PostSecret: Keeping Things Private in a Not-So Private World - Secrecy Week

ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTORS Zachary Ehren

There are three things guaranteed in this world: death, taxes, and social networking. Sure, there are some people who go off the beaten path and never set up a Facebook or Twitter account. Bully for them! However, even those that do not have an online account are still affected by these companies. Pictures of the social networking nay-sayers will inevitably end up online and friends will constantly ask why they are not networking.

Nobody can escape the grasp of Zuckerberg and the like. The masses are going online to document their every move and the privacy of people’s lives is becoming a thing of the past. As social networking grows, being able to share things in privacy becomes a difficult task to accomplish. In the midst of the storm of posts about hating Mondays and being “tagged” in pictures of your Scrabble game with friends, an art project that enables people to voice what they want to say in absolute privacy lies right in the  eye of the hurricane. Its name is PostSecret.

The concept is simple; purchase or create a 4×6 inch postcard, decorate it in any fashion and anonymously write a true secret that has never been told to anyone else.

PostSecret was created by Frank Warren, an owner of a company specializing in medical information. It began when he took a trip to Paris in 2003 and purchased three post cards. That night when Warren fell asleep, he had a lucid dream (a dream where the person is asleep but knows they are dreaming). In the dream, he picked up the three postcards and began writing different messages on them. After waking up and feeling inspired, he wrote the messages that came to him in his dream on the cards. The dream and postcards stuck with Warren and he wanted to dive further into the artistic nature of this form of communication.

The following year, he purchased 3,000 blank cards and invited people to anonymously share a secret. They included his address to be mailed back to him. Warren handed them directly to people on the street, placed them in coffee shops, inside books at libraries and threw them in numerous other public places. He soon had 100 responses in which he turned into an art exhibit in Washington D.C.

Submissions continually came pouring in and the exhibit turned into a blog and the blog turned into five published books. Warren started receiving responses from all over the world and each mailing was a significant piece of artwork. Not only does the single, confessing sentence hold enough power to bring out different emotions to the reader, the accompanying artwork sealed the deal in creating something completely unique.

The cards range from uplifting to humorous to disturbing. A particular entry was comprised of a photo of a squad of soldiers in the U.S. Army. In the photo they are running towards a building in what appears to be Iraq or Afghanistan. The caption on top of the picture reads, “I will never in my life be as good at anything else, as I am at killing people.” Another separate example reads, “I am a good person and in no way a bigot…but I think Hitler was sexy.”

PostSecret became the first time in the Internet age that a paper outlet was created for a person to anonymously vent something to the general public that may have been bottled up for their entire lives. Over 100 million readers have found solace in discovering that others are going through the same trauma they have, or something worse.  Though, it is safe to say that the majority of people who write to PostSecret have not killed others in combat and do not find the scum of the earth sexy, postcards that say, “The cleaner stole my sex book, but I’m too afraid to ask for it back” can be related to some degree or another.

It is comforting knowing that there are companies like PostSecret in the world of protruding giants known as social networking companies. It proves there are ways to express yourself and let go of what is on your mind without the general public finding out you were the one that said it. As much controversy lies in Facebook’s privacy settings, PostSecret will always keep people’s confessions behind locked doors no matter who is the one confessing. You never know; maybe Mark Zuckerburg thinks Hitler was sexy.

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