Written by UKCP member Aaron Balick
It finally happened. We saw Mark Zuckerberg in front of the American Congress, apologising for the whole Cambridge Analytica fiasco. That, alongside Facebook’s apparently inadvertent part in the distribution of fake news possibly resulting in the UK election tipping towards Leave and the US election tipping towards Trump. This was all unveiled over the past 18 months by Guardian and Observer columnist Carole Cadwalladr. I have written and spoken about this from the psychological.
The question that arises is why do we (or most of us, anyway) continue to use social media with such frequency despite the irrefutable fact that social media companies collect gigabytes of data about us for their own financial gain? I have investigated the psychological motivation for social networking in my book The Psychodynamics of Social Networking: connected-up instantaneous culture and the self. In a nutshell, I have found that social media operates out of our deepest unconscious motivations to relate and show up to others.
In a recent interview with BBC Brazil, I go into a bit more detail about how my thoughts have developed since the book was published in 2014. However, I was aware when writing it that technology moves very quickly which risked making the book obsolete very quickly. For this reason, I future-proofed it by focussing on the psychological processes underlying the networks rather than the networks themselves; though the main networks I did look at, Facebook and Twitter, continue to be the big players.
The main psychological processes are our egoic motivation to “show up” in the world, and our relational desires to be connected to others. The first is bound up in our identities – the posts we share, the things we like, and the photos we upload to Instagram are representations of our egos and identities. The second is bound up in our inherent need for attachment – to reach out and connect to others. On a social network like Facebook, we find ourselves connecting to others through our online identities as constructed by our egos through a process I call “leaning out”.
Facebook has become the virtual tool through which we deploy and maintain many of our relationships. It has not only become a currency of relating, but also a psychological extension of our relational selves. That’s why we’re not giving it up. For most of us, it has become embedded in the very way that we relate – and the younger you are, the more likely this is to be so.
The consequences of the data that companies collect on ourselves can seem distant and inconsequential. When our immediate aim is to express ourselves and connect with others, we don’t really consider the data consequences – and we certainly don’t bother with reading the terms and conditions. It would seem that the companies mediating our extended relational selves know this is a bargain we’re prepared to make – and until that changes, we will continue to bargain our privacy to continue relating online.
Dr. Aaron Balick is a psychotherapist and director of Stillpoint Spaces, a psychology, co-working, and events hub in London.