As a narrative analysts, I am fascinated by stories, especially those we tell about who we are. These stories serve to represent ourselves to the world around us as well as provide a tool to make sense of our place in the worlds we inhabit.

Giddens (1990) suggests that self-identity is not a set of traits or observable characteristics, but rather a person’s own reflexive understanding of their biography (53). Linde (1993) refers to the such everyday narrative acts as “life stories” in which people make sense of their sense of self through the act of telling stories about who they are to others. She points out that our life story is not static, but always evolving as we tell new stories. Thus, people re-story the self with each new telling.

It should be noted that these storytelling practices do not happen in isolation such that our sense of self is defined solely by the stories we want to tell. Instead, identity is co-constructed through narrative practices, with our identity being defined in storytelling acts that rely on the interaction between the storyteller and the listener, as they negotiate meaning through telling, listening, and conversing–re-storying the self collaboratively.

When considering the case of online dating, stories about the self are an integral aspect of the communicative practices that lead to connection, as demonstrated by the advertisement for the Okcupid website. As people opt to enter the online dating world, the first step is to set up a profile–a digital life story, so to speak, that is adapted to the technological constraints of each platform.

OKC Dating Better Profile Prompt 2 Women

These m/e-stories are multimodal–integrating text, image, and technology–to represent and communicate a desirable self. This self-branding through multimodal stories is fluid, often co-constructed, and intricately mediated by digital technology as my current research intends to show. Stay tuned…


Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and self-identity. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Linde, C. (1993). Life stories: the creation of coherence. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.






Seeking young hotties

It is not just a cliche to say that men go for younger women–a trend that carries over to the online dating world. In fact, the data confirms the frustrated statement that I heard in a recent interview with a woman in her 50’s who said:

“All these old guys think they should have a young hottie and they are missing out on quality relationships with women in their own age range!”

I have heard this sentiment echoed by women over 50 who are looking for a committed relationship with a man close to their age.

One of the problems with online dating for older women is that age is used as both an identity label and a filtering tool in apps. This means that if men over 50 are seeking women the same age or younger, women close to their age will be less salient in their dating pool–even those that may be only one year older. Moreover, if people set their age filters at increments at decade and mid-decade points then it is likely that once a woman hits 50 she may experience a drop in potential men seeking her out and again at 55, then 60, and so on.

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A closer look at the data on gender differences in online dating habits shows that the phenomena of seeking younger partners is not the biggest obstacle facing middle-aged women in the dating pool. Since men are openly “seeking” women close to their age until about 70 years old, one might suggest that the possibility of a woman finding someone close to her age still exists–though it may be more of a crap shoot.

The problem is just who men are open to connecting with, but rather who they opt to communicate with. When looking at who men contact and reply to, men consistently go younger, and the age range increases as they get older. In their 20’s, men are seeking women within 5 years either direction, but contact and reply to those younger–albeit only by 1 or 2 years.  Throughout middle age, men reach out to women that are 5 years younger, and actually reply to women that are 1-3 years younger. So while men may be open to younger women–and may even desire them, their communicative practices suggest that they chat with women just a little bit younger.

If you were paying attention to the chart presented here, you might also notice that men are not the only ones who are seeking younger partners. While it is true that men skew younger throughout their life span, the data shows that once woman hit middle age they also increasingly seek  and contact younger partners. However, when it comes to the communication point, women reply to men the same age or  slightly older until they hit their 70s, and then they too are all about the young hotties…5 years their junior.


Fiore, A. T., Taylor, L. S., Zhong, X., Mendelsohn, G. A., & Cheshire, C. (2010). Who’s Right and Who Writes: People, Profiles, Contacts, and Replies in Online Dating. In 2010 43rd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences(HICSS) (pp. 1–10). https://doi.org/10.1109/HICSS.2010.444

Taxonomy of the Selfie

When we think of the “selfie” most of us imagine a close-up self-portrait, taken with a mobile phone, at arms length and just above eye-level (to hide the double chin), and posted on social media. But it turns out that isn’t the only type of selfie.

In the field of multimodal discourse analysis, researchers are pushing our understanding of what constitutes this self-portraiture.

Michele Zappavigna and Sumin Zhao have written a number of pieces on the visual genre of the selfie through their analyses of mommyblogs on Instagram, arguing that selfies are more than mere representations of a self, but also enactments of (inter)subjectivity.

Zappavigna, M. & Zhao, S. (2017). Selfies in ‘mommyblogging’: An emerging visual genreDiscourse, Context and Media (Special issue on media evolution and genre expectations). 20, 239-247.

Zhao, S. & Zappavigna, M. (2017). Beyond the self: Intersubjectivity and the social semiotic interpretation of the selfieNew Media and Society. 20(5), 1735-1754.

Zappavigna M. (2016). Social media photography: construing subjectivity in Instagram imagesVisual Communication.15(3), 271-92.

Their research has also looked at social photography to create a taxonomy of selfies; they identify four subgenres (presented, mirrored, inferred and implied selfies) that rely upon the photographer’s perspective rather than just the photographers face as the object to be gazed up.

Using this framework, a selfie is a photo that invites viewers to see the photographer, as captured by the self, or see what the photographer is seeing, as if through their eyes. In this way, the selfie is not a portrait of the self, but photos seen through the perspective of a self.

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What does this mean for connecting in the digital age?

Well, if we move beyond simple critiques of the selfie as a reflection of narcissism we can ask more complex questions about how photography is linked to communicative practices in the digital age and how nuanced notions of the virtual self serve sociality in a variety of ways.

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