Spring 2017 Winning Essay
Imagine you’re walking down the street to meet a friend for a bite to eat. As you pass by a public park, a ping from your phone lets you know you’ve gotten a notification—you pull it out and see the message: “My grandfather died today in the hospital. I was too scared to visit and say goodbye.” You meditate soberly on it as you continue your walk. You get your bite to eat, chat about video games, have a beer or two, and start walking home. As you cross that same park, you type a message of your own: “My grandpa died too, a few years ago. Tell him goodbye today, just for yourself. Everything will be ok.” You punctuate it with two emoji: a safe, and a heart. Later that day, the person who wrote the original message reads yours and smiles a tiny smile through her tears.
The app is called DropSecret—users leave anonymous messages in public places that are too scary or intimate to say in person, but they feel an important need to express. Other users pick up on these texts like messages in bottles across the ocean, and can reply with replies of their own, supportive, thoughtful, invitational, or just commiserating. It’s asynchronous, anonymous group therapy, or a cross between a secret santa game and a virtual pen pal. The app is 100% secure, and it’s almost the inverse of social media. There are no likes, no photos, and no shares allowed. If a connection is formed, just as in the fictional anecdote that opened this essay, then the two users can continue to message each other at length, just like real pen pals of the old-school variety, sharing only as much information as they choose with each other alone via the secure message app. Only the minimalist forms of text apply—just words and a handful of emoji.
I came up with this idea because I’m a student of psychology, and the more I learn the more I’ve come to believe that social media is an accelerating filter bubble, where powerful emotional connections are less and less easy to come by in favor of popularity contests and political soapboxes where no one’s really listening to each other. My hope with this idea is to allow deeper connections underneath the superficial aspects of our online identities, and maybe make people feel a little less alone in the world today.