Is Facebook becoming the ‘confessional’ of the digital age?

Seeking ‘likes’ from friends can encourage acceptance and forgiveness for our deeds. (pic courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee/freedigitalphotos.net)

Facebook: a platform for perfectly groomed self-promotion, or an explorative ‘confessional’ place to discover your feelings and identify ways to improve yourself? Most of us might think the former, but a researcher into the creative industries thinks otherwise.

The act of posting your achievements for all your Facebook friends to admire, from your latest DIY success to the number of miles you’ve run this week – as well as sometimes admitting to some mistakes you’ve made along the way – can apparently make you more self-reflective. And this can lead to more self-awareness and personal growth, according to Dr Theresa Sauter from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation in Australia.

Showing off what’s been good about your day proves that you’re doing OK in life. And sharing what hasn’t gone so well shows awareness that your behaviour may not be top notch – especially when friends can ‘like’ or comment on what you’ve posted, says the research.

“It can become a therapeutic tool that helps people discover how they feel and how they can improve themselves,” says Dr Sauter.

I think there are two interesting ideas to emerge from this piece of research.

1. Social media is becoming a kind of ‘confessional’. Our everyday conquests, failures and even humdrum occurrences can be made creative and interesting and possibly even ‘therapeutic’ by sharing them with someone, anyone, who is willing to engage with what we have to say. People may not go to ‘confession’ or ‘reconciliation’ in the traditional sense as frequently any more, but the posting of saintly and sinful deeds can elicit approval, acceptance and even forgiveness. In today’s fraught, 24/7 lifestyle, any bit of human communication and affirmation can be welcome, and can certainly take the edge off any loneliness we might feel.

2. We may be unaware of this, but the fact we think about how we are going to portray our lives on Facebook or Twitter could be a healthy self-reflection – even if we are totally unaware of what we’re doing. OK, so it’s going to be consumed publicly and has therefore been tweaked and made to look its best, but could our posts offer insight – even in the tiniest way – into our persona and how we feel about life? About our behaviours, how we interact with people and how we’re perceived by the other? Part of this behaviour could be healthy – but what about the part that wants to primp and preen and show only the shiny sides of our personalities, preferring hide the shadowy side?

That’s something to reflect on, especially given the pressures that social media can put on people to present a perfect face to the world. However, I will remain curious about Dr Sauter’s positive take on writing about ourselves in the public domain: “People can use these sites to work on themselves. It doesn’t mean they create new personalities on Facebook, but rather that they understand and keep reshaping their own identity through self-writing.”

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