The Promise of Technologies of Self-Care in the 21st Century
Understanding how technologies allow us to cultivate ourselves is complex because practices and activities of self-development have many analogues in modern life. The idea that the self can – indeed should – be cultivated is ubiquitous in the contemporary world, as well as featuring heavily in the marketing messages with which we are constantly bombarded. Sometimes it appears that the concept of self-cultivation is used exclusively by advertising creatives to sell anything from vaporisers to vintage trainers, from dietary supplements to bespoke coffee. Enter the term 'self-cultivation' into a search engine, and first and foremost one is confronted with products available to buy, most often products associated with the so-called 'self-care' movement.
Often characterised as a millennial version of self-help that arose in the late 1990s, the self-care movement is typified by the online documentation of practices that cater for one's well-being understood in a mental, physical, or emotional sense. Self-care aficionados pride themselves on their innovative fitness regimes, non-invasive cosmetic procedures, and consuming blends of superfoods to improve their health, while carefully documenting these activities on social media. Technologies that promote mental health and emotional well-being are equally prized: spas and bathing regimes, yoga retreats and 'wellness' holidays, recordings of one's favourite life-coach or Gregorian chants.
Emergent online technologies that facilitate capturing and sharing these activities are also integral. As runway model Jasmin Tookes put it recently, social media networks such as Instagram generate massive social pressure on us to constantly present the 'best version of myself that I can be' (Victoria's Secret 2016). Refining ones physical, mental, intellectual, and emotional attributes to in order to share a highly selective version of oneself on social media has replaced the aim of breaking new records of hedonistic excess. Rather than simply recording how much fun we are having, a new ideal has emerged concerned with documenting activities and practices which contribute to our well-being.
Although this new model of self-improvement can be welcomed insofar as there are aspects of it which are empowering or even liberating, it is important to question how effective technologies of self-care are at driving wholesale character change. Rather than providing the conditions for real flourishing, it can often seem as if self-care technologies are merely deployed as profit-driven distractions, providing only superficial worth to those who use them. This open discussion will ask whether the reality of technologies of self-care live up to their emancipatory promises, and, if not, whether they can be harnessed in more protracted and meaningful processes of self-development.
Join us on Wednesday, 16th of May 2018 at 19:00 for our monthly Psychoanalysis on the Street Meetup to participate in an open discussion and share your thoughts, learnings, and stories about self-development.
About the facilitator:
Matthew Dennis is a Doctoral Researcher on the joint-PhD programme of the universities of Warwick (UK) and Monash (Australia), specialising in philosophical accounts of character-development and self-cultivation. He is currently writing a book on the potential of online technologies for character development.
About the format:
Psychoanalysis on the Street is an open-discussion for people interested in psychology, culture, and the arts. Our aim is to bring psychoanalysis out of the consulting room and to give individuals from all walks of life an opportunity to engage with the exploratory energy of depth psychology. No background in psychology is required.