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The Allure of Secret

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I have a new way to waste time and it's called Secret. Like Twitter, Secret is an app on my iPhone. Friends, friends of my friends and strangers post anonymous statements, questions and comments about the minutia of their life. Oftentimes they come off sounding like pretend aphorisms, pithy statements with a veneer of fact. Of course, this is the internet, and that means the majority of posts fall into two categories: Sex and work. Sometimes a blend: Sex with coworkers, or masturbating while on a conference call, which, I don't know about you, but I've never done.

When I read about Secret I immediately downloaded it. There were no instructions, so I sat back and watched. Frequent mistakes in grammar made me groan, and many of the posts were trite, but I stuck with it. Each day that passed where I found myself opening the App to refresh the stream, I asked myself, why does this one compel me to join in and follow it?
You're curious, sure you are. Here's a post:

My 14-year-old self would high five the shit out of me for how hot my wife is. -Portland.

Seemed awfully braggy for someone from Portland, I thought.

I inquired of my tech-savvy friends in New York. "Do you use it?" Most shook their heads no. But with my friends in San Francisco, most of whom work in high tech, like I used to, it was a different story. They knew it and used it. I wondered what they had posted and if I had "liked" any.

Secret pulls from my iPhone's contacts to fill my stream. When a secret travels beyond two degrees of separation, it's marked with a basic location, like "California." This context, while basic, grounds my Secret world in such a way my mind can ponder how I became connected to a post. The more something is liked (displayed with a number next to a little red heart) the more the Secret is spread--like an updated version of a game of Telephone. While I see occasional posts from cities in in-between states, Milwaukee say, or Austin, most of what I see is from the coasts. This makes sense because I've lived in New York for three years and before that I lived in San Francisco for twelve.

Unlike Twitter, I had yet to be overwhelmed by the amount of content I saw in a given day, so the onus was on me: my Secret circle was too small. Should I evangelize and pull in more friends? Try to spread the gospel of this harmless way to waste time?

It took me a few tries before I achieved traction in the Secret community. My first and second post faded away without a single comment or heart. It made me sad. My third post received a one like. I felt like a kid in grade school looking for a place to sit in the cafeteria. Reading through posts and comments I tried to game the system, yet still remain true to myself. In my extensive research, the two most adored qualities appeared to be sex and wit.

One evening, while sitting in my apartment, I read a post that was listed as being a mere 100 meters away from me. I looked around my living room, up at the ceiling and then out the window. I wondered where the anonymous poster was. Across the street? I felt watched. I posted:

Feeling a bit "Rear Window" when I read a Secret from someone 100 meters away from me. Who's looking over whose shoulder?

My post got 20 likes. A small number, but reason to celebrate. Why was I so excited that people liked my post, and why did it equate to their liking me?

Then it happened again.

At Equinox eating lunch, I scrolled through Secret. I read a new post:

When women compliment me on my penis, I want to thank my dad.

I laughed, and shook my head -- what woman would thank mom for her breasts? I looked at where he was located. It read: "> 100 meters." I almost dropped my phone. And then I nearly raced around looking for a well-endowed man holding a phone, sweating on a Stairmaster.

I commented: "Feeling tempted to say your whereabouts since Secret says you're less than 100 meters from me." Then waited anxiously to see what he would say. It was electric.

He commented back: Dad?

What a harmless, fun world it seemed. The spike of illicit energy I felt when I shared or commented on a secret was compelling. It accomplished what Twitter never had -- it hooked me. It was as intimate as technology could be, but in a natural way.

In 2008 I joined Twitter so I could keep tabs on my friends while we were at a wedding in New Orleans. My account was private because that was how we were using it, to register our whereabouts. And I didn't change that setting until one year ago when I realized I had possibly missed out on something that once may have also been electric. I had the same trepidation with other social media. Reluctantly I joined Facebook, and most of the joy I get now are the updates from my friends from afar. Snapchat? Forget it. I ignored it because it sounded like something used by kids and politicians -- selfies and "dick pics."

Somewhere in my internet persona a dividing line had been drawn between my real self and my secret, or private self. I regulated closely what I was doing on Twitter and Facebook knowing that it was the purview of Mom, ex-boyfriends, high school classmates, business colleagues and more. Was it the anonymity that tugged me into the game?

There were no names, no faces, no timestamps and the only way I could go back in time to review my old posts were if they received comments or likes. This transitory nature had to be one of the reasons. Other Secret users seemed younger than me, but I was probably the only one who noticed. Age was a non-issue, which is the exact opposite of what it's like at most high-tech start ups, full of recent college grads with nary a gray hair. Perhaps this was why I liked it so much? I could finally show off my voice without feeling the O word: Old.

My hair is going gray and I drink a lot of scotch. If OKCupid let you filter for girls with daddy issues, I'd be set.

I commented: I drink bourbon and I like men who are going gray. The comment received 8 hearts. Swoon.

In the real world, friends come to me for advice. I'm that person. Restaurant recommendations, travel questions, gift ideas, relationship advice, as if I was half therapist, half Yelp. I'm good at it, but it's not a skill I can put on my resume. It takes time to pull together a response, and it hijacks me from my actual work. On Secret, however, I can give my unsolicited advice whenever I have the time or am feeling inspired -- a luxury I don't have with friends.

I'm finally in the best shape of my life, and yet I don't have anyone to sleep with right now.

I commented: Well, let's assume you got in shape to please yourself. Next up: your mind. This got a sub-optimal two likes. Maybe I was being too highbrow or too Dr. Oz-like?

This same desire to "help" is thwarted on Secret because I can't comment on posts beyond my circle. On the other hand, it seemed a wise safety cord, but a tedious one when I am reminded each time I forget. Like how we no longer listen to flight attendants as they show us how to use an air mask. It seemed a smart move by Secret because if everyone could comment, racy posts on Secret would blow up like the worst of internet articles or Lena Dunham's Instagram account. (Does she have time to read them all?)

Because of the anonymity, when you post on Secret, in place of your username you get an icon. Comments by the poster get a crown. Comments by everyone else get cute random icons like a bronze rocket, an alien, puzzle piece, or a sailboat, for example. When a post generates a conversation, users call you out by your icon, which means there are also icons that aren't cute, like poop.

I'm attracted to smart bookish women. Teachers, librarians, programmers. People who read and think and have breasts and a vagina.

I HAD to comment: I'm not sure the bookish women you profess to like will fall for you when you write sentences that end in vagina.

The poster and the Secret audience jumped on me. My icon was a sailboat. We argued over what should be considered vulgar language. A user commented, her icon was a fan: "Oy. Don't comment on it if it bothers you sailboat."

Clearly the "fan" didn't understand that in the virtual world this is exactly when you add your opinions to the fray. The original poster also didn't understand what I was trying to say. My point was that on the one hand he was extolling the virtues of smart women, but then he ended his thought by crystalizing women -- us, me, my people -- to body parts. (My desired icon: shaking fist.)

Two months in to my Secret trial and it still feels special and small, which is probably how Twitter users felt back in 2007 when it launched at SXSW. Not to mention the other clubs that were once just for a handful of users: Instagram, Flickr, Facebook, etc. Was the thrill I felt in part from being included in a small world that few knew about? Finally, I was in the early-adopter club.

One of the great joys to living in New York is having random moments with strangers. Conversations, a helping hand, or just a smile on the street and my whole day could be turned around. I might never see them again, the event might not lodge itself into my long-term memory, but for a few minutes I could be transported to a perfect world. Having these fleeting seconds on my slick iPhone certainly wasn't giving me that same kind of charge, but is it the way our world is going?

Despite my joy at using Secret, it is just like the rest of social media, lacking in real connection. I can't meet these people online, learn their names or have a meaningful conversation. I keep circling back to why I like it so much, and then I find myself telling a non-Secret user another story about what I'd read, posted or commented on that day. My story telling taking on an illicit flair. I'm still fascinated with my newfound medium, hoping it continues to engage me and tell me something new about the world or myself. I settle on this for my answer: Secret allows me to be anyone I want. I can leave whenever I feel like it and, if it's too filthy, I can flag it for removal.

Knowing my audience better, I post something I think they will like: Why do all my friends of friends have such dirty Secrets? Also, which friend connected me to the underbelly of Secret? It got 5 comments and 21 likes. High fives all around.

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