Biography, Communication and Media Studies, Cultural Studies, Life Writing

Coda: Data Generation

20.09.15 | Comment?

Auto/biography is just one of many disciplines that have been deeply influenced by advances in digital media and computing, and that have required new theoretical approaches to help understand the changes. As I have argued elsewhere, however, it may be that the digital revolution has had a more profound effect on biography and life writing than on any other branch of literature, perhaps any branch of the arts. In the 1990s, personal web pages and chatrooms offered new modalities for public and private expression that greatly facilitated life writing; this was a transformational period, opening up possibilities that have been multiplying ever since. In today’s era of ubiquitous computing and an increasingly data-driven global society, the Web has evolved to be an interface to a deeper layer of stores and flows of data that can be made manifest in many ways, in different views, and on any number of devices.

The words “virtual” and “cyber” once named a parallel space and set up a distinction between “online” and “offline.” One “logged in” to the Internet, a conscious move to open the vortex to digital information. Now, with always-on Internet services and the rise of what is known as the Internet of Things (IOT), for many people there is no longer a gateway to open, a barrier to cross—no longer a real world and a virtual world, only the integrated one. While these developments have given us ready access to proliferating stores of information that can help us better understand our world (the data analytic possibilities for research are practically endless), they are also shaping it, influencing our thinking and our behavior and thus playing a role in constructing our identities—online and offline.


Arthur, Paul Longley. ‘Coda: Data Generation,’ in ‘Online Lives 2.0,’ ed. John Zuern and Laurie McNeill, special issue, Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly 38, no. 2 (2015): 312-20.

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Paul Arthur is Vice-Chancellor’s Professorial Research Fellow and Chair in Digital Humanities and Social Sciences, at Edith Cowan University, Western Australia. He speaks and publishes widely on major challenges and changes facing 21st-century society, from the global impacts of technology on communication, culture and identity