Since I wrote this post, Frank Warren has had to withdraw the Post Secret app because people just couldn’t play nicely.
When Frank Warren launched the Post Secret blog in 2004, it was a lark. “A creative prank,” he calls it. He gave out 3,000 postcards to strangers around Washington D.C., and asked each person to write a secret on it and mail it to him. And they did. And people still do.
To date, Warren has received more than half a million secrets. Enough to fill four bestselling books (and then some). Once a week, he posts a carefully curated selection on the blog. Sunday Secrets is a highlight of my week.
Some of the cards are scrawled, many are works of art. The secrets are sad, funny, shocking, about love and sex, loneliness and anger, moral slips and personal habits.
- I’m afraid I’ll never find love because not even my own mother loved me enough to keep me
- I just want to tell someone how angry I am
- i secretly hate my friends, its hard having friends 1/2 your size
- Sometimes I wish my gorgeous autistic daughter was ugly. Too many pervs out there.
- The cleaner stole my sex book but I’m too embarrassed to ask for it back
- “im fine” – “im tired” – “im alright” are just excuses. …. and I’m not ok. Help me
At the time he conceived Post Secret, Warren was answering phones on the midnight to 4 a.m. shift at Hopeline, a national suicide prevention hotline. When the blog started racking up millions of hits each week, he decided to use its power for suicide awareness and prevention. He has been honored by the National Mental Health Association. The new Post Secret app includes a comprehensive database of suicide hotlines worldwide, crowd-sourced by 80,000 volunteers.
The blog has no advertising. “I didn’t want people to think I was exploiting their secrets,” Warren says. “I knew it was critical that it always be seen as a safe and nonjudgmental place where people can share their secrets.”
A supportive community has grown up around Post Secret. People have credited Post Secret with deterring them from suicide or inspiring positive changes in their lives. Warren hears about it in emails, at speaking engagements, and through postcards. Some people are inspired by the act of expressing their secret, or reading another person’s secret, or even finding anonymous words of hope tucked into Post Secret books, as has become common.
The most common secret, Warren says, is the longing for that one special someone that the person can tell all their secrets to. “That one person they can be their true and full selves with.”
Until then, there’s Post Secret.
With the anonymity of a crowd combined with the intimacy of self-disclosure, Post Secret has become an archive of our ids. The secrets are our basest impulses, uncensored desires, deepest fears. They provide a glimpse behind the masks of thousands of people.
“So many of us are more complicated and complex than we’re seen in our social environment,” Warren says. “All of us have certain identities that we see ourselves as having, that our friends and family see us as having. We have roles that we play in society. The secrets indicate to me that some of the deepest conflicts we have is where our true selves fall outside of that role, stretch beyond that identity that we’re comfortable with.”
While the blog is curated, the Post Secret app (available for iPhone now, for Android later this year) is not, and it’s received a quarter of a million secrets in its first month—half of what the blog has received in six years. Here our id is unfiltered and digitalized, and users may comment immediately on secrets. (There is a system whereby posts or comments can be flagged for review.) The app also has a location option that geotags you at a nearby coffee shop, church, school, or bookstore rather than your exact location (to help protect anonymity).
Warren had no idea that Post Secret would go from a lark to a lifeline and now he has no idea how people will use the app. He’s prepared to just ride it and see what happens, to “create a space and allow unheard voices to populate it, to listen carefully to the untold stories.”
This sharing and geotagging “every minute of every day” could be a goldmine of research possibilities. “It might be possible, for example, to understand which schools might have the greatest student body population struggling with the issue of suicide, or with eating disorders, or academic pressure,” Warren says. “I think there are ways to really understand this hidden universe, this dark matter, in a more meaningful way.”
And maybe, he says, we can get a glimpse at what’s down the road. “What social issues are bubbling or percolating just beneath our awareness at the moment?” he wonders. “What kind of secrets are people going to be talking about on Dr. Drew 10 years from now, that people are struggling with but not talking about right now?
“I think there will be fascinating ways to think of this archive archaeologically and do a lot of interesting analysis. Hopefully in a way that we can bring hope and help to some of the people who are struggling with these very painful secrets in silence alone.”