author)
The Social Media Curation of Stories: Stories as a Feature on Snapchat and Instagram
Word cloud © Alexandra Georgakopoulou (author)
Sharing the Moment Now as Breaking News
Icon from the Noun Project by Studio 3656: https://thenounproject.com/icon/breaking-news-4569258/. Reproduced here under "Subscription Account Program" permissions.
Image of busts © Rob Gallagher.
Writing Talking Interfaces
Program in the Piet programming language, printing "Hello, World!" by Thomas Schoch: http://www.retas.de/thomas/computer/programs/useless/piet/explain.html. CC BY-SA 3.0.
Playmobil figures round a white table by Hebi B. on Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/playmobil-characters-meeting-451203/. Free to use under Pixabay license.
Opacity and Not Talking
Black cube by Don Cloud on Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/cube-block-black-box-3d-geometric-250082/. Free to use under Pixabay license.
Literature, Talk, and Computing
Image by Gerd Altman on Pixabay. Free to use under Pixabay license.
Biographical Case Study: Margaret Masterman
A vintage imagining of machine translation from Open Clip Art: https://openclipart.org/detail/332234/machine-translation. Public domain.
Biographical Case Study: J. M. Coetzee
The Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC) lab at Cambridge, with white-coated man. Copyright Department of Computer Science and Technology, University of Cambridge. Reproduced by permission.
Turing test infographic From Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Test_de_Turing.jpg. CC BY 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/deed.en).
Auguste Rodin's Pygmalion and Galatea. The Met: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/191292. Public domain.
How to Read a Chatbot
Screenshot of code © Rebecca Roach (author).
Natural Language Processing
Simple Pipeline Architecture for a Spoken Dialogue System. From "Natural Language Processing with Python" by S. Bird, E. Klein, and E. Loper. CC BY-NC-ND3.0 US (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/).
Chatbots and Literature
Chatbot icon by Laymik on the Noun Project: https://thenounproject.com/icon/search-information-4116560/. Reproduced here under "Subscription Account Program" permissions).
A Literary Guide to Natural Language Processing
Natural language processing stage 1 results © Rebecca Roach (author).
To-Day and To-Morrow Online
20th-century video telephony as imagined in France in 1910. Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:France_in_XXI_Century._Correspondance_cinema.jpg. Public domain.
The To-Day and To-Morrow Book Series, 1923–1931
C. K. Ogden sitting at the Piano. Reproduced by kind permission of William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections, McMaster University Library.
Life Online To-Day and To-Morrow
Still from video of Ego-Media public roundtable exploring public identities © The Ego-Media Project.
Social Media Case Studies
Hands typing on a laptop, etc. by KhamKhor on Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/student-difficult-read-think-3038994/. Free to use under Pixabay license.
The Use of Self-Tracking Technologies and Social Media in Self-Representation and Management of Health
All images in this sub-section © Rachael Kent (author).
Analyzing Online Expression Affordances on IRC and Twitter
Treated image of IRC chatroom chat room chat © Stijn Peeters (author).
Researching the Narrative Construction of Mommy Vlogger Influencers
Slow exposure shot of Mikka Lene Pers by Arko Hoejholt photography.
Data Sampling, Tracking, and Tracing
Screen shot of mommy vlog reading "… come with me on my journey…" (etc) © Mikka Lene Pers (author).
Reflections: On Making This Publication
Photo of reflection in car side mirror © Lisa Gee (author/editor).
Reflection 1: What Are Social Media?
Image of mobile phone showing social media icons by dole777 on Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/@dole777. Free to use under Unsplash license.
Reflection 2: About This “Book”
Mobile phone with image of shelved books by Gerd Altman on Pixabay. Free to use under Pixabay license.
Reflection 3: Researcher Stance
Photo of person taking a photo of the sea on Newquay cliffs © Lisa Gee (author/editor).
Reflection 4: Writing for Online Reading
Image of iMac showing the page with assorted books, cafetière, coffee cup, and external hard drives © Lisa Gee (author/editor).
Image © of the author.
Image © of the author.
Image © of the author.
Image © of Alexandra Ciufudean.
Image © of the author.
Mikka Lene Pers
Image Image © Arko Hoejholt photography.
Image © of the author.
Image © of the author.
Image © of the author.
Image © of the author.