What’s your secret?

Ashley Jefferson

“Secrets, secrets are no fun unless you share with everyone.” We’ve heard this childhood adage a number of times, yet how many of us actually go along with it?

Secrets are what they are – personal details that no one else knows about – for a reason, but four years ago, Frank Warren opted to change all of that by creating PostSecret, a Web site that allows people to anonymously publish their secrets.

The idea for PostSecret originally stems from Warren’s first art project, The Reluctant Oracle. He anonymously wrote fortune cookie-like messages in bottles and put them in a nearby Washington D.C. lake. They washed up ashore and were found sporadically by residents. This went on for a while, garnering a lot of interest from the media and art community in the area. Warren eventually ended the project, but one of the messages stuck with him: “You will find your answers in the secrets of strangers.” From that, PostSecret was born.

To start off, Warren randomly circulated 3,000 pre-addressed postcards in his neighborhood, asking people to write down their secrets and send them back. It seemed like a crazy idea, but he received an overwhelming response, and his project grew in ways he never imagined. In interviews, Warren is often asked about the extraordinary response PostSecret has garnered. He claims that there are three things that surprise him the most: the thousands of secrets he has received, the soulful artwork people put together to accompany their secrets and the frailty and heroism in the secrets of ordinary people.

The people who respond don’t just scribble down anything on a piece of notebook paper; they actually take time to personalize the postcard with creative images and reveal some of their deepest, darkest secrets. Nothing is censored, and there are no rules or limitations to what can be submitted. The only thing Warren asks is that they are truthful and that they have never been shared with anyone else. Some of them are simple or harmless, like admitting a certain crush. Others may be more serious, like admitting to a crime or being so depressed that a suicide attempt is the only way out.

Many people praise the concept of being able to tell your biggest secret to the world with no consequences. With no restrictions on the anonymous submissions, it is expected that along with the supporters come some doubters. Some people find it hard to believe that all the secrets submitted are actually truthful.

Warren addresses this frequently brought up point on his Web site, writing, “Of course, no one could claim that all […] secrets are ‘true’ in the strictest sense of the word. But I think of each postcard as a work of art. And as art, secrets can have different layers of truth. Some can be both true and false; others can become true over time depending on our choices.”

Despite controversy and skepticism, the popularity of PostSecret continues to skyrocket. Since its humble beginning nearly four years ago, over 200,000 people have sent in their secrets, and that number keeps growing, with Warren estimating that he receives up to 1,000 new secrets each week. The popularity of his Web site has even spawned four books, some of which were translated into other languages, including French, German and Spanish. They all are filled with the anonymously submitted secrets of others, as well as at least one from Warren himself. Even more so, it’s not uncommon for people to go to the bookstore and slip their own secrets inside of the books, so those who go to buy them get some unexpected surprises.

With its seemingly cult-like following, PostSecret has garnered some acclaim in the pop-culture realm. The Web site has won a number of Weblog awards and has expanded into an array of art exhibits.

Influenced by PostSecret, The All-American Rejects even used artwork from the Web site and the books as inspiration in the video for their popular song “Dirty Little Secret.”

Warren also travels to various college campuses, giving talks to students and spreading the word.

Here at Villanova, bits of influence from the PostSecret project can be felt as well. On the third floor of St. Mary’s Hall, the bulletin board was decorated with a simple black backdrop, and index cards were left for residents to anonymously post their secrets. Like the site, there were no restrictions, except things that could be deemed offensive or threatening were not allowed. Having a bulletin board become such an open forum was definitely something new for many of the residents.

“Some people took it seriously, while others just played around,” sophomore resident Michelle Posy said. “I liked it. Everyone has secrets and to be able to voice them anonymously is kind of cool. Unlike Web sites like JuicyCampus, it’s actually stress relieving because you are able to get something more personal off your chest.”

Many people divulged meaningful revelations about themselves, and overall it received praise from many of the St. Mary’s residents.

With such a positive response here and all over the world, there are no signs of PostSecret’s influence slowing down. Warren admits that he doesn’t ever want to see PostSecret come to an end. He encourages people everywhere to continue to take that chance and tell their secrets to the world.

“Share your secrets, and become who you are,” he says.