Now Trending: Cebu undergrads share Facebook confessions

Screen_shot_2013-04-09_at_11.23.22_AMI wrote this commentary for the Philippine Online Chronicles.

In a country whose system of economic production remainspredominantly agrarian, backward, and heavily dependent on foreign capital investment and loans , the impact of new media cannot but assume larger-than-life proportions.

Expanding access to the Worldwide Web, proliferation of social media networks, and widespread use of mobile technologies has begun to give fresh twists to dominant social relations.

Last March 22 students from the University of San Carlos (USC) in Cebu City created the Carolinian Confessionspage on Facebook to provide a venue for sharing secrets anonymously. Instead of having real names as byline, the colleges of the posters are the only form of identification that marks their posts.

“Tell us your secret. Post anonymously” the Facebook page exhorts the Carolinian community. In turn, readers are treated to a plethora of “confessions” ranging from simple greetings to the typical romantic dedications and even complaints about “terror” school teachers.

Desire to Confess, Desire to Uncover

Carolinian Confessions got 20,110 likes in just two weeks and has posted hundreds of anonymous confessions by its followers. Meanwhile, students of other major universities in Cebu have begun to follow suit by creating their own Facebookconfession pages.

CDU Confessions of the medical students of Cebu Doctors University have 3,932 likes, UCnian Confessions of University of Cebu students have 2,422 likes, while the Technologian Confessions of Cebu Institute of Technology University students have 2,920 likes.

The Josenian Freedom Board by students from the University of San Jose Recoletos have 2,865 likes while the state school Cebu Normal University’s Confessions of a Normalite have 1,147 likes.

For Prof. Daryl Mendoza of the USC Philosophy Department the popularity of Facebook confession pages is an expression of human desire: “Desire founds Carolinian Confession; the desire to confess and the desire to know the confession; the desire to know the secrets of the other.”

Mendoza points out that the desire to discover other’s secrets implies a lack of knowledge and is consequently the desire to fill this absence of meaning. “It consoles us that there is depth in our existence, there is a meaning in our lives, a secret, something hidden,” he said.

The Opium of the Wired Masses

However, Mendoza also points out that theinnate human desire to divulge and to discover has taken on a high-tech twist with the recent popularity of Carolinian Confessions.

In the not so recent past, it sufficed to either write a diary for hiding our secrets or sharing confessions to our closest friends. Today we want everything, even our secrets, to be accessible to everyone online.

As French cultural critic Paul Virilio presaged, “our contemporaries no longer want to see, [they want] to be seen by all.” [1] For is not the posting of secrets on Facebook simply an extension of the way we want to be seen by all by uploading statuses, photos and videos of almost every aspect of our lives?

In a feature article , USC student publication Today’s Carolinian Associate Editor Patrisha Yap cites anonymity as another factor for making the anonymous confession page fashionable: “People who post their sentiments feel less accountable for their confessions.”

“It is gossip in virtual times; it is gossip on steroids,” said Mendoza who explains that what Facebookconfessions do is provide a venue to create meaning in a trivial and mundane manner.

Mendoza explains: “It is a wish to have secrets by confessing, when there are none. It gives the illusion of stable meaning. It consoles us that there is still depth in these virtual times. That’s why it fascinates and excites us. It gives us a kind of false hope.”

New media is commonly praised for interactivity as opposed to old one-way channel mediums where we are mere passive consumers of pre-packaged messages. But in Facebook, rather thanmerely providing a platform for interactivity something distinct is operative.

Instead of simply indulging us to share our secrets and interact with others, the page essentially takes away our passivity by sharing our secrets for us, relieving us the duty to expose ourselves to others. This is what the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek describes as “interpassivity.” [2]

Under the oppressive and exploitative regime of neoliberal globalization, sites of collectivity– from the family to labor unions – are progressively eroded. Correspondingly, the experience of solidarity in the material world is replaced by virtual interactions in the cyberworld.

“Ubiquitous personal communications media turn our activity into passivity, capturing it and putting it into the service of capital,” said critical theorist Jodi Dean. [3]

The trending of Carolinian Confessions and company can thus be located in the larger cultural transformations brought about by new technologies in the way the contemporary generations experience reality. It has become the opium of the wired masses.

Going Beyond “Virtual Gossip”

The seemingly harmless injunction for electronic exhibitionism is also not as innocent as it seems for calls to fight poverty, inequality, and other social injustices in the real world are all too easily overshadowed by an artificial sense of activity in the virtual world.

But at the same time the spreading popularity of the Carolinian Confessions and other similar distractions are also pregnant with subversive potentials.

“We think that it’s an interesting way to bring the Carolinian community together… With its current hype, it would be nice to see it used for a positive cause, instead of another gossip war,” writes Today’s Carolinian.

As in Arab Spring and the recent upsurge of social movements worldwide, the worsening political and economic crisis afflicting the country is an impetus for the use of new technologies as weapons to further the Filipino people’s collective aspirationfor genuine democracy and freedom.

With the annual tuition hikes on top of soaring prices of basic commodities, rising unemployment, persistent landlessness, and inaccessible social services, many are gradually discovering that new media can go beyond individual expression.

Notes

1. Paul Virilio, Art as Far as the Eyes Can See (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010), 89.

2. Slavoj Žižek, How to Read Lacan, (London: W.W. Norton and Company, 2007), 22-39.

3. Jodi Dean, The Communist Horizon, (London: Verso, 2012), 126.

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