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.

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Facebook: just like the Sims

There have been a few times in my life where I have gotten addicted to games; growing up I went through phases of being hooked on particular games on our families old Mac computers and more recently I went through a bejeweled fad. The most serious addictions I’ve had were as a teenager to Diablo II and the Sims (1 and 2). I used to love making the houses and decorating them. Perhaps designing the barbie-like characters made up for my barbie-deprived childhood. I would sit at the screen and stare at my little people, taking good care of them.  They were always bathed and fed and well-rested whereas, after staring at the screen for so long, I could have done with some bathing and feeding myself.  I would get anxiety when they burnt down the kitchen but felt proud when they studied and up-skilled and no longer posed such a great fire-risk.  I gave up on the Sims because I realised that I was putting all of this energy into something that wasn’t really feeding me.  It was a hard sacrifice to make but ultimately more rewarding.

Dopamine is an interesting brain chemical. It motivates us and gives us that sense of accomplishment of attainment, how-ever brief.  It is the primary brain chemical involved in addictions to cocaine, shopping gaming and Facebook.  Every time that little red number appears at the top of the screen you get a little bump, every like on your hillarous re-posted meme, every comment on your wall just reinforces the pattern.  Validation. It’s a trap!

The Facebook trap is a lot like the Sims trap. We can become pre-occupied with virtual lives – with the lives of other people, with our own closed-circuit-insular-universe to the point where other things are less important.  When I’m tired and don’t have other exciting things I do I always check Facebook looking for connection, validation, that little bump. I have been through times where I was getting psychologically dependent on Facebook to the point where it started to bother me. Unlike blogging, where I have the room to be creative and expressive, where I am building something that lasts and sharing ideas with the public, Facebook is insular and offers less space for expression, it rewards conformity and encourages me to share other people’s creations (which is not a bad thing) rather than develop my own.  I’m not saying Facebook is absolutely evil, and it certainly offers more real-world agency in communication and networking than the Sims does, but I am saying that it’s ultimately less satisfying than actually doing real stuff.

Dopamine is very relevant, but we can’t just reduce everything down to a neurotransmitter. Reality tends towards the complex.  There are lots of weird things happening in our brains, but what is easily observable is that doing something that triggers the reward pathway in the brain without achieving any meaningful results is infinitely less satisfying than doing something that activates the same pathway but does not accomplish much. Gaming and Facebook are less satisfying (for me, anyway) than working on a novel or writing a blog post – even reading a novel or doing the dishes, and yet, they are easy ‘lazy’ habits to get into.

Recently I went through a period where no one was liking my Facebook posts. WTF? Usually a plethora of people care about what I have to say.  I started to feel strange.  Out of my hundreds of friends, no one was bothering to comment or validate me – or even argue with me. No one was reading my blog posts either. How rude. As a result my blogging got more prolific than it ever has been, and more personal too. If no one cared, I was even more motivated to carry on with my life.  Something did seem a bit fishy though and then I realised that I must have somehow accidentally changed my Facebook settings so I wasn’t sharing my posts with my friends.  Hmmm.

This experience mirrors my experience lately of feeling like I’m walking in the dark.  Everyone seems very distant, and very few people seem to understand anything that is going on inside my head.  I suppose I’m not understanding most other people either. It’s kind of like temporarily regressing to teenage-insular-fog-brain, everything is a bit distorted. So if this blog post makes no sense, that will make absolute sense to what I’m going through.

The end.