Self portraitsComments

I’ve been listening to a podcast conversation between James Shelley and Patrick Rhone in which they discuss Patrick’s decision to go ”nonline” - defined as:

”No longer found on, made available to, or primarily accessed or contacted through the Internet.”

It doesn’t equate to offline, which implies someone has disconnected completely, just that they won’t be leaving physical traces, such as tweets or blog posts, or engaging in online conversations. A “read only mode” is the great way it’s described.

Patrick explains how he misses the early days of social when status updates meant status updates, they were about what you were doing, where you were - even the clichéd “what you had for lunch” posts.

The argument is that these, as boring or banal as they might seem, are an insight into you as a person and what’s going on in your life. Not retweets of what someone else is doing or saying.

Interestingly, journalling has taken over for him - the analog equivalent of these old status updates - and I can see the obvious extension from one to the other.

Patrick talks of the importance of looking back in order to reflect and remember, something we don’t do on social networks and rarely do, in any proper sense, on blogs.

I always refer to my blog as an ongoing conversation with myself so am often referencing old posts but usually as evidence to back up what I’m currently thinking.

Is that always the most constructive thing?

What I have been doing, however, is going back through the write365 project posts 1 on a regular basis to see what I was saying as they were often intensely personal and reflected my state of mind at the time.

And I think it all ties in with my struggle over pen and paper - not just what I’m writing but how.

While flicking through some of those old posts (they were all written offline and saved to Dropbox) I came across one called “Self portraits” in which I wrote that we...

”are telling our stories day by day here on social networks. The difference is most don't actually realise what we are doing or understand the potential significance of it...”

”We paint a self portrait over the course of months, years...”

and that...

”Our self portraits can only be judged on the paint we have used, the brush strokes and techniques employed, the settings we have placed ourselves in and, ultimately, whether we have signed our work. So, what story do we want to tell? What impression do we want to give?”

Listening to James and Patrick immediately connected, reaffirming the idea that a big problem online is that we are frequently telling the wrong stories.

We can tell the stories we think other people want to hear. We can tell skewed stories as we are often not truly honest with ourselves. We tell other people’s stories rather than our own, without comment, without opinion.

What use are the wrong stories and are we doing ourselves a disservice by telling them?

It’s something I’ve been conscious of for some time but only recently decided to really take proper action on.

I’m tired of telling the wrong story.

  1. The write365 project was my take on writing something, anything, every day for a year. I aimed for an average of 300 words but with no restrictions on what it was about. This was conducted on Google Plus so is no longer available online as I deleted my account. 
Self portraits

Discovering a heroine’s journeyComments

While thinking about Pitch Perfect I thought it might be fun to examine it in the context of "The Hero's Journey" popularised by Joseph Campbell.

The idea is that stories can be linked back to stages in a "monomyth" - a single arc that describes events in just about all tales. Campbell identified 17 distinct stages but it is generally accepted that not all stories will feature all 17 whilst still following the general outline.

I just thought it would be interesting to examine what many would consider a low brow, throwaway movie in this way and see how it matches up. I used a typical template found online to compare it to.

There are obviously going to be some spoilers if you've never watched it.

The ordinary world: Beca, our lead, joins college.

The call to adventure: this comes first in Beca being asked to audition for the Barden Bellas a cappella group, then in her Dad telling her she can have wonderful experiences and make great memories at college. There are also echoes in the repeated attempts by Jesse, the love interest, to get Beca to expand her horizons.

Refusal of the call: Beca first declines to audition, tells her dad she's not interested in college and wants to move to L.A. and also repeatedly rebuffs Jesse.

Meeting with the mentor: this is the shower scene with Chloe where they sing together for the first time.

Crossing the threshold: Beca's reluctant agreement with her father to give college a try for a year, combined with the above shower scene, leading to her audition for the Barden Bellas.

Tests, allies and enemies: allies is obviously the rest of the Bellas, tests is the struggle to find her place in the group when she feels restricted by its leader, Aubrey, and enemies is clearly defined as the rival group The Treblemakers.

The ordeal: improvisation during a performance leads to an argument and Beca leaving the Bellas. There is also a big bust up with Jesse leading her to reassess how she is living.

The road back: Beca's return to the Bellas fuelled by her realisation that she's been pushing people away and needs to do something about it.

The reward: there are a couple of things here - getting to play her music on the college radio station (but this is a bit hollow in the context of the above) and the return to the Bellas in a position of authority. We might also consider her awakening to her mental state as a reward.

The resurrection: when the Bellas turn to Beca and say "what do we do?" thus putting her in charge.

Return with the elixir: Beca and the Barden Bellas winning the a cappella contest.

This may all seem a bit overkill for such a film, and we certainly don't think about this when we sit down to enjoy it, but being able to relate back to such core tenets helps to explain why we do enjoy it and why it works so well as a story.

Discovering a heroine’s journey

Illness, self pity and WarcraftComments

Having been off sick for three weeks now I'm again forced to think about routine and how enforced changes affect my behaviour and state of mind.

I wouldn't say I was wallowing in self pity but I have certainly been sat on the side dangling my feet in the water. My wife jokes if I'd like a ladder to get out of the hole I've dug myself into.

Unlike the last time I was off, I've tried to keep up to date with podcasts but I've also spent more time playing World of Warcraft with the rest of the family.

I tend to go through phases with WoW, when each new expansion is released I am excited to play the new content but, once I reach the new maximum level, this excitement is quick to dissipate.

There are two distinct aspects to #Warcraft: the solo content in which you just complete the quests and level your character, and then the side where you join with others for more advanced content such as dungeons and raids.

(I'm deliberately leaving PvP - player versus player - out of the this as I've never been any good at it.)

Until recently, we had been part of a guild which would spend time together doing raids and trying to advance as far as we could go. This, unfortunately, broke up meaning that if you wanted to play this content you had to join PUGs (Pick Up Groups) to find enough people to play with.

Having played as a tank for years (the character that goes in first, takes all the damage and controls the encounter) I got frustrated with always being the one who was supposed to know everything, even on brand new content, and then getting blamed or kicked from the group when things didn't go right.

So I stopped raiding and even doing the smaller dungeons (designed for five players) focusing instead on just the solo content. But having been part of even a casual raiding guild meant that the solo side just wasn't enough.

While the solo side is okay and it's fun to follow each new storyline, WoW is an inherently social game - the second M in MMORPG stands for Multiplayer, after all. Settling for the solo content in this way (having spent many late nights with fellow guild members trying to complete just one more boss fight) is what causes the excitement to drop off so quickly.

The past week or so, however, we have been spending time as a group diving into the harder levels of dungeons and it's been enormous fun! So much though that we have renamed our small family guild and are looking to open it out to more members so that we can start raiding again.

Not only has this made playing WoW more enjoyable again but also served as a distraction from being ill and given me a much needed psychological boost so that I can towel off my feet and stop feeling quite so sorry for myself.

And they say playing video games is no good for you!

Illness, self pity and Warcraft


Over time I forget a lot of what I've already written. Although each post will be tempered and coloured by new experiences I don't like to repeat myself without adding extra value or insight.

It frustrates me that I have had thoughts and ideas which haven't sunk in, haven't become part of my conscious reasoning.

Perhaps this is the result of writing when tired, when the subconscious comes to the fore and spews out whatever is held within.

That in itself is no bad thing, the unconscious act of creation is perhaps the most honest, the most insightful, but a lasting conscious memory of it would make it more real.

It's almost like trying to adopt the product of my subconscious as though it was an external influence.

It seems strange to think that I am seeking to internalise something that has already come from inside me.

It is the transition from subconscious to conscious that makes it more valid, to take those crazy thoughts and rationalise them under the scrutiny of my externally projected psyche.

It feels weird when these minipiphanies arise from nowhere, thoughts emerging fully formed as though created by another then handed to you.

They don't feel part of you but are actually part of you in the realest sense; a translation from thought to word to truth.

Aligning the internal mechanisms with the external message.

Based on Write365 - 16th June 2014


It’ll be different this time

The clichéd (but incorrect) definition of insanity is to repeatedly display the same behaviour believing it will elicit different results, despite all evidence to the contrary.

It's wrong but it illustrates a point.

I was reminded of this when in a queue to get on the underground. Person after person trying to swipe their card at the barrier only for it not to register. Having failed they were forced to move to another gate.

The next in line sees this happen but thinks, hopes, assumes the problem lay with the previous person's card. Multiple failed swipes later this person, too, has to move on.

And so it continues.

Each individual in the queue with the misguided belief that it will work for them even though they have witnessed what happened to those in front.

How much evidence do we need before we accept it, before we are willing to acknowledge that what should happen just isn't going to?

We are so caught up in the Pavlovian cycle of perform action A, expect result B that we are caught by surprise when result B does not occur. We are temporarily thrown by it, frozen in our disbelief.

How deeply entrenched is our behaviour that we must experience things four, five times, maybe more, before it occurs to us that we must try something else?

Without change this time will not be different.

It’ll be different this time

Jungian archetypes in the social age.Comments

Collective Unconscious - Jungian archetypesDoes the spread and impact of social media allow us to redefine the archetypes behind the core of our personality and behaviour?

Jungian psychology proposes that we take on the traits of established personality archetypes - patterns and images that define our behaviour; derived from the collective unconscious and a counterpart to instinct.

Once an archetype is imprinted upon us it is modified according to the experience of the individual and cultural influence but the archetype remains as the central core to our personality.

Collective unconscious

Does the collective unconscious exist? Is there really a reservoir of primal knowledge and experience that we all tap in to or is it merely a derivation of instinct from prehistoric times?

We might wonder what's the difference?

Are personality archetypes simply a natural product of parental, societal and cultural influence?

If personality traits are reproducible across social, class and cultural barriers then what does it matter where they come from. Just as eusocial species like ants are imprinted with their roles in the colony are we, too, imprinted with a base, instinctual purpose but one which has become diluted due to evolution?

Does social change us?

The rise of social media on a global scale causes us to reassess our interests, our behaviour and our relationships. The meaning of the word "friend" became diluted as our social circles widened and our sphere of influence increased.

Suddenly we are part of a global village with global concepts, global trends and global concerns. Our day-to-day experience is no longer limited by physical location or restricted to a tiny fraction of the population. We share ideas across social and cultural boundaries which would have been previously thought impossible so are we changing?

In the social age are we heading in a more eusocial direction with crowdsourcing turning us into temporary colonies with a natural division of labour according to our archetypes as opposed to enforced division according to power or status?

Knowledge is power

Does direct access to knowledge and the thoughts and experiences of others via social media and the internet now allow us to define new archetypes or redefine our own nature?

If archetypes are modified by parental, social and cultural influence is social media - despite its global impact - merely an additional cultural influence forcing us to remould the archetypes according to our experience?

As we evolve so the collective unconscious should evolve with us; surely, it is not an intransient thing but a fluid amalgam of what it means to be human. With technology and social media changing our thoughts, behaviour and relationships the collective unconscious should, over time, adapt to match the human experience. At what point do we cross a boundary and an existing archetype become sufficiently moulded as to form a new genus?

If we as a species are changing (culturally and intellectually, if not physically) then how long before the traditional archetypes no longer apply?

This post is a rewrite of an original discussion on Google+ here.

Image by Justin Davila, Wikimedia Commons

Jungian archetypes in the social age.

Social media and the needs of the self.Comments

The social web is a place of conflict and excess where we can both hide behind usernames and computer screens to be feared and hated or present ourselves as masters of our art to be loved and revered. What part does 'the mind' play in our social interactions? 

When I wrote that participation on different types of social service may be constrained by our own vanity Will Berard directed me to a post where he compares our behaviour and needs on social networks to our needs and wants with regards to food.

While the side of our social interactions governed by vanity is, generally, undesirable it can be said to mirror our food consumption habits where we are repeatedly brought back by our cravings:

very much like eating, nature chose its wiring in the most basic fashion, associating the reward not with the actual thing that's good for you (a healthy, balanced intake of calories/meaningful construction of social relationship), but with a "shortcut" that works just as well (the taste of sweet/fatty foods, or superficial social validation).

This connection and our attitude toward the rewards from social media immediately brought to mind the battle fought within ourselves in Sigmund Freud's model of the psyche.

The Freudian mind

MindFreud proposed that the mind is composed of three 'constructs': the id, the ego and the super-ego which control aspects of our behaviour and are often in conflict.

The id

The unorganized part of the personality structure that contains a human's basic, instinctual drives. It is unconscious by definition and drive us according to the pleasure principle as we seek short-term, instant gratification.

The ego

The ego acts in accordance with the reality principle and serves to satisfy the needs of the id in realistic ways. It looks for longer term satisfaction and sets up defensive mechanisms to keep us from harm. It is very much the piggy-in-the-middle, coping with the real world around us whilst trying to temper the animalistic urges of the id and the ideals of the super-ego

The super-ego

The super-ego strives for perfection and is our narcissistic drive. It aims for us to realise the image of ourselves that we want to become and introduces a sense of guilt when we do not achieve it.

The social mind

We can equate each of Freud's constructs with elements of our conduct on social services:

  • Id - instant gratification, the need for Likes, +1s and ReTweets, the desire for "affection" regardless of the consequences - "everybody friend me"
  • Ego - longer term planning, building a community to act as a foundation from which we can achieve those Likes and ReTweet's, having to interact with those in our community and relate to them as individuals so as to maintain those friendships
  • Super-ego - the part that only wants to talk about ourselves, the aspect that drives us to create, to blog so that we can achieve the state of perfection in our craft irrespective of others

As in our offline lives, we must achieve a balance in order to function within the generally accepted "rules" of the social web. We cannot endlessly seek out new friends online to satisfy the needs of our psyche so how can we relate all this to our normal relationships?

What of Dunbar?

Our ancestors had a physical need to gather in trusted groups for more effective hunting and greater protection. Base instinctual needs of these groups were consistent with the id-controlled mind: eat, reproduce, survive - all requiring instant solutions. As they evolved and settled so survival became easier and the relationships between individuals altered and started to become more social than functional.

The relative luxury of modern life and technology means that we no longer have this physical need for grouping (although as a species we still need to reproduce) but, instead, we have more a mental need to connect to avoid the psychological and emotional effects of isolation - we are social animals after all.

As children we are born with an id-controlled mind, instinct tells us to feed, to grow, to survive. As we become more cognisant so we learn, and are taught, that society demands the more ego-driven approach to social interaction and we each undergo our own mini evolution.

As we have previously seen, our capacity to create strong, intimate bonds doesn't scale and our relationships are more fleeting the larger our social circles extend. Consequently, the type of connections we establish with others via a social network will resonate with a different aspect of our personality.

Our closest relationships, described by Dunbar as existing within the smaller Circles of Acquaintanceship, are regulated very much by the ego as we seek to make and maintain those friendships by empathising with others, tolerating their views and interacting with them as equals.
Circles of Acquaintanceship

On a more frivolous note we can cast the net of our informal connections much wider and achieve the core, instinctive needs of the id via these extended connections; the selfishness of wanting others to like us (receiving +1s, and ReTweets) allows us to cultivate this form of affection without offering anything in response.

Our vanity sometimes gets the better of us and the super-ego takes over which triggers the notion that some may not wish to be absorbed by a topic and lose their sense of self. In such a scenario it is felt that the super-ego hits a wall and the id is denied direct gratification.


It is the role of the ego to show us that "social gratification" can be achieved in a controlled, measured way without the bingeing and any subsequent feeling of guilt (thus placating the id) and that by volunteering ourselves to the greater good we can, potentially, achieve a sense of perfection by using the platform of the topic to improve on our creative skills but within its framework.

The different social platforms available will serve to feed the requirements of each aspect of our psyche:

  • the quick-fire social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Google+) supply instant gratification with Likes, +1s etc. and the selfish gathering of as many friends as possible or gloating over a high Klout score
  • blogs are traditionally the realm of the super-ego where we exist in our self-made playground to do what we will and perfect our vision of ourselves - or at least our works.
  • the new breed of service such as Branch and Medium, however, serve to bring us back to the rational ego, the middle ground where we can still hone our craft and receive the plaudits of our peers but in a more controlled, and less narcissistic, environment.

It is undesirable to obsess over follower numbers, influence measurement and number of re-shares so, while these things can be useful, we should aim to keep the id in check and not let them govern our social experience. Similarly, it is good to write and share our opinion but the narcissisic super-ego must not be allowed to control our behaviour or we will find our 'friends' drifting away.


As individuals, and as a species, we have gone from the instinct driven, id-controlled behaviour once essential to the survival of our ancestors to the more ego-controlled mindset required by modern society. We are still, however, at the mercy of both our instinctual urges and the perfection of self required by Freud's super-ego.

As we try to resist the base urges of the id and achieve a sense of ease with stepping out of the limelight then, perhaps, we can truly say that both we, and the social web, have truly evolved.

Social media and the needs of the self.