The Self at the Intersection of Podcamps and Group Psychotherapy #PCCT #AGPA

Note: This blog post started as a message to a mailing list of Group Psychotherapists and has been adapted.

Yesterday was PodcampCT, an unconference about podcasting and social media that I helped organize. It was also the fourth anniversary of my first message on Twitter. I spent the day talking with many people, face to face, about the role of social media in their lives. In one of the discussions, I even brought up the line I often quote from one of the keynotes at the American Group Psychotherapy Association (AGPA) annual conference in Washington, "The self exists at the intersection of our internal neural networks and our external social networks."

It seems to me that there is something important in the idea of thinking about the types of relationships that we have as a result of online social networks. As I write this, I have 1,775 Facebook friends, 3,128 followers on Twitter where I am following 2,910 people. When I have time I try to read at least 300 different blogs a day, and get at least one blog post written each day. The stream of incoming emails is endless and many go unread.

Yes, the self exists at the intersection of our internal neural networks and our external social networks, and for me, that is a very busy intersection.

The British Anthropologist Robin Dunbar, has proposed a theoretical limit to the number of people that we can maintain stable social relationships. The work was based on studies of limits to group sizes and Dunbar suggests is based on the size of the neo-cortex. The exact number varies, but is typically presented as around 150, although Dunbar's work does also explore tribes in the 500-2500 member range.

Are my connections online more tribal than an indication of stable social relationship? Or, has online technology given us the ability to maintain multiple groups of stable social relationships? e.g. In writing this message, I'm stepping into the Group Psychotherapy group of stable social relationships after spending yesterday in the Connecticut Social Media
Enthusiasts group of stable social relationships?

What does all of this do to my 'self'. Is it more fractured? Is it richer? Some combination of both? How does this relate to people coming into small therapeutic groups? How are they changing and what is changing about what they bring into a group?

On top of this, what role does machine mediation take place. I was struck by a journal entry where the writer talked about calling people on the phone instead of contacting them via email. Later, in the entry she spoke about how Facebook has produced a new form of relating to people through a machine. This really struck me. Calling someone on a telephone is also relating to them through a machine. Actually, through a collection of machines, and these days, more and more of the machines involved in transmitting the audio signal from one telephone to another are computers.

Last month, there was an interesting article on NPR about functional connectivity MRIs. They are being used to better understand what is going on with autistic children. Instead of measuring the brain size of children, researchers have been focusing on the connections in the brain. The broadcast spoke about how some connections grow and others are pruned away as brains grow, but that process seems to get delayed for children with autism and some other developmental disorders.

What particularly struck me was about how autistic brains do not function as well because of abnormal retained connections all over the place. Does this say something about how we should be managing our social networks? Was the writer of the journal entry who was unsubscribing to many of her mailing lists on to something important?

I have not unsubcribed from many of the mailing lists that I am on, but I am selective about which emails I read and how closely I read them. I still read the Group Psychotherapy list fairly closely, but often with a little bit of a delay. I often simply glance at the title or author of emails on other lists before simply deleting them, and if I find the percentage of interesting emails I'm getting on some list drops below a specific threshhold, I unsubscribe. I have multiple email addresses and go for long periods without checking some of the email accounts.

Yes, I do believe the self exists at the intersection of our internal neural networks and our external social networks. Online social media has made that intersection very busy for many of us. Changes in technology will cause this to continue to evolve and our means of handling this and what it does to our 'selves' need to evolve as well.

Thoughts? Comments?