For my thesis project at ITP, I built The Adventures of Teen Bloggers, a creative-nonfiction graphic adventure that lets you become a real teen blogger from the heyday of LiveJournal.
With the project, I want to highlight the tension between the value our online data has as historical documents and the embarrassment we feel about the things we shared in a prior phase of our lives.
Upon starting the game, players are asked to pick a LiveJournal account. Any extant LiveJournal is a playable character in the game, though I encourage players to play with their own account if they had one. Players are then placed in a high school hallway, where they must navigate the world only saying things that their selected LiveJournal user wrote on their blog.
The game is a work in progress as I continue to research online archiving. Specific next steps are outlined on Github; the source code for the project is there as well. You can play the game here.
Below is the presentation I gave on the project during ITP’s Thesis Week.
My thesis project continues to evolve as I explore the world of online adolescence. I rewrote my thesis proposal statement, originally posted here, to better address the “big ideas” I want to address. Here it is:
It can be uncomfortable to revisit adolescent journals, now knowing that they were often nothing more than vapid rants. However, they served a purpose: to establish a sense of self and to define the author’s identity both to him/herself and – in an online world – to the public. The public nature of blogging sites old and new help to reinforce this. Furthermore, it enables us, as adults, to recall this transitional adolescent identity in a way that previous generations have not. What does it mean that I can pull up 14-year-old Sam with only a few clicks? That, as a child of the internet era, I am never far from an earlier version of myself?
Sarah suggested I use people’s old online journals to allow them to talk to their adolescent selves, so now I’ve started to explore chatbots. Chatbots have been around for decades, from ELIZA in 1966 to the chatbot that I think most of my peers would remember from their adolescence: SmarterChild. With the ultimate goal of using the corpus of old blog entries to enable a conversation with your prior online self, I’m now building “a chatbot a day” to give me a feel for the capabilities of chatbots and how people want to interact with them. You can talk to my chatbots here.
Sam’s Amazing List is a web-based essay that, through expositions, interviews, videos and photographs, revisits and responds to an online journal I kept at age 14.Using web standards (HTML, CSS & JS), I will create an immersive online personal essay that uses archived websites, video, audio and other media (produced by me) to explore the role of the internet in adolescence through the lens of the original Sam’s Amazing List, a website I maintained on Geocities during my freshman year of high school.
The form of the story will use web tools old and new. I will conduct interviews with old friends. Readers will be able to log in to their old accounts on bygone websites in situ so our internet histories are entwined. I will create vignettes relating to people, places and events noted on the original Sam’s Amazing List and incorporate them into the essay. Ultimately, the essay will be presented as a single-page immersive web experience that embraces the internet as both subject and object.
In recent weeks, I’ve been researching topics relevant to this project:
- Analysis of the adolescent psyche, specifically the “imaginary audience” / “personal fable” theories and research specific to web-based self-expression in adolescence.
- Looking at internet history by conversing with peers about experiences on the web and performing exercises in which I document my initial reactions to my old websites.
- Exploring and prototyping new forms of online storytelling with sites like MetaFilter and tools like TouchCast as inspiration for ways to present rich annotation. I’ve also built prototypes to that end.
I’ll be posting updates here as I enter the production phase of the project.