#SMWLDN – Psychology Day

That wasn’t Social Media Week London’s official name for today, but that is the whole reason why I booked the day off work and made my way down to London (Covent Garden). There were two sessions by psychoanalyst Dr Aaron Balick, whose work I have come to really admire because he focuses on the individual – how people make meaning of their social media experiences, and how our online presence is very much an extension of ourselves, and very rarely our authentic selves. 


The early afternoon session was a joint presentation with Natalie Nahai. Natalie’s portion was fascinating, because she addressed cultural influences on websites, and how websites and social media platforms can be tailored to the cultural norms of its audience. I’ve worked in marketing for a while and am currently working on a website and never thought about this before. 

She used the term ‘culturability’ – the relationship between culture and usability – for this approach. She went through Hofstede’s (2010) cultural dimensions and described how we could use those principles to design websites and use social media to appeal to the culture of the target audience. 

Aaron’s portion of this session, and his session later in the afternoon, covered a lot of similar points so I won’t go through both in turn; i’ll summarise the main points. 

Aaron’s starting point was:

“Psychologically, we discover ourselves in between ourselves and others”.

In other words, who we are is dependent, almost entirely, on how others see us. And this is the basis of his application of psychodynamics to social networking.

Aaron described how our fundamental need as humans is to relate to each other, and social networking and its many platforms allows us to do this more than ever before, however on a much more simplistic level. He pointed out recognition – we all crave recognition, however social media makes recognition as basic as a ‘Like’, a ‘Retweet’ and so on. The complexities of face-to-face recognition – affirmations, validations which are reinforced through eye contact, touch and body language are all bypassed. There is little or no context.

He also related theories of the self – especially the outward facing ego (yes, there was a bit of Freud in there) – with how we present ourselves. What I’m particularly interested in is how this affects our offline relations, and a couple of people in the audience asked that question before I could in the late session. Aaron said that this mode of relating could, eventually, be both good and bad.

At the moment it is concerning that interactions are beginning to get so simplistic and out of context; at what point does this affect how we relate to people ‘IRL’ [in real life]? However, Aaron mentioned the possibility that in years to come, if the stunted online relations do spill over into the offline and become the norm, that it will be just that, the norm, and we will regail our grandchildren with tales of when we used to talk to our family ‘on the landline’, and knock on our friends’ doors for a chat. For me – as someone who grew up without a mobile phone – that is very unsettling. 

Both sessions were very enlightening and made me want to pursue the subject in depth. Aaron kindly gave me a copy of his book, which will definitely provide further insight. 

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About Karen Patel

PhD candidate in social media and cultural work at Birmingham City University.

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