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Hardcover | $28.00 Short | £22.95 | 200 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 5 b&w illus. | March 2018 | ISBN: 9780262037853
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The Qualified Self

Social Media and the Accounting of Everyday Life


Social critiques argue that social media have made us narcissistic, that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube are all vehicles for me-promotion. In The Qualified Self, Lee Humphreys offers a different view. She shows that sharing the mundane details of our lives—what we ate for lunch, where we went on vacation, who dropped in for a visit—didn’t begin with mobile devices and social media. People have used media to catalog and share their lives for several centuries. Pocket diaries, photo albums, and baby books are the predigital precursors of today’s digital and mobile platforms for posting text and images. The ability to take selfies has not turned us into needy narcissists; it’s part of a longer story about how people account for everyday life.

Humphreys refers to diaries in which eighteenth-century daily life is documented with the brevity and precision of a tweet, and cites a nineteenth-century travel diary in which a young woman complains that her breakfast didn’t agree with her. Diaries, Humphreys explains, were often written to be shared with family and friends. Pocket diaries were as mobile as smartphones, allowing the diarist to record life in real time. Humphreys calls this chronicling, in both digital and nondigital forms, media accounting. The sense of self that emerges from media accounting is not the purely statistics-driven “quantified self,” but the more well-rounded qualified self. We come to understand ourselves in a new way through the representations of ourselves that we create to be consumed.

About the Author

Lee Humphreys is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at Cornell University.


The Qualified Self offers a new perspective on how social media users construct and distribute ‘self-portraits’ through media technologies. Lee Humphreys has delivered a truly original revision of ‘mediated memories’ and a much-needed update to the age of connectivity.”
José van Dijck, Distinguished University Professor, Utrecht University; author of Mediated Memories in the Digital Age and The Culture of Connectivity
“Artfully written, The Qualified Self helps us understand that every era comes with its own technologies and modes of storytelling. Technologies become meaningful as they support narratives of who we are and who we would like to be. From diaries to selfies, these stories intimate feeling, experience, being. Lee Humphreys invites us to think about what life could become, if only we used technology to reimagine it.”
Zizi Papacharissi, Professor and Head of the Communication Department; Professor of Political Science, University of Illinois-Chicago
“Lee Humphreys has produced a vivid, significant, and intimate portrait of our media lives. At once rigorous and intensely personal, her research plots a compelling history of social media. Yet she achieves something just as poignant. Analyzing the traces of diary writers long dead, Humphreys’s book is a work of remembrance, letting them speak from their time to ours.”
Esther Milne, Associate Professor of Media and Communications, Swinburne University, Australia; author of Letters, Postcards, Email: Technologies of Presence
“In this quietly persuasive book, Lee Humphreys shows how people use digital communication technologies to document the fugitive traces of experience and to reckon with themselves and each other as they have done for centuries with diaries, letters, and other ephemeral media. The Qualified Self is a powerful and readable account of how mobile devices shape the way we live now.”
Leah A. Lievrouw, Professor of Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles