Sharing, Socialising & Confessing
‘A trouble shared is a trouble halved.’
‘Get it off your chest.’
‘A guilty consciousness needs to confess.’
A collective need to confess is embedded in the English language. The idioms we use so casually are quietly revelatory about our perceptions of privacy. If sharing can be said to be ‘coming clean’, then secrets, by default, are dirty.
Our subconscious need to admit taboo thoughts and deeds is rooted, of course, in our Catholic past, when we regularly confessed and atoned for our sins in a setting both intensely private and at the centre of public life. Yet, although the traditional facets of religion have largely withdrawn from our hustling cities, a desire to share still lies at the centre of society. Whether it’s a giggled conversation with friends in the girls’ bathroom, the seedy private lives of politicians splayed across the front page of national newspapers or Edward Snowden leaking state secrets, our culture thrives on revelations.
As religion disappears from people’s lives, confession has been repackaged for the modern world; suddenly, talking is trendy. When once we might have opened up to a priest, now we unburden ourselves to our loved ones, our therapists and, increasingly, our social network.
Unlike the innate privacy of a confessional booth, the dawn of the digital age means that our darkest secrets quickly become public property. With every front-page scandal or heartfelt digital confession, hundreds of wannabe-journos rush to their laptops to provide their two cents. The Internet is brimming with think pieces on previously-taboo topics, from mental illness to marital affairs. Issues that once were considered intensely personal now trend on Twitter. Hashtag campaigns like #ShoutYourAbortion (a protest against the US government’s plans to defund Planned Parenthood) actively encourage people to share their most painful stories. The charity Mind even has a page on their website dedicated to mental health hashtags.
So great is the influence of the internet that even the church itself is trying to harness it for its own ends, using social media to further belief systems and reach out to new audiences. Some even project tweets from members of the congregation during the service itself. When it comes to building communities through sharing, social media is fast becoming the authority.
Although sharing still lies at the centre of society, the reason behind our confessions has shifted with the rise of the Internet. Sharing is no longer about absolving our sins, but promoting them. We publish our every emotion in a bid to create bonds of trust with strangers, hoping in return to receive reassurance, comfort and approval. In the modern era, if something isn’t posted online, it doesn’t exist. So prevalent is this problem that we’ve even had to invent a word for it: overshare.
In many ways, we’ve come to rely on the digital sphere for the moral guidance that religion once provided. While religious punishment was quietly doled out for sinful transgressions, modern-day mistakes are played out online and punished with public humiliation. By flooding social media with our successes and mistakes, we are turning the internet into a contemporary working manual to direct our moral compasses, a mirror with which to examine ourselves and the society we live in: “Is this how I should talk? Is this how I should act? Is this what I should believe?”
In many ways, Twitter is the girls’ bathroom of the Internet. Just as strangers may overhear our guilty secrets drunkenly confessed to friends on a night out, we open our hearts to our fellow tweeters and receive their fervent declarations of support and anecdotes of similar experiences, conveniently forgetting that we’re indirectly addressing a whole world of people who aren’t immediately visible to us. The same anonymity that allows you to feel secure enough to share in the first place is also the thing that allows others to attack you in your most vulnerable spot, over and over and over again.
Whether or not our compulsive sharing is ultimately positive or negative, one thing is certain; by pouring our hopes and fears into the Internet, we’re leaving a digital footprint of emotions that can never be fully erased – and bringing it one step closer to divinity.