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Why Whisper may not be the best way to share secrets

Kory Plockmeyer

“Secrets, secrets are no fun; secrets, secrets hurt someone.”

While cute, this rhyme from my childhood is a reminder that secrets are powerful and wield the ability to cause pain and sorrow. They’re also popular, as a new app called Whisper has shown.

Whisper taps into our burning desire to privately share by allowing users to anonymously post their thoughts in the style of a meme. According to Slate, Whisper receives over 3 billion monthly page views, largely in the coveted 17- to 28-year-old demographic.

The reality is that most of us live with any number of secrets - about ourselves, friends, families or colleagues. Some we keep for professional reasons; others we keep to ourselves out of fear of what others may think of us. And yet, secrets have a tendency to burn away at our insides until we spill the news.

Whisper’s content ranges from the lighthearted (“I feel like a secret agent whenever I sneak my pet into work with me”) to the head-scratching (“Immature: A word boring people use to describe fun people”). Some are heart-tugging (“I work at a dead-end job to give her the future I’ve always wanted”) and heart-warming (“My parents have been going through a rough patch and I thought they were going to get a divorce. Today, they renewed their vows”). There is also the somewhat disconcerting (“She has no idea about my criminal past and I’d like to keep it that way”), while some are deeply personal (“It bothers me that my mom has never packed my lunch before, but she packed her last fiancé’s lunch every day”). The management of Whisper proactively monitors the site to ensure that it stays respectful.

While the public nature of Whisper invites participation, the anonymity eventually becomes too much of a barrier.

In Reading for Preaching, Cornelius Plantinga Jr. suggests, “Secrets are potent things. We may think we are honoring someone by telling him our secret. But the knowledge of it may fester in him and turn to poison. Maybe only God can absorb deep human secrets without internal damage.” To put a positive spin on Plantinga’s insight, perhaps we need God to set us free from the damaging effects of secrets.

While Whisper may allow us to feel the release that comes from sharing our secrets, I find that it misses something. Plantinga considers the connections of secrets to Psalm 139:

“’Search me, O God, and know my heart.’ This is not a general invitation for just anybody to rummage around in our hearts. Somebody else might be destroyed by what they find there. But not God. Never God.”

The words of Psalm 139 invite us to experience the intimacy of a God who knows us even better than we can know ourselves and yet still reaches out with the arms of love. This, in the end, is where Whisper falls short. While the public nature of the app invites participation, the anonymity eventually becomes too much of a barrier. The person who posts their personal struggle may feel embraced for a time, but it doesn’t take long before the anonymity becomes a means of isolation rather than connection.

God invites us to bring our whole selves to Him in prayer. Our deepest secrets, our most embarrassing anxieties and our seemingly hopeless struggles. God can absorb all of these. More importantly, in the arms of Jesus, we find the one who searches us and knows us perfectly, yet loves us infinitely. Through the church, we join with our brothers and sisters who have also experienced this searching, infinite love. In these relationships, built on our shared experience of grace, we find something far better than an anonymous app - we find community.

Topics: Online, Culture At Large, Science & Technology, Theology & The Church, Prayer