Wednesday, May 21, 2014

My Secret's Secret

Today I downloaded the newly-available Secret app for my phone. It's been in the tech news for months after its release on the Apple platform, and the Android version launched this week.

If you don't know what Secret is, let me give you a quick explanation. When you download the app, it takes a look at the contact information you have. It then anonymously places you in a circle with people you know, based on the information. You can then read and/or post things that people have posted anonymously. Some of them come from the network at large (I saw posts from Uganda and Belgium - certainly no friends of mine!), but a certain percentage of tiles you see come from your "acquaintances" that make up the people you know.

Some of them are clearly jokes. Some are simple enough to be heartfelt. Some just seem to be seeking popularity (the app allows you to "favorite" tiles you like, allowing people to keep score after a fashion). There are also some protections built in against gaming the system. You need to have a certain number of your friends using the app before it will start showing you secrets from any of your "circle," in case you attempt to invite one person and wait with bated breath to see their secret.

It can be ugly, though the developers seem to have some moderation, especially when proper names are involved. It prevents people from just saying, "John Doe cheats on his tax returns! Let's get him!" while remaining anonymous.

Weeks ago, a friend using an iPhone asked if I was using the service. I replied in the negative, since it wasn't out for Android at that point. He waxed rhapsodic: "It's sooooo addicting. I just can't get enough of it. There's enough of the forbidden thrill that I feel excited just using it."

When it was released for Android, I pondered whether to download it at all. There is the sort of sordid allure of things hidden, but it's also vaguely invasive and selfish in ways that are hidden. By its very nature, even when anonymity is guaranteed (and - let's face it - apps may not be guaranteed), there will still be secrets which cannot even be typed or spoken. Secrets that may or may not need to be surfaced to other people.

And the flip side is that many secrets that are brought to the surface by an app like this are just a strange form of exhibitionism. Perhaps there's a cathartic value to letting emotions or opinions out, but it's ultimately hollow because the connection isn't substantive. You may get really good advice from the person whose symbol is a pink puzzle piece, or find a sympathetic shoulder in communion with the blue duck face, but it's not a complete diet to fill up on nice words from people who don't know you.

But I downloaded it anyway, if mostly to satisfy my curiosity. I'm not inclined to use it for any secret posting. Mostly because I have a venue for making things public (it's this blog) and the things that don't belong on the blog don't really belong anywhere outside of my head or an intimate conversation over dinner.

A new feature in the Android version is that you can select to see only a feed containing posts from your "circle," meaning those in the collection of contact information you submit when the account is first made. It weeds out all the posts from the world, leaving only things which are significant to you.

I looked in that feed and read the first secret.

I knew who it was. I knew from the instant who the author was. It was like having a brick wall turned into glass before my eyes. The secret was that this was no secret to me.

I had broken Secret. Or perhaps the other contributor had. Either way, the app and its entire reason for existing lay broken in front of me.

I won't reveal what that secret was. Sin or silly, salacious or sorry, it's not my secret to pass along. And I'll certainly admit to the fact that I don't know with utter certainty who the true author is - the anonymity holds at least that far. It could very well be someone other than who I assume it is.

Perhaps that's supposed to be the attraction: the knowledge that I know the outer boundaries of who this might possibly be. That "fact" should leave me enough room to supposedly feel like I know who it is who wrote the original. "Aha," I'm mean to say. "This can only be Jane! She's the one. Unless it's... <gasp> Thomas!"

But I feel confident. And my confidence hasn't drawn me further into the experience. I'm now reasonably sure that I don't particularly care to know what my friends think their secrets are. And what if the secret had addressed me individually? If it had been something related to just me. I still wouldn't know who had contributed it, but I might now know that someone in my circle finds me insufferable. Or fantastically attractive. Or a colossal bore. Or "one that got away." Or a good friend. Or a hated enemy.

I don't need to know any of those things from an anonymous source. I suspect those descriptions to be my defining traits already - confirmation from a source that isn't guaranteed to be truthful or relevant doesn't really give me any information at all. 

Like everyone, I posses many secrets. Some are vital, and will be kept to my grave. There's no way I'm telling my parents or friends, let alone the anonymous hordes. 

Some are trivial, and are kept as secrets simply because there's no compelling reason to tell anyone: if I tell you that years ago, Mike really liked Jennifer, but she never knew, that's a secret I've never told anyone. But its "secretive value" is basically zero -- primarily because Mike and Jennifer are incredibly popular names when I was growing up, so I know a multitude of each.

For the longest time, I had anonymous commenting allowed on my blog. I still would have it enabled, but the current commenting system doesn't allow it. Considering that anyone who has a Gmail account can comment, it might as well still be anonymous, provided any amount of forethought.

I had a few anonymous comments over the years. I wondered about them, mostly because the comments seemed largely innocuous. Why would a person care that I should explicitly not know that they agree with my stance that bullying is bad? It seems an uncontroversial opinion, but I suppose everyone has their reasons. And I never cared to judge those reasons. I just wanted people to feel like the could say whatever they desired. Anonymity is a privilege of everyone else on my blog, and I care enough to preserve that in how I write my entries. Just because everyone knows who I am doesn't give me the latitude to "bestow" the same state on other people.

So Secret isn't for me. It has its place, and I freely allow that everyone else can love or hate it as they see fit. But the kind of secrets that interest me are the ones that get told to my face, because of the trust people have in me.

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