Newsletter Spotlight: Beth Coleman

Photograph of Beth Coleman

Who is Beth Coleman?  

Beth Coleman is a professor of Experimental Digital Media and the director of the City as Platform Lab. She is also the author of Hello Avatar and a specialist in digital media, race theory, game culture, and literary studies. She is the co-founder of SoundLab Cultural Alchemy, which is an internationally acclaimed multimedia art and sound platform. Coleman has a history of international exhibition including venues such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, New Museum of Contemporary Art, and Musée d’Art Moderne Paris [1].

Coleman joined the University of Waterloo’s English department from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Comparative Media Studies. She contributes to areas in critical media, media arts, and game studies, while strengthening departmental expertise in the study of digital media and the creator of a number of digital projects.

Here at the University of Waterloo, Beth Coleman co-directs the Critical media Lab, participates in the Rhetoric and Professional Writing major as well as the Master of Arts in Experimental Digital Media (XDX). Coleman is on the executive committee of the uWaterloo Games Institute, where she organizes research and design projects on Internet of Things, Smart Cities, and Immersive Design [2].

What drew Beth Coleman to study English literature and digital media?

Coleman feels English literature and digital media help us reflect on the world, even if it is not the one we inhabit. She says by studying English Literature it helps gain knowledge on how to talk about the world. By studying English literature and digital media, it allows you to see how you appear in this world and understand how media affects the way you use language.

What is an avatar?

In Hello Avatar, Beth defines an avatar as:

"Incarnation of a deity in mortal form, often as a hero (Hindu); a computer-generated figure animated by player or participant in online media context, such as a virtual world; the gestalt of images, text, and multimedia that facilitate presence in networked media(187)."

Coleman does not just mean animated figures when she describes an avatar. She describes an online identity in the form of email, video chat, and other digital artifacts [3]. The history of the “avatar” originates in the ancient Sanskrit language of Hinduism.

The ten avatars of the hindu god Vishnu

Coleman writes in Hello Avatar:

“Over time, in English language, avatar came to stand for a mode of allegory-figural representation. And now most recently, in the wake of the creation of computer-generated interactive figures, the avatar is the digital embodiment that represents us in the networked forum."(Hello Avatar: Rise of the Networked Generation, 2011)

What is X-reality?

X-reality is a word coined by Beth Coleman to refer to this world of pervasive mediation that encompasses the virtual and the real. In her investigation of X-reality, Coleman describes the mutual impact of real and mediated engagement in our daily practices enabled by networked media[4].

In Hello Avatar, Coleman defines X-reality as:

"A continuum of exchanges between virtual and real spaces. Pervasive media use defines a world that is no longer either virtual or real but representative of a diversity of network combinations.” (Hello Avatar: Rise of the Networked Generation, 2011)

Coleman said in a TedxMiddlebury talk (Beth Coleman-Hello Avatar: Your Networked Life):

"I use the term X-reality to signal that we are no longer roleplaying online, trying out identities as it has been proposed, but rather, that we have harnessed the power of online networks to build the world we would like to see. That it is a real world we are building is clear; that this real world includes all kinds of technological mediation is also clear. In this sense, X-reality is a break from prior theories of online engagement[5]."

What is Hello Avatar about?

Coleman was inspired to write Hello Avatar because she was obsessed with people using different visual figures; this idea that a particular icon represents you based on your username.

In Hello Avatar Coleman examines a crucial aspect of our cultural shift from analog to digital: the continuum between online and off-line, what she calls the “X-reality”.

She looks at the emergence of a world that is neither virtual nor real but encompasses a multiplicity of network combinations. She argues that it is the role of the avatar to help us express our new agency and our new power to customize our networked life.

Exploring such network activities as embodiment, extreme (virtual) violence, and the work in virtual reality labs, and offering sidebar interviews with designers and practitioners, she argues that what is new is real-time collaboration and co-presence, the way we make connections using networked media and the cultures we have created around this.

The star of this drama of expanded horizons is the networked subject who is all of that that represent aspects of our work and ourselves across the mediascape. [6]

City as platform: Beth Coleman at TEDxEast

​TedxMiddlebury-Beth Coleman-Hello Avatar: Your Networked Life


[1] COLLABORATORS. (n.d.). Retrieved from

[2] Beth Coleman. (2016, January 08). Retrieved from

[3] Coleman, B. (2011, November 03). Hello Avatar. Retrieved from

[4] Coleman, B. (n.d.). Digital Icon. Retrieved from

 [5] T. (2010, October 14). TEDxMiddlebury - Beth Coleman - Hello Avatar: Your Networked Life. Retrieved from

 [6] Coleman, B. (n.d.). Hello Avatar: Rise of the Networked Generation. Retrieved from