Algorithms and the narration of past selves

Benjamin N. Jacobsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper argues that the social power of algorithms comes to the
fore through the narratives they generate about individuals.
Proposing the notion of ‘algorithmic emplotment’, the article
showcases the ways in which algorithms construct and tell
narratives about us, participating in shaping people’s encounters
with the world and their perceptions of it. The concept denotes
the processes through which data, people, experiences, and
complex temporalities are ordered, woven together, and
presented as coherent, frictionless narratives in the present.
Through an analysis of the smartphone feature called Apple
Memories, the paper seeks to highlight the narratives algorithms
tell, how they are constructed, and the potential impacts they
may have on everyday life. The concept of algorithmic
emplotment is used to scrutinise the ways in which people’s lives
are rendered sequential, ordered, and ultimately meaningful and
actionable by algorithmic processes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
JournalInformation, Communication & Society
VolumeDOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2020.1834603
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Algorithm
  • automation
  • Apple Memories
  • emplotment
  • narrative
  • machine learning


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