Biography Vol. 38, no. 2, 2015

Online Lives 2.0

Guest Editors: Laurie McNeill & John David Zuern


Online Lives 2.0: Introduction
Laurie McNeill and John David Zuern

Looking back to Biography’s 2003 “Online Lives,” the coeditors reflect on continuities and analyze new developments in Internet-based auto/biographical production since the advent of Web 2.0. They outline recurring themes in the essays in Online Lives 2.0, which include the merging of public and private life, online self-curation, the socioeconomic dimensions of online self-presentation, and the filtering and falsification of lives in social media, and they explore the implications of these issues for auto/biography studies.


Life Writing Versus Automedia: The Sims 3 Game as a Life Lab
Julie Rak, 155

Online environments are rapidly changing our understanding of what it means to construct a life story and what identity itself might come to mean in virtual worlds. This essay poses a direct challenge to the field of life writing by asking us to rethink “life” and “writing” as automedia.

Victim/Victor: Stalking the Subject of Online Life Writing
Molly Pulda, 181

This essay notes an intersection between extreme acts of online stalking and everyday acts of online identity construction: both are marked by repetition. I propose an “ethics of interruption” to address the relational stakes of constructing and consuming online lives, broadening the scope of what counts as an act of life writing.

Hoax Politics: Blogging, Betrayal, and the Intimate Public of
A Gay Girl in Damascus
Kylie Cardell and Emma Maguire, 205

Blogs can connect disparate “others,” or focus attention on certain events, moments, or histories, but to what extent does the blog function within (or trouble) the paradigms of identity politics that also frame autobiographical narration in online contexts? This paper is a close analysis of A Gay Girl in Damascus, a fast moving case of online imposture that emerged in conjunction to the “Arab Spring” and catalyzed a host of issues connected to the representation, articulation, and circulation of marginal identity in online spaces.

“An Encyclopedia, Not an Experiment in Democracy”: Wikipedia Biographies, Authorship, and the Wikipedia Subject
Pamela Graham, 222

Wikipedia biography is a culturally significant, yet overlooked form of digital life narrative. Through an examination of Wikipedia’s policies and discussion forums, and a number of its most popular and controversial biographies, this essay explores the politics of biographical practice and representation on the site.

The Hospitality of Cyberspace: Mobilizing Asylum Seeker Testimony Online
Gillian Whitlock, 245

This article focuses on maritime voyages filmed and narrated by asylum seekers, where they become “produsers” of their own testimonial narratives that are then disseminated through both conventional and new media. Social media offers new venues and opportunities for the dissemination of testimony generated by the asylum seekers, from within the boats, trucks, and planes that transport them. Asylum seekers are not citizens seeking democracy in the
public spaces of their own homelands; on the contrary, they are stigmatized as the barbarians at our gates, and as a threat to the security of the nation. In their hands, however, smartphones and social media enable new forms of testimonial narrative, from within spaces of detention. Can we speak of the hospitality of cyberspace on behalf of the dispossessed?

Updates from 2003 Online Lives

Autobiography Scholarship 2.0? Understanding New Forms of Online Life Writing
Madeleine Sorapure, 267

Concepts of interface, interactivity, and organization are key to articulating autobiography theory that can account for popular new modes of online autobiographical writing taking place at social networking sites and in data-driven, visually-based infographic self-representations.

Re-Visiting the Web Cam and the Promises and Perils
of the Fully Networked Age

Andreas Kitzmann, 273

This essay reflects on my now ten year old investigation of the impact of web
cams on the nature of life writing and the self. Despite the many changes that have occurred since that time, the trajectories of these older technologies and practices continue to have relevance today and provide us with a reasonable ground from which to continue our explorations into current and emerging technological practices.

The Rhetorical Situations that Invite Us Online
John B. Killoran, 279

This article probes behind familiar self-presentational genres to inquire into
how distinct rhetorical situations that converge on websites complicate how people present themselves on those sites. It reports on a sample of businesspeople who present aspects of their personal lives on their professional sites.

Designing a Theatre of Recollection for the Digital Age: Shifting
Perspectives and the Autobiographical Eye

Elayne Zalis, 285

Elayne Zalis discusses how “At Home in Cyberspace: Staging Autobiographical Scenes,” the essay that she published in the 2003 Online Lives issue of Biography, influenced a novel that she later wrote, Arella’s Repertoire, in which the narrator stages autobiographical scenes of her own in cyberspace. Like the websites that Zalis examined in her essay, Arella’s Repertoire explores new ways to share personal and cultural memories in the digital age.

Reflections from Practitioners

Pictures in the Stars: 88 Constellations for Wittgenstein and the Online “Biography”
David Clark, 290

The author discusses his Internet artwork 88 Constellations for Wittgenstein, which uses a non-linear, hyperlinking structure to create a kind of metabiography anchored by Wittgenstein’s life and philosophy. Clark uses the constellations both as a navigation device as well as metaphor for how we make meaning (or pictures of meaning, as Wittgenstein would say), using the facts of Wittgenstein’s life to address the external relations of his life to the outside world, as digital media provides an opportunity to create a new kind of textuality that examines the relations of exteriority a life story has to our current situation.

Vlogging Toward Digital Literacy
Patricia G. Lange, 297

The author traces her journey into the exotic, early world of video blogging, in which participants used video to share the self, develop empathy for others, and exchange knowledge. Moving from modest video blogs to an
internationally-screened film demonstrated in a direct way that under the right circumstances participatory cultures work. Peer-to-peer mentorship and connected learning can open new forms of digital and participatory literacies in media cultures.

Am I a Blogger?
danah boyd, 303

The author reflects on the evolution of her blogging practice. After becoming a blogger “kinda by accident,” increasing involvement in the blogging community led to a decision to live certain parts of her life in public, in a networked age where visibility can be both humanizing and de-humanizing. Studying teenagers and their relationship to social media leads to questions about what it means to be a blogger today, as traditional aspects of power are now asserted through technologies that are deeply embedded in contexts of capitalism, traditional politics, and geoglobal power struggles.

On (Not) Talking in the Dark: Why I Stopped Blogging
Diane Josefowicz, 307

This personal essay explores the author’s decision to stop blogging after a person close to the author revealed herself to be a hostile secret reader of the author’s blog. The author uses this experience to raise larger questions about online audiences and intersections between public writing and private life.


Coda: Data Generation
Paul Longley Arthur, 312

It may be that the digital revolution has had a more profound effect on biography than any other branch of the arts. At the intersection of life
writing and digital humanities, key questions can be posed: In what ways does the Web act to co-shape identities? How permanent are digital records of lives? Will we soon remember differently?