The internet confessional: which type are you?

Are you among the millions who just confess to carefully selected friends you share your Facebook account with or are you more public with your personal bits? In the habit of regaling your audience with salacious stories about your ex, inspiring jealousy with pictures of your cafe brunch or revealing your bizarre crushes on over-the-phone technical support workers?  If you blog, are you tempted to spill juicy personal information or just gossip disapprovingly about other people’s gratuitous displays of sexuality? We now exist in an internet with a plethora of ways to share what might otherwise be private with various parts of the public.  There is even an ‘internet confessional’ website.

As I recall, Nietzsche reflected that the old (Christian) religious structure of Western society, far from being dismantled, had merely been replaced with a scientific religion. Instead of confessing to the priest in a private booth, more people these days confess to doctors and therapists.  More recently, there has been a diversification of the Western religion – in much the same way that the printing press allowed for individual adaptation, the internet has allowed for broad private-public confessions. Just like fight club, you choose your own level of involvement.

We can construct a 1-5 scale of internet confessional types:

Prudent or Prudish?

1 make conservative confessions about their sporting preferences and occasional celebrational posts (you don’t want anyone knowing anything bad ever happens to you), with more personal details confined to private messages. When they use social media to purge emotionally, it will be prefaced with “I’m sorry but” and be followed by a hurt/angry message.  1s might feel comfortable using Snapchat because the images disappear after a few seconds, but generally, only people well under 30 have heard of Snapchat and young people are much more likely to reside higher up on the scale, having grown up in a social-media world.

Dribs and Drabs

2s can be a little more revealing, maybe some political commentary, bad day ranting and firm opinions aired like dirty laundry along with pictures of one’s child/niece/nephew/partner/dog and some thinly spread social commentary amongst re-posted inspirational quotes, memes and news stories. You might not know where you stand with 1s and 2s because they might not know themselves, either that or they know damn well and are just respecting their own privacy. Both 1s and twos are prone to drunken confessions which are awkward the next day.

Constant commentators 

3s continually post on Facebook about things other than them, but you can tell from the nature of their re-posts, exactly how they feel about absolutely everything.  They are also likely to argue with you on your posts, just to make sure you agree with them about absolutely everything.  They will also take pictures of things they see/do/eat just to make you jealous. They are prone to the occasional drunken confession, but it will look cute compared to their normally well-constructed sentences.

Blurred bloggers

3.3 is reserved for the people who blog publicly but restrict their personal information. For example, one might write a food blog and mention one’s child being especially cute but neglect to mention an impending divorce out of fear of rejection by the conservative food-blogging community. One’s hard-core metal blog might fail to mention one’s penchant for floral embroidery, or one’s serious and sensible opinion blog might omit the existence of one’s Jungian archetype and astrology blog. Occasionally they will get emotional or political in their posts in a way that is likely to lose them followers, but in the heat of the moment they don’t much care.

Drama dilettantes

4 is slightly embarrassing with the level of personal detail, especially if you’re a prude, they untag the unflattering party pics but might post semi-naked soft-porn-esque pictures of themselves. Their blogs read like gossip magazines about themselves and the people they like and dislike enough to want to poison.  They will post poetry… they will. You always know where you stand with 4s and, if you’re sensible, that will be quite far away so as to avoid the emotional shrapnel.

Unveiled humans (my alliteration skills failed me)

5s may or may not have naked pictures, but if they do, they will be much more genuine than porn.  Whereas 4s want to flash everything flattering around and hide the unsightly human bits, 5s are experimenting with revealing their true selves, including beautiful flaws, to whomever stumbles across their blog.  They are probably politically progressive: artists, feminists or hippies, and are making a statement.  You can learn a lot about their politics, spirituality and sex lives from reading their blogs.

We can indulge our voyeurism in 4s and 5s. When they are like us we can like them and when they offend out sensibilities, or lack-there-of, we can ‘other’ them and make fun of them with our friends. Meanwhile we continue to confess in our own ways, both on and offline. The confessional is necessary because we have been taught to hold everything in. According to that Foucault dude, the pressure from conservative Victorian suppression is to blame for this bizarre emotionally vomitous behavior, and maybe 5s have gotten past that, to the point where they can co-exist publicly with their private bits rather than holding in all the bad stuff until we’re forced to purge it up all over everything.

The anxiety paradox

There’s a lot you should be doing right now, isn’t there? Why are you on Facebook and reading blogs when you have work to do, that thesis to write, the lawn needs mowing, dishes doing, the house is a mess, that exam isn’t going to study for itself,that deadline is looming..?

The dumb thing about stress/anxiety is it’s often counterproductive when it’s supposed to be the opposite. Isn’t your body filling up with all the fight-or-flight chemicals to make you get off your butt and do something? When I was trying to finish my Masters I suffered from so much anxiety that I couldn’t make any progress and my lack of progress gave me more anxiety. It was a vicious self-defeating cycle. Now that I’m onto the PhD I’m trying to break the pattern and not get too wound up – but still get stuff done. It’s a delicate balancing act.

There’s this graph they use in sports psychology to illustrate the way stress helps performance, up to a point, then it drops off sharply. They call it arousal, not stress, but the connotations or arousal are somewhat more sexual than required for this type of thing.

So anyway, why is the body making more stress than is useful? (see, arousal would be awkward here). Well, our bodies didn’t evolve during times of plentiful desk jobs or academic study. We are animals, remember? Stress means: get the fuck out. Escape the harsh climate, defend from predators, run from fire, then relax. Ahh… Aren’t you glad we ran from that fire? Now let’s find some food and have a nap in the sun.

These days the stress is never ending. There is always more to do: bills, chores, projects, deadlines… Deadline is a particularly morbid word, isn’t it? Like mortgage (to the death), we accept these things as a normal part of life. We get used to endless mounting stresses even though, physiologically, our bodies suffer.

Cortisol is a nasty thing when it gets out of control. This stress hormone puts pressure on bodily systems and exacerbates disease. It also makes it even harder to make progress because we are biologically wired to avoid cortisol inducing things – enter the plethora of avoidance strategies you have amassed in your life.

One way of tackling this silly state of affairs is to try to reduce cortisol on a physical level. Here are some suggestions:

1. Drink green tea. Apparently green tea and a bunch of other herbs and food can help.

2. The three cures for everything: Sunshine, exercise and good food seem to be the cure for almost everything.

3. Do relaxing things: I suppose it’s worth investing time in activities that are actually relaxing – go to the hot pools or indulge in scenic walks rather than playing PlayStation or aimless Facebooking.

4. Write a list of easily accomplishable things then tick them off and feel the rewards of accomplishment: your anxiety shrinking.

5. Remember to breathe.  Breathing is important, breathe slowly and deeply – do yogic breathing exercises, meditate, all of that important stuff that people tend to over-look because they’re too busy being busy,

6. Adjust your posture. Posture is important too, if you are hunched over and tense you aren’t doing yourself any favors on the anxiety front. Shoulders back and down. See, isn’t that better? Feel your chest opening up. Give yourself space.