For some students, visiting Facebook pages like UBC Confessions can be addicting, especially with the variety of anonymous admissions and the crazy comments section that follows. Long before any of that though, Frank Warren was already inviting people to share their anonymous confessions through good old-fashioned snail-mail.
Warren is the founder of Post Secret — an online blog where anyone is invited to anonymously send their secrets through traditional, decorated post-cards. These secrets can be lighthearted ones such as a barista confessing to serving decaf to rude customers. They can also be very serious ones that deal with suicide and beyond, which has led to police and even the FBI contacting Warren multiple times. Afterwards, said confessions are eventually posted onto his blog.
This all started an entire decade ago and, at the time, the website blew-up in the popular media. Although the blog is not nearly mentioned as much nowadays, this has not stopped the mail from coming in.
“Ten years later, they haven’t stopped. I feel like I accidentally tapped into something that had been there the whole time … and I don’t think there’s any way to turn it off,” said Warren. He added that this likely stems from a combination of elements including the “true anonymity” within postcards compared to a digital footprint online and the way the website respectfully approaches these admissions.
“I treat everybody’s secret with respect. I use my home address, not a P.O. box, and I think all those things help me earn the trust of people that tell me the deepest stories, the funniest confessions and the deepest admissions.”
Right now, Warren is currently on tour with Post Secret: The Show — an on-stage iteration of the concept where sent secrets are re-enacted or read out through actors. Audiences are also invited to participate, whether through acting within these skits themselves or sending their own secrets right before the show the starts. The show itself is already running here in Vancouver and will be until early next month.
Among those vast amount of secrets he’s collected, Warren has also seen his fair share of ones he believes come from young students. It is within these particular postcards that he sees recurring trends of anxiety and hopefulness.
“I get a lot of secrets from young people especially and one of the most frequent secrets I get is one that describes a search for that one person who they can tell their secrets to and be their full and true selves,” said Warren. “I also get hopeful secrets like marriage proposals [and] hidden acts of kindness that people have done for each other.”
With that said, Warren frequently provides talks to students in colleges and universities around North America. He was previously a guest speaker in a UBC Student Leadership Conference back in 2013. During that talk, Warren discussed a number of important elements regarding secrets that students can use as a learning experience. This includes secrets as a “currency of intimacy” that brings a wide range people together and how the internet itself has become an integral part of catalyzing that.
Warren especially sees these elements in terms of Facebook pages like UBC Confessions bringing university students together.
“I think that’s the natural progression,” he said. “It’s just like how the Post Secret show is a way to bring the community out into the physical world. [The] show ... brings together people who are fans of the website and book, and allows them to interact and share some of [these stories].”
Overall, whether through his websites, his shows or the various university pages out there, Warren hopes the value of secrets — whether keeping or sharing them — is further recognized.
“There [are] the secrets that we keep from others and the secrets that we hide from ourselves,” he said. “If we can find the courage to share some of our secrets to people we trust, I think that allows us to not just form deeper relationships, but understand ourselves better.”