Walking through an urban college campus can be an extremely claustrophobic experience. Young and restless students accost you with glee, destined to gain a new subscriber to some club or cause. “Buy a vegan cookie, buy a fucking donut, buy a black and yellow rice-krispy treat.” The other day, walking through a hallway at my particular NYC school, I encountered something that finally stopped me dead in my tracks.
Straight out of that opening sequence from 28 Days Later, several bulletin board panels lined with handwritten notes took up the college’s central conduit. There hung the confessionals of some psychologically tormented students. While some chipper students invited me to come share a secret, what 5×7 notecard first caught the corner of my eye?
- “I sexually experimented with animals (dogs). It was amazing!”
Thoroughly dumbfounded as to which ones were truthful, I found myself quickly jotting down the incredible confessions. (Prominently placed notecards asked for no close-up photography.) The sordid, laughable, dark, ambiguous, boastful, incredibly frightening phrases and not-so-clever lies scribed out in felt marker thus read:
- “I was raped when I was 11 and it has dramatically changed my personality to this day”
- “I hate when white people act superior when they are just the same”
- “I love a guy with an STD”
- “I watch tranny porn in public places”
- “I break hearts for funzies ♥”
- “I’m horny 90% of the time”
- “I have a huge crush of my prof!”
- “I’m a prof. and have a big crush on a student here at Hunter”
- “I’ve slept with over 80 prostitutes”
- “I’ve slept with 6 women that are older than me”
- “I want to kill all of my family members for realy (sic)”
Students submitting their secrets
I proceeded to discussing the Reddit-confessional-come-to-life phenomena with one of the outreach members from Counseling & Wellness Services, a school org responsible for the crowd-sourced art project entitled Secret Share. “Have you ever heard of Post Secret?,” she asked. “This is sort of like that.” I asked her how many times CWS has done this before. “Only once,” she said, “last year we did it, but it didn’t have as much engagement as it’s having this year.”
Rightfully flummoxed by some of the remarks on the bulletin boards, I felt like there must be some wacky confession evangelistas behind the boards, but the outreach girl looked as unenthused as I did in regards to a staggering amount of probably-false posters. “I have no idea what percent of the posts are real,” she said to another student wearing a look of concern and on his face. “Some of them are ridiculous, but it’s hard to know which ones are real,” she continued, adding that despite the immaturity contests, Secret Share has been effective for other students.
As I had a hard time leaving the site of the bulletin boards (cue the cliché about rubbernecking), I overheard some students pointing and laughing at the board, “Look, there’s one of mine.” “No way,” said another. “Yeah, do it man, they’ll put anything up there. I have nine of ’em,” he explained, “you can tell my handwriting, see. Look.” “Oh, you’re gross,” said another.
“Try it,” I heard a girl say as I finally walked away, “it can feel so good to just say something.”
I agree, and feel that’s true, but I stil had no intention of participating. I had a hard swallowing the idea whole. Having watched a lot of folks go through recovery and treatment, I highly treasure anonymity — I guess Secret Share may’ve jumpstarted some other aversions of mine. The permutations that are yet to come, I thought. The notions of internet-class anonymity informing real-life behavior: While many of those are latent, if something fucked up happens should anyone be surprised?
The whole exhibition had me feeling queazy as I spent the night playing that game of what certain websites might look like in reality. My roommate and I bargained back and forth. What would 4chan, ogrish or chatroulette look like? What would a real Facebook wall look like? Granting people the feelings of digital invincibility that they’re accustomed to as users — well, the process is in its infancy. So where will it take us next?