What if you could share your deepest, most personal secrets with millions of strangers?
Every Sunday morning, Frank Warren publishes 20-30 secrets on his website PostSecret.com. The secrets, written on postcards and sent in anonymously from around the world, range from white lies to deeply personal heartaches and sometimes even murderous confessions.
“I’ve received over a half million secrets from all over the world,” Warren said. “I feel like I accidentally tapped into something that had been there the whole time.”
Warren started the PostSecret project in 2004 by handing out 3,000 self-addressed postcards that prompted strangers to share a secret they’ve never told anyone.
Warren collected and displayed the secrets in 2005 as an art installation in a Washington, D.C., art show. Since then, the project has grown into a website that gets over 1 million unique views weekly, five books featuring selected secrets, and more than 20 PostSecret shows and talks annually.
Many of the secrets shine a light on shared human experiences and emotions, but there are some that are controversial, inflammatory and even horrifying. Some of the secrets that allude to murders or other crimes have prompted police and even FBI to investigate, though none has led to any concrete cases. Warren, however, believes that even the secrets that scare us are important to share.
“I think it’s healthy to be transparent and honest in ways that allows us to understand what our true motives might be,” he said. “It’s always better to have people understand what’s happening in the real world rather than keeping it in the darkness and hiding from that reality.”
Though the weekly website continues to be the heart of the project, the Post Secret live shows have given Warren a chance to directly connect with the audience. At the live events, such as next Wednesday’s show at McGlohon Theater, Warren is able to use a multimedia approach to sharing never-before revealed secrets and the stories behind some of the postcards he has gotten over the years.
For Warren, the best part of the live shows is when attendees get up in front of the microphone and share some personal secret with the thousands of others in attendance.
“It’s always very emotional and surprising,” Warren said. “Sometimes these secrets can uncover connections between people that are very meaningful but stay invisible in our everyday lives.”
Warren believes that the project has resonated with so many people because “secrets can touch on every human emotion and tell just as many stories as poetry or songs.”
PostSecret has inspired many similar projects, including apps like Whisper and Secret, which rushed in to fill the spot after the PostSecret app was pulled in 2011 by Warren due to a rise in malicious content being posted. However, Warren believes that the PostSecret community has continued to grow and strengthen in part because the project requires people to physically write, decorate and mail away their secrets to a stranger.
“I think that ritual can be surprisingly subversive,” he said. “It sounds simple, but the impact it can have when you physically out your own secret even to yourself can be life-changing.”
He also hopes that the project will give others comfort and faith that they are not the only ones with secrets.
“Each one of us has a secret that can break your heart,” Warren said. “And if we can just keep that in mind, it would allow all of us to have more understanding and compassion and empathy.”