Today, I participated in a panel at the American Group Psychotherapy Association annual conference on what social media means for group psychotherapy. I had a good time, even thought it was a short session, and I hope people got a lot out of it.
There is a lot I could write about the day, getting up early, walking through New York, what I did afterward. Maybe when I have a little more time, I will.
However, I wanted to think for a moment about the groups I am in. Of course, for most of us the first group we belong to is our family. For some the focus might be more on the nuclear family, for others it might be more extended, but it is a group we start with. We are members of groups tied to our education. I am a member of a small group of people that went to Broad Brook school in the mid sixties. I am a member of a larger group of people that went to Mount Greylock Regional High School in the seventies. Some of these group ties are fairly weak now, others remain fairly strong.
As I think about social media, there are about 2900 different groups that I am part of in Twitter. For each person that I follow, I am a member of the group of followers of that person. Some of these groups might be small or median sized groups. Some might be large groups, or even beyond what people in Group Therapy think about as large groups. Likewise, I’m in around1900 different friends groups on Facebook. These are different than the official Facebook groups, but they have their own characteristics.
Another group that I am part of is those who have not crossed Brooklyn Ferry. I’ve walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, I’ve sailed underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, but I never took a ferry from Brooklyn to Manhattan. On the one hand, this group might seem so large that it is meaningless. A smaller group is those who have read Walt Whitman’s poem about Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence, are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.
Well, I have crossed from shore to shore years hence, but not on the ferry. Yet with Whitman, it is a group in my meditations.
So, what groups are you part of?
How do you see yourself? How do others see you? How would you like others to see you? There are not new questions brought in by Facebook and the Internet, however the way we approach them may be changing as a result of the Internet.
I started thinking about this when a new member joined a mailing list of Group Psychotherapists that I read. Besides the welcomes and as part of the good natured joking, the new member was asked how we knew who the new member really was. I piled on saying that we can’t really be sure about who some one is until we’ve checked their Facebook page.
There are many older members of the mailing list who are not on Facebook and responded with comments like “I guess one can’t be sure of who I am or whether I truly exist because I am not on Facebook.” The discussion waxed philosophical and folks pondered not whether a person exists, but where they exist. One person asked if people exist in the group’s mind or the mind of individuals in a group. This lead to the great sentiment about people existing in the hearts of those that love them.
All of this resonates closely to me as I glance at the book “Samuel Mendelsson: A Man Who Must Not Be Forgotten” sitting next to my computer. It is the story of a man who died during The Holocaust and was given to me by his great granddaughter, a noted therapist on the list whose friendship I have come to cherish. Samuel Mendelsson, as far as I know, does not exist on Facebook. He exists in different books and in the hearts of those that loved him.
The same applies to my Aunt Susie who passed away last week. Yesterday was her funeral and I had been asked to read my blog post reflecting on her life. I learned about her death from her grandchildren on Facebook. Susie never had a Facebook page, but she is memorialized on Facebook and in the hearts of many.
Yet it is not only in memorials that we exist in Facebook. The new member responded “You gave me great awareness and questions about how I show up to the world on face book. needless to say I thank you for the chance to take a closer look at me. FB Revisions are pending.” Another friend of mine is a young high school teacher, the kind that all the students worship and want to be friends with. I heard him speak once about how he handles Facebook friend requests from some of these students. He reads over the student’s Facebook pages very closely. If he finds inappropriate behavior, he highlights it to the student explaining that he would like being friends with the student on Facebook, but he can’t because of the inappropriate behavior. It might jeopardize both the student and his own career. Many students have cleaned up their profiles as a result of this and thought more about how they wish to be perceived by others and how they present themselves online.
The discussion brought out another new member of the list who works with adolescents who suffer from eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and body image concerns. It made me stop and wonder how these adolescents portray themselves online. How do they view themselves? How do others view them? How do they wish to be viewed? The same old questions in a new format.
It would seem as if this could lead nicely into other topics, like cyber-bullying. Another topic that it might lead nicely into are the cartoon images many Pinay mommy bloggers have of themselves online. They don’t look Philippino. One Pinay mommy blogger wrote an interesting blog post about why skin whitening lotions are so popular there. How do these Pinay mommies view themselves? How do others view them? How do they wish to be viewed? Yet another version of the same set of questions.
I don’t have any great insights to offer. Perhaps some of my friends will have that to share. Yet these seem like important questions to be thinking about.
This is a question posed in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about the Heroic Imagination Project. It is a new project founded by Dr. Philip Zimbardo. Dr. Zimbardo is perhaps best know for his work leading the famous Stanford Prison Study.
The Heroic Imagination Project website says,
What leaves so many people silent and paralyzed in the face of injustice or physical peril? Is heroic behavior a rare exception to the norms of human nature?
We at the Heroic Imagination Project believe the answer is absolutely not. We believe heroism can be learned by example and reinforced with practice.
Yet an article in The Telegraph in February of last year has a different story. It is about a presentation given by Professor Deane Aikins, a psychiatrist at Yale University, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting. He asserted that “Heroes are born not made” based on a study which found “some people just naturally have more grace under fire”.
All of this is very interesting to me. After all, what is “a hero”? Joseph Campbell, in his book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” presents the idea of the monomyth, the basic pattern found in many stories about heroes. Perhaps ‘hero’ is a literary and social construct.
As I discussed this with friends, one person noted there are women are less frequently presented as heroic exemplars, and that perhaps the concept of a ‘hero’ is not only a literary and social construct, but it is a construct of a patriarchal society. My friend pointed to Miriam Polster’s book, Eve’s Daughters: The Forbidden Heroism of Women. In a subsequent email, she cited the definition of hero from Wikipedia, “A hero is a person who performs extraordinary deeds for the benefit of others.”
This returns us nicely to the idea of “hero” as a social construct. What is extraordinary? What people from one group might consider extraordinary, people from another group might find ordinary, and perhaps many people go through their daily lives doing what seems ordinary to themselves while people around them find what they are doing extraordinary.
Another friend responded that perhaps heroes are realized. I like this idea. Therapy can be a means of helping people recognize their own heroism. Helping people to write, to find their voices can be a means of helping people recognize their own heroism. Such recognition can inspire others to move beyond the ordinary as well.
This friend also raised for me the question of how Zimbardo’s latest effort is really that different than encouraging people to practice random acts of kindness.
Whether it is ordinary or extraordinary, recognized or not, or labeled heroic, encouraging people to be a little kinder and show a little more compassion is something we all ought to be doing.
I’ve always been interested in the positive aspects of computer games. In previous years, I’ve covered Games for Change on my blog. I’ve spent a bit of time in virtual worlds, from the text based MOOs to Second Life and OpenSim. I’ve kicked around OpenCobalt a little and explored virtual worlds from my cellphone.
Part of what I like about things like MOOs, OpenSim and OpenCobalt is that they are worlds that the users can construct themselves, and I believe that this sort of construction has some great educational potential. It is part of what went into what I’ve always told my kids about being allowed to play any computer game that they could write.
I’ve also been very interested in the potential of virtual worlds for therapeutic purposes. Recently, the New York Times ran an article In Cybertherapy, Avatars Assist With Healing. It captures some of the potential for virtual worlds in therapy. The article mentions the CyberTherapy 2011 conference next June in Canada. It looks like an interesting conference and I’m starting to read through some of the material to see if people I know will be presenting.
On the other hand, I’ve been less interested in social gaming. FarmVille just hasn’t captured my attention. What did capture my attention, however, was a request from a friend of Facebook to join CityVille.
Carlos Miranda Levy sent me the invite. is currently Social Entrepreneur in Residence at National University of Singapore. He has also been Information Society Development Consultant at the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and a 2004-2005 Google Fellow with the Digital Vision Program at Stanford University. His bio at the Digital Vision Program describes him as follows
Carlos Miranda Levy is an Information Technologies Consultant with wide experience on developing ICT strategies for development, education and e-government. A social entrepreneur, developer, and founder of a network of Latin American virtual communities and local, educational, environmental, and cultural websites, Carlos was selected by CNN in 2000 as one of Latin America's Internet 20 most influential people. He has undertaken extensive research and work with educators, education, and human development.
It was enough to make me sit up and take notice. Is Zynga moving its social games in the direction of games for change and social entrepreneurship? Could something similar be done for the health care industry?
If I could find a way to play CityVille without it sucking up all my time and productivity and without it spamming my Facebook wall, I just might check it out.
Yet let me end this off with a very different twist. I’ve been reading a bit of the discussion about WikiLeaks. The best comment I’ve found so far came Josh Wilson. Josh compared the whole story line of Wikileaks with stories coming straight out of Neal Stephenson or William Gibson. Josh talks about cyberwarfare going on. It led me back to thinking about the old movie War Games.
“Shall we play a game?”
“Love to, How about WikiLeaks?”
“Wouldn't you prefer a nice game of CityVille?”
“Later. Let's play WikiLeaks”
The U.S. Declaration of Independence says, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. It is an idea that goes back to the social contract. We live in society with other people and we establish social contracts that govern that society and, ideally, keeps things running smoothly. People will argue many nuances of the social contract. Brought forward to the language of the twenty-first century, there people may ask if it is an opt-in or opt-out contract. Do we need to read and agree with the fine print, or is simply not revolting an implicit agreement.
Yet our social contracts go much further than just our relationship with a government. In the United States, we have a Federalist system where we are in a national social contract and state social contracts and then there are contracts between the states and the Federal government.
People join together in other social contracts to create churches, corporations and other organizations, and contracts between the governments and these organizations also come into play. Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments concerning the relationship between the State of Arizona, the U.S. Government, and corporations licensed to do business in Arizona. While most people are looking at this in terms of the implications for immigration, I’m especially interested in this in terms of what it means to all these different contracts.
Many of us assent to different social contracts on a regular basis as we click on the line about agreeing with the terms of service of various websites, probably most often, without ever reading those terms.
Getting closer to home, I’ve entered into an agreement with an organization. I will provide my expertise, on a full time basis, in exchange for money and benefits. It’s called getting a job. Beyond the simple agreement to be employed, there are other agreements in play.
One such agreement is about how social media and Internet Communications Technology is used. The other day, I sent out a request to friends for examples of these agreements from other corporations and received a great list. Now, I’m going over them to talk with my co-workers about how we can improve our agreements about social media.
As I thought about this, I pondered other agreements that people enter into. One agreement is a contract that patients assent to when they start group psychotherapy. The goal of this agreement is to provide a framework that will help patients work together to address issues in their lives.
This morning, I sent off an email to the group psychotherapy mailing list asking if they could share examples of some of these contracts. The question I am pondering: Can we learn from therapeutic contracts and bring some of the ideas into our other agreements? Can we do this in such a way that our actions within the broader society can also become more therapeutic? Can, or should we, assent to be civil online, or in our interactions with governments?