Confession in the Digital Age

Posted by Sneha PP at Apr 14, 2014 07:06 AM |
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The pervasive influence of digital technology, particularly the Internet in our lives today seems to have blurred the boundaries between the real and virtual, public and private. The perceived condition of anonymity made available by the digital sphere brings forth questions about identity and the self, and more importantly the conditions that have come together in creating a new notion of the private sphere. In this guest post Rimi Nandy reflects upon her research study on the trend of Facebook confessions in India, and its implications for questions of identity and self-representation.

The advent of the internet and the emergence of a new social sphere that is home to the present generation of digital natives has broadened the horizon of what we understand as being human. This space has been widened more with the introduction and proliferation of social networking sites, the most well known among them being Facebook. Facebook has changed the very way we perceive society, which in turn has led the present generation to act and react differently to the social conditions. The digital youth of the present generation create their self identity in synergy with the virtual platform provided by Facebook and other social networking sites. In this article I would like to focus on the recent trend of anonymous confessions made by various Indian college students on Facebook.

In the pre-digital age, the confessions were either carried out to oneself in seclusion or on a one to one basis. It was never performed in front of a gathering of people as that would be responsible for instilling a greater amount of fear in the confessor. There is one exception to this in the form of courtroom confessions. The courtroom confessions were a public affair, but the confession is initially made behind closed doors in the presence of law enforcing officers. A major problem with such confessions is understanding whether the confession is true or coerced. The word ‘confession’ seems to have acquired a new meaning in the digital age of Facebook. The term has become very popular in the present time among the youth. What is surprising is the fact that the act of confession on Facebook is being considered a form of entertainment. The act of confession was earlier a means to purge oneself of hidden guilt burdening the soul. It was an act carried out in the privacy of one’s own room or in the confines of a confession box. Once a confession was made, the confessor felt a cathartic effect, thereby unburdening their soul. In the present day and age, however confession is no more a personal act. The confession pages on Facebook have become a meeting place for various confessors who confess. But do they really confess to unburden their soul? That is food for thought. The trend of the Confession pages started in the Western countries and has slowly found its way into the lives of the Indian youth.

The most important aspect of this virtual space is the fact that it easily crosses boundaries and makes the world a very small place by bringing people across continents together. Another important factor and probably the driving force behind its popularity is the fact that the confessor can easily hide his/her identity and just present the self as a confessor before other confessors. It is almost like an anonymous support group, only on a larger scale. The members of the Confession pages can sit behind their screens in the comfort of their surroundings without having to travel and face unknown people and looking at their faces wondering how they would react to the confession to be placed before them. The cyberspace due to its fluid nature provides a better sense of security than the real world. In the virtual world every word typed and the ensuing comments are born digital and stay locked within the digital sphere. It becomes nothing more than a combination of binary digits, which if not found to be palatable can be easily deleted with a few clicks of the mouse and the ‘backspace’ key. In the real world it is impossible to undo confessions and comments made. The arrival of the digital confession pages has randomised the act and its effect. Further it has also changed the very essence of confession. A plethora of topics are discussed in these confession pages starting from confession of love and crushes to sexual escapades, hostel life, college life and a very tiny amount of academic discussions.

The Confession pages have also become a conglomeration of various digital technologies. Most pages do not restrict themselves to plain writing of posts. They also include links to other web pages, mainly YouTube, which can be considered to be an archive of various videos and audios. Some pages also include links to e-books, or use memes to bring forth their ideas and emotions. The internet has successfully become an irreplaceable aspect of the youth’s life across the globe. It has broken all boundaries making the world a very small place where a post uploaded in India can be seen anywhere in the world.

The language used in these confession pages refer to respective campus culture, thereby distinguishing themselves from other institutes. This in turn helps to create a specific identity through which the social networking world will know them.

Studying the confession pages has left me with some unsolved questions. It appears that the students engaging with the activities of the various confession pages do not really try to question what urges them forward to confess online. To the readers of the confessions it is nothing more than a mode of entertainment which is availed in moments of boredom. In spite of all its negativity this has been able to create a platform for building a bridge of kinship of like minded students. What lies in future for the confession pages is still to be seen. Whether the advancement in digital technology furthers the mushrooming of such pages is something that also has to be studied. At present in order to counter the loopholes of anonymity, a mobile application called ‘Whispers’, has been developed and is slowly becoming popular. This might substitute Facebook Confessions or run as a parallel alternative to it. Some pages are already falling into disuse. How long this trend survives and what will be its long term effect is still to be seen.

Rimi Nandy is Project Fellow, Social Networks, with the School of Media, Communication and Culture at Jadavpur University, Kolkata. This research study was part of a series of six projects commissioned by HEIRA-CSCS, Bangalore as part of a collaborative exercise on mapping the Digital Humanities in India. See here for more on this initiative.

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